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Simple Shaker Style

The Old House Web

by Allison E. Beatty
OldHouseWeb Columnist

The Shakers were a religious group formed in England during the late 1700s who emphasized function and simplicity, especially in the home.

Shakers lived communally. They created large buildings and houses for groups of people. Their focus and dedication played a large role in the style of housing they created. Clean lines and basic forms characterized their architecture. This philosophy flowed through everything from stairways and windows to cabinets and hardware.

Shaker Architecture and Craftsmanship

The Shakers were admired for their dedication to quality workmanship. They used only natural materials and crafted everything from furniture to toys by hand with high-quality wood such as maple, chestnut, and butternut.

They created a distinct style of architecture that still is replicated today. Today's homes that follow the Shaker style often are built with a focus on order and utility, and filled with Shaker-style furniture. Before starting a home renovation, consider the key elements of this style.

Shaker Floor Plans

One key part of the Shaker style is the floor plan. The Shakers focused on simple, open floor plans with an uncluttered feel. The look carries through to everything from the way rooms are divided to the placement and style of furniture.

While fussier housing styles showcase arched doorways and stained glass transom windows, the Shakers focused on simple lines and durable materials. Wood molding provided a noticeable frame to shape windows and doors, but it did not distract from the overall feel of simplicity.

Limited Colors

This emphasis on simplicity included the color palette. Shakers typically used red, blue, warm yellow and blue-green to color everything from walls to textiles. When replicating this style, stick with matte paint rather than high gloss. Neutral wall colors also fit the clean, simple look.

A Shaker Kitchen

The kitchen is one room where the Shaker style can make a bold statement. As this is the most traveled room in the house, it is the perfect place for showcasing the fine workmanship that characterized this religious sect.

During a kitchen renovation, look closely at the kitchen cabinets. The door style that most closely fits features recessed panels. The panels add style, showcase the thick band of wood around the frame, yet do not introduce all the ornamentation found with many traditional cabinets

The kitchen design should be uncluttered, with only the necessary cabinets, appliances, and decorations. The kitchen should have plenty of storage, however, as the Shakers believed that everything should be put away in its place.

This simplistic style is used in a wide range of kitchens, from the traditional to the contemporary. The key is to stick with clean lines and avoid anything that is fussy. In today's kitchen design world, it's all right to toss in a fancy granite countertop. Just keep the overall look subdued.

Shaker Furniture

When adding a Shaker look to your home, furniture is an important detail. A true Shaker residence should feature maple, cherry, and other fine hardwoods. The style should be simple, such as the ladder-back chair with woven-tape seats that characteristic of the Shaker period. The dining room or breakfast room table should be simple, without all the padding that we are accustomed to seeing in today's furniture.

Adding Storage

Storage is an important part of the Shaker style because it emphasizes a proper place to put everything away. If you are adding a mudroom as part of a kitchen renovation, for example, add a few peg rails. This is where the Shakers would hang just about anything to keep the room neat.

Among the other factors that differentiate the Shaker style are:

  • Fabrics: Shakers used natural fabrics, such as cotton, silk, and wool to make their own clothing.
  • Flooring: Wood floors were popular, but they were bare boards. In today's world, the practical way to create that look is to use natural wood floors with a matte gloss instead of a high gloss finish.
  • Woodwork: Plain woodwork, sometimes with a light stain, was used.
  • Uncluttered look: Get rid of all the knick-knacks and gadgets around the house. The Shakers liked their homes free from clutter and unnecessary objects.

The Shaker style is unique and can add an interesting flair to a home renovation. Whether you are renovating the kitchen in this style or incorporating furniture elements throughout the house, the results can be dramatic. A simple place can allow the eye to relax, which can be a bonus in today's fast-paced world.

About the Author

Allison E. Beatty is an avid old-house enthusiast who has been renovating houses and writing about them for more than ten years. She contributes regularly to national newspaper, magazines, and Web sites. She lives in an 1888 Victorian-era home.

About the Author
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