Shakers were a religious group who believed in staying separate from the rest of the world. Because of this they made much of their own furniture as well as growing their own food. They lived together in communities that were very popular in the USA 16th century and lead very simple austere lives. They made many of their own tools and their furniture focuses on practicality and simplicity.
Because of the high quality of the furniture made along with the simple lines and practicality, Shaker style furniture is still very popular today. You can see Shaker influence in wooden handles, on drawers with smaller and larger drawers and with tapered leg furniture. The furniture was very light, and made from local wood that was easily available such as maple and cherry. However, nowadays Shaker style furniture is made from wood that is available like pine and oak, and this works very well with the style.
Pine is especially favoured for Shaker furniture because the religious group liked to paint their furniture certain colours. Pine is perfect for painting as it takes paint very well and this protects the wood and makes the furniture resilient to the knocks and bangs of daily family life. In the Shaker community there was a limit on ‘approved’ colours, these being blue, red, yellow and green. They were normally painted two colours only, because there were strict rules on being ‘prideful’ – this is where the lack of inlays and carvings came about too. Anything more than strictly necessary was considered morally wrong.
Because the carpenters were not allowed to adorn the furniture they concentrated on simplicity and style, with an extremely high quality finish. You will see that quality repeated today in Shaker style furniture. The minimalistic look of Shaker style furniture is reflected in many people’s homes today and it works well with different decors.
Amish furniture reflects similar beliefs. The quality of the handmade furniture is very high although Amish furniture is usually made from darker woods such as oak. Oak is great because it is highly durable and while it does take paint well, it is more often varnished to protect the oak and bring out the natural beauty of the grains. Amish furniture doesn’t tend to be painted in the original methods, Amish people sought beauty only from the natural world around us.
The high quality of furniture made by both cultures makes it appeal to all lovers of quality today, and you will spot many influences of Shaker and Amish styles in furniture. Simple uncluttered lines make the furniture flexible enough to fit into many different styles of homes, from the country cottage look to strictly minimalist homes.
While it is lovely to have one piece of Shaker style furniture it is often noticed that when a few pieces are put together it really enhances the whole look. A statement piece is a good way to start, but you will find the piece’s complement one another and even a few pieces give a smooth, distinctive homely look.
It is perhaps strange to imagine people living as Shakers did, separate from the world, but the focus on quality is something that everyone can enjoy. Perhaps we would not want a life of celibacy and frugality, but certainly investing in quality furniture that will last a lifetime or even more is something that we can all aspire to. If you are the sort of person who wants top quality furniture from skilled workman, then the Shaker and Amish styles are something you could look out for.