You’re probably quite familiar with the Shaker style of cabinetry; after all, it’s one of the most widely used door styles in the United States today. However, you probably don’t know much about it beyond its characteristic stile-and-rail recessed panel design. You might be quite surprised to learn that this popular design and its origins are truly a product of the American work ethic.
The popular Shaker style of woodworking is admired for its classic simplicity, a humble design that belies what is actually a highly well-crafted and thoughtful aesthetic. It first originated among the Shakers, a sect of religious craftspeople who once lived in villages in the northeastern and midwestern sections of the United States during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though the last village had been closed by the early twentieth century, the Shakers had already produced an entire style of woodworking that has come to shape interior design to this day.
The Shakers were masters of detail who laid the foundations for the elevated simplicity of today’s contemporary design aesthetic. Much of their approach to craftsmanship can be directly attributed to their religious beliefs. An active dedication to one’s craft was seen as a way to show reverence to God, and a duty to bettering oneself, one’s home life and the space around them inspired their keen ability to produce efficient design. Built-in cabinetry for efficient storage could be found in rooms throughout the Shakers’ dormitory-style homes – homes that were separated by gender and built to be multi-functional and accommodating to all. Every item had its place; even chairs were hung up so as to free extra space for other activities.
So what does this all mean for you as a homeowner in the twenty-first century? Well there is a lot to be learned from the Shaker style of living, as much of their design innovations remain staples of interior design today. Indeed, it is more than just a door style, it is a broader aesthetic influenced by a simplistic, yet efficient way of living. Contrary to the elaborate show of opulence found in many older traditional styles, the Shaker design style is humble and timeless, and much of its influence can be seen reflected in homes across America today.
Achieving a Shaker look begins by using the characteristic cabinetry door style as a starting reference. The Shaker door style consists of a stile-and-rail recessed panel door with a plain inset. While the simple wood grain of a Shakertown style cabinet door would’ve been the preference of the Shakers, a twenty-first century twist allows for an endless array of stain and color choices, such as the classic painted Ice White Shaker door style, or the deep, dark stain of the Pepper Shaker door style. With each of these door choices simplicity is the key, but the options for customizing are almost endless. The Shakers also appreciated the ability to show off their crafts, so open shelving or glass doors would also pay homage to this centuries-old aesthetic.
As I mentioned, the popular Shaker door style is just the beginning of your overall Shaker look. As far as cabinetry hardware is concerned, plain and unadorned is the way to go. For a supremely basic look, plain matching wood knobs and pulls would be truly authentic, but the simple brushed metal pulls that are popular accompaniments to today’s Shaker doors embrace the simple lines that characterize the Shaker look. These same clean, straight lines should be reflected throughout your design, even when choosing a countertop edge. Square edges on a natural solid surface such as granite, wood, or even soapstone countertops really capture that Shaker look, as long as the surfaces are solid and unadorned, without any bold or obvious patterning.
The theme of simplicity continues to run through the Shaker aesthetic. Wood floors (or any alternative hardwood flooring material), walls painted off-white or in a solid earth tone, and plain white ceilings really exemplify the Shaker aesthetic – keep it simple! The exposed wood beams that are a staple of the industrial kitchen style can also make an appearance in your Shaker kitchen. As far as paint colors go, shades of white are an easy way to capture the Shaker style, but it could make your space look somewhat boring. As the Shakers were able to extract dyes and pigments from their natural surroundings, earth tones, muted yellows, blues and greens, as well as pastel pinks could all add a splash of color to your kitchen space. However, incorporating multiple colors into one design was not commonly done. Simple fabrics, pottery in earth tones and wooden accessories will round out your Shaker space.
As with any design style, there are no hard & fast rules. Consider the simplicity and constraint of the Shaker style and use them as a blueprint for your space, but feel free to break the rules and add your own unique design twist if you’d like!