Design from A to ZInteriors

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

by Quelcy Kogel

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

Oh, to have known about Shaker style when I had my own furniture design to build. The hundreds of small, complicated pieces, the excessive connection points and varying angles in my scheme were a far cry from the simple elegance of the Shaker approach and led me to anything but a religious experience.

The Shakers, or “Shaking Quakers,” were a group of radical English Quakers with a spirited worship style who came to America in the late 1770s to escape religious persecution. They were socially progressive for their time, believing in racial and sexual equality, pacifism, and common property. They were, however, celibate and had to recruit people from the outside world to prevent their communities from dying out, which explains why their population dwindled to just two modern-day Shakers living in Maine.

The principles of honesty, utility and simplicity guided the Shakers and manifested in their craftsmanship. They rejected ornamentation as it encouraged the sin of pride. Instead, the Shaker furniture makers played with form, proportions, and asymmetry to add visual interest. Though the Shaker communities were largely self-sufficient and closed off from the mainstream world, they did sell excess goods and furniture pieces beyond their community. Fortunately, the style and historical pieces have been preserved and even reinterpreted today. —Quelcy

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses an extensive collection of Shaker furniture, objects and textiles. This piece, with its built-in measuring stick, was a sewing table from New Lebanon, NY. The drawers decreased in size from bottom to top as a way to draw interest without ornate decor.

Photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

Most Shaker pieces were originally painted or stained, both to protect and accent the wood, but the colors were limited by the religious rules. Blues, greens, reds, and yellows were the main acceptable colors, and they were typically applied monochromatically. This deVOL kitchen’s lack of upper cupboards or shelves and neutral color choices bring Shaker values to life, but deVol has also been known to push the color palette in its London Showroom.

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

Though the metal hardware would be considered ornate by Shaker standards, the haberdasher cabinet and color palette in this Moody Mid-Century Modernist Maisonette do strike a balance of form, function and simple elegance.

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

Atelier Ace, the creative team behind Ace Hotel’s design, says their approach “is to seek out narratives, makers, artists and materials that speak to the building, to the site and to the city.” When they secured a former YMCA building in Pittsburgh, PA, that meant drawing inspiration from the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish cultures throughout the state. The Amish and Shakers were different religious sects, but they shared many of the same design ideals for function and minimalism.

Photo by Rob Larson for Remodelista

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

Wooden pulls and knobs are characteristic of Shaker style furniture and storage systems like this modern interpretation featured in Pittsburgh’s Ace Hotel. Using wooden pulls meant crafting from a single material source as well as creating visual simplicity.

Photo by Rob Larson for Remodelista

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

The Shipley Corner Cottage by Jersey Ice Cream Co. takes a more rustic approach to the utility of Shaker design. Shakers hung their chairs on the pegs to keep dust off the chairs and to facilitate cleaning the floors.

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

A core business for the New Lebanon Shaker community was the production of their “ladder-back” chairs like the ones seen in potter Frances Palmer’s 1850s Connecticut Colonial.

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

Charles Froom, the owner of this Bucks County, Pennsylvania farmhouse, was inspired by Shaker design as he worked to strip away any excess in his home and let the features shine. Shakers stuck to American woods such as pine, maple, and cherry, so the wide-plank pine floors of this dining room, as well as the pink color of the original trim fit within the Shaker style.


Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

In collaboration with two preserved Shaker sites – Mt. Lebanon Shaker Museum in upstate New York and the Hancock Shaker Village in the Massachusetts Berkshires – Furnishing Utopia invited international designers to meet with curators and dive into the Shaker archives. Following the workshop, “the designers produced everyday pieces, from brooms to baskets, that translate the ingenuity and ethos of Shaker style into objects suited to contemporary life.”

Photo by Charlie Schuck

Design from A to Z: S is for Shaker Style

Designer Gabriel Tan reinterpreted the classic Shaker chair and peg board as part of the Furnishing Utopia design challenge. He asked himself, “What is the smallest functional chair, that could still be comfortable to sit on?” as a response to the decreasing size of living spaces and restaurants in today’s world.

Photo by Charlie Schuck and Natasha Felker

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  • The simple lines and quality construction of shaker furniture is very appealing. I wonder what height the chair rails were typically hung?

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