One of the questions we get asked most often is this – what is ‘Shaker’?
Historically, Shaker design door & drawer fronts date back to the mid-18th century and are the embodiment of simplicity, combined with fine craftsmanship and functionality. Despite their purposeful lack of ornamentation the artistry of the cabinets is their divining charm.
The History of Shaker Style
The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing developed the furniture style early in their history, and even lent their name ‘Shaker Quakers’ to their creations. Believing that a good life should be lived with principles; mainly honesty, utility and simplicity, the Shakers sort to install these morals in every factor of their lives, including the furniture they made.
Being a largely self-sufficient community, the Shakers grew their own food, and maintained all of their needs through personal manufacture and long lasting construction. Casting aside the ideas of ‘lavish living’, the Shakers believed that all things should be practical, functional and above all, honest. This is reflected highly in their crafting process, as the lack of adornments cuts labour and material costs in the long term for a community who has to forage from only the natural resources around them. Off cuts of wood could be repurposed to create tools or as kindling for the fire, rather than used to embellish an already functioning piece of equipment.
Not only was Shaker’s principle a practical one, but the community were very invested in their religion, which also played its part in the manufacturing process. Whilst some may well roll their eyes at the notion of an angel descending from heaven to rest in a chair that has been handcrafted, you can begin to understand why shaker furniture embodies the principles it does and why it played so heavily on it style.
Immigrating to America in 1774 as outcasts for their pious beliefs, this branch of Protestantism found a new beginning in the New World, though sadly were still not safe from prosecution. Led by Mother Ann Lee, the community at its height had over 5000 ‘brothers and sisters’, and was famed for its communal living, equality of the sexes and celibacy.
The Mastery of Crafting
As well as being stunningly beautiful the shaker style showcases the skill and craftsmanship behind their manufacturing. Their belief that all things should hold a purpose and be crafted as a testament to God, gave them a magnificent drive to refine their crafting process and to pick only the best materials available.
In the modern world we have machinery and computers to help us with the manufacturing process, but the shaker craftsmen would have used handmade tools and precision of patience to refine their products and create the finished effect.
This crafting process was especially sophisticated for the construction of their cabinetry doors. Using the feature of a 5-piece door front, the Shakers were able to create a beautiful door that was of sturdy construction and of course vastly practical. By making the fronts from two rails, two stiles and a central panel there was little wasted wood whilst maintaining a solid structure that looks amazing. This in turn became their signatory style, the framed panel or Shaker.
Not only was the prospect of adorning the furniture considered a wasteful pastime for practical purposes but it was also in moral conflict with the Shakers Beliefs. Seeing decorations and embellishments as prideful and at its most extreme being a form of deceit, the Shakers shirked from it.
As such no carvings or inlays will be found on traditional, Shaker made furniture. Instead the Shakers kept their furniture in its most simplistic and practical form to display it honestly. Just as a woman would not wear makeup, a cabinet door needed no fine boarders to draw the eye away from the fact that the cabinet was a cabinet, its beauty lying in its functionality and practical nature, “Beauty rests on Utility” – Shaker Maxim.
Complimentary Colours and Wood Types
However, when one thinks of a lack of decoration it is easy to imagine that the Shaker community lacked colour all together. Though it is true that the men and women of the community wore modest regiment with an almost uniform design, it is easy to confuse them with the early pilgrims whose black and white collared appeal has becoming signatory to Americas fledgling history. Comparatively, the Shakers loved rich colours for their clothing, and despite their preference for sturdy well wearing garb (they invented the first waterproof material!) they did not live in a greyscale civic.
When it came to their furniture though the Shakers kept their colours limited to a primary palette. Usually preferring to oil their natural wood, they were also known to paint it in red, yellow, green or blue to add a depth to their open plan houses. Using a variety of natural plants to create their paint and dyes, this created a very earthy tone, allowing for the natural beauty of the wood to shine through and giving the desired contrast to bare white plastered walls.
Cherry wood and maple were the most commonly used in the manufacture of Shaker furniture, being rich in colour, sturdy and in abundance in the locality. These beautiful pieces also look amazing in Oak and Sapele. Keeping with the Shaker traditions of natural material, Oak is a preferred material as it allows for the grain pattern to show even when painted.
A Modern Twist
No Shaker household would be complete without everything having its own place, which was why storage took a definitive part in their furniture design. What good was having a table just to eat off of, when the utensils still needed a place to live, hence drawers in the table front. Other common features included a peg rail to hang outdoor garments or even chairs from the floor, chest of drawers and wardrobes that took up entire walls, a variant to a traditional English kitchen dresser.
Here at Naked Kitchens we love the traditional appeal of the shaker style and its timeless design, however we do also love the zest and modern twists of shaker kitchens in the 21st Century.
There are a number of ways to spice up your own shaker style kitchen, everything from the colour you choose to paint it, to the handles you fix to the cabinetry and the worktops you choose. At Naked Kitchens we offer the ability to apply aperture beading to your shaker doors to really help the design pop. You can add rebellion to your design with a choice of cornice and a mix up of slab or v-groove end panelling.
Call us today and speak to one of our designers about traditional Shaker kitchens, with or without the contemporary twist.