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Style Spotlight: What is Shaker Style Furniture?

Fragrance in a white fitted seton bedroom

Style spotlight: What is Shaker style furniture?

When browsing any modern bedroom, kitchen or other home product catalogue, you may find yourself wondering; just what is Shaker style furniture?

With its clean lines, efficient functionality and elegant proportions - influenced by the teachings of a religious sect that thrived in America in the 18th century - Shaker style furniture remains one of the most popular choices available today.

But who were the Shakers, and what did they believe in? And why have their principles left such a lasting effect? Take a deep dive into the origins and characteristics of one of our favourite home furniture styles in our Shaker style spotlight.   

A brief history of the Shakers

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing is a Christian sect more commonly known as the Shakers. The faith came to prominence in the 18th century and was guided by principles of simplicity, self-sufficiency and a rejection of any indulgence in ostentation or luxury.

The movement was founded in England but settled and expanded in America in the 1780s. At its height it’s thought to have attracted over 6000 followers, the majority of whom spread out across the USA’s eastern states while practicing communal and egalitarian living.

Men and women shared leadership roles, property and more, and preached the importance of hard work and constant prayer.  

The Shakers, so called for their frenzied dancing during religious ceremonies, strived to exist separate from the rest of the outside world. They ate food grown on their own land, constructed shelters from foraged materials, and used handmade tools to complete various tasks such as building furniture.   

What is Shaker style furniture?

Built first for their use and only later for raising funds, the Shakers’ furniture reflected their devotion to their faith and moral code. Each piece was a testament to God and maintained principles of practicality, simplicity and honesty.

Form followed function; no room or consideration was given to features that added nothing in terms of quality or durability. Ornamentation was viewed as overly proud, or even deceitful, and cutting such features from their designs allowed for cost reductions, while speeding up the manufacturing process in order to make more time for worship. Any cut-offs would be repurposed as tools or kindling.

The classic example of Shaker furniture is the ladder-back chair. Built with a woven material seat and slatted back, the Shaker chair used just enough material to be comfortable and stable while also being lightweight enough to be hung from pegs when not in use.

“The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that it was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit on it.” – Thomas Merton, American scholar of comparative religion

What are the key characteristics of Shaker furniture?

The by-product of the Shakers’ commitment to practicality and subtlety was an elegant aesthetic built on beautiful proportions. While regional variations existed, lots of Shaker furniture shared similar characteristics including:

Natural wood        

The Shakers built their furniture using wood harvested from the land around them. Common wood choices included maple, pine and cherry depending on what was available in the local area. Many pieces were then stained red, yellow, green or blue to protect the wood while concealing dirt.

Tapering

Shaker tables, chairs and candle holders commonly featured delicate tapered legs with either very simple feet or no feet at all. Tapering made pieces lighter and easier to move or store when not needed.    

Turnings

Wood turning was another technique used by the Shakers to cut weight without sacrificing stability. Easy to replicate across legs, arms and spindles, turned wood was often also tapered to make pieces even lighter.  

Wooden pulls

The Shakers viewed metal drawer pulls or knobs as showy and undignified, preferring wooden pulls made from the same material as the rest of their pieces to avoid drawing attention.

Graduated drawers

Shaker chests of drawers and side tables featured graduated drawers, with the largest drawer placed at the bottom to prevent furniture toppling over. The result of this practicality was perfect proportionality and symmetry.    

Where can we see the influence of Shaker style furniture today?    

Shaker style furniture remains incredibly popular throughout homes in the UK, America and beyond. Its clean lines and minimalist leanings feel contemporary despite the Shaker’s long-standing heritage and offers a degree of simplicity that acts as a welcome antidote to hectic modern life.

Are you planning your next revamp? Look out for Shaker style kitchens, chairs and bedroom furniture the next time you search for interior design and home décor inspiration. Many Hammonds ranges display classic Shaker style characteristics that can simplify your home while still bringing it up to date.

And in the meantime, find more useful interior design, product and lifestyle guides on the Hammonds blog

 

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