Shaker Furniture and Design

Simplicity, utility, and honesty are the defining features of this kind of interior design.

The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing.

Sounds like quite a mouthful, whether you want to pronounce it, or you want to explore the body of religious beliefs behind it, right?

In fact, it’s anything but.

Simplicity is a defining feature of Shaker design; and according to one poll, Shaker furniture design in a top trend for 2020.

So, what are the essential features of this kind of design? How would you recognize it, and ask your interior designer to incorporate it into your interior design project?

By the time you’re done reading this blog, you’ll be able to answer those 2 essential questions.

Let’s begin.

The Basics of Shaker Design

This kind of design was born in the 18th century, by a religious sect known as The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, a.k.a. the ‘Shakers’.

Their belief system was centered around the concepts of asceticism, cleanliness, honesty, utility, and simplicity.

And these characteristics found their way into the way they designed furniture and their homes.

So, Shaker design has a few defining features, like
  • Highly functional
  • Simple, devoid of extensive ornamentation
  • A focus on clean lines, and natural design
  • Shaker design means natural design, not no design

It is not that Shaker furniture was absolutely lifeless. They did have features like detailed carvings in wood, elegantly turned legs, and acorn-shaped hip-knobs.

More on this in a bit.

Shaker Design Is Highly Functional

Functionality is at the core of Shaker design.

One very good example of this is the peg rail - a staple of Shaker interior design - that runs along the walls, giving you a place to hang everything, from baskets to chairs, that isn’t being used.

Another good example would be the system of having built-in cabinets and drawers, to give you space to keep stuff in, helping you declutter your room.

Having storage space built into essential room features, like walls, is a basic space management trick today...and it was practiced by the Shakers all those years ago.

Choice of materials

And this stress on functionality extended to the materials they chose for their work.

For example, for making furniture, they made extensive use of pine wood.

It’s light, making it easy for the furniture to be carried. 

Shaker Design Is ‘Ascetic’

By this I mean that, while Shaker design philosophy doesn’t reject the notion of comfort, it emphasizes alertness and efficiency.

Take, for example, their chair design.

Some of their most popular chairs are the ladder-backed chairs, and the rocking chairs.

Both have an element of comfort, as in allowing you to rest your spine, and help you go to sleep.

However, any ostentatious comfort elements, like deep cushions, are avoided.

Speaking of chair design, one Shaker design that is still popular today is the ‘Shaker tilting chair’ which has a ball-and-socket mechanism attached to the back legs, which enables the person sitting on the chair to lean back without slipping.

Natural Design, Not No Design

As I was saying earlier, it was not that Shaker craft rejects all design and decor.

However, for them, decor was primarily about remaining neat and clean - straight lines, neutral colors, and functional items such as bowls as accessories.
To sum up, the defining features of Shaker design are
  • Highly functional, beginning from the choice of materials
  • Ascetic, meaning a practical, and frugal approach to comfort
  • Innovative, including some design styles that are still popular today
  • Incorporating useful and natural elements in their design
Hopefully, this kindles your interest in Shaker design, and helps you instruct your interior designer as to what kind of style you want.