Mission style furniture uses flat panels and simple lines, in horizontal or vertical arrangements, to accentuate the grain of the wood. Lumber, sawn form oak log quarters, to maximize the appearance of the annual growth rings, is a favorite of mission designers. According to Collector's Weekly, the upholstery is always natural and unembellished, while the wood is varnished and never painted.
Mission style furniture emerged in response to the Victorian era and poor quality, machine-made furniture. Wikipedia traces the style to a single chair, built by A.J. Forbes in 1894 for the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco. The name "mission" is in reference to California's Spanish missions. The style became closely associated with the arts and crafts movement.
In 1900, Gustav Stickney popularized the style by introducing his own craftsman-style furniture. Stickney, the publisher of "The Craftsman," claimed the use of the word "mission" to be misleading. After Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition in 1901, the style became increasingly popular.
While the arts and crafts movement rejected mechanization, Stickney made use of steam or electric powered woodworking machines in preparing the wood for his pieces. The parts were then hand-finished by artisans in his shop. As the style grew in popularity, manufacturers moved to mass-production, resulting in furniture of the low-quality the movement originally opposed.