Why is ‘Shaker style’ so called?

farmhouse kitchen central island

Shaker is one of the most enduringly popular and versatile kitchen styles, equally suited to a country cottage, contemporary new-build or period property. Its appeal lies in its clean, simple, uncluttered lines, free of mouldings, carvings, fancy shapes or elaborate decoration. It can be plain or painted, easily refreshed or left to age gracefully. It doesn’t go out of fashion, and because almost everyone can live with it at least for a while, it’s unlikely to be a deal-breaker when you come to sell. If any kitchen look can be truly called ‘timeless’, this is probably it.
But although practically everyone has heard of, and can recognise, the Shaker style, the origins of its name are less familiar. In fact, it comes from the United Society of Believers, a religious group from Manchester, who in the 18th century broke away from the better-known Quakers and emigrated to America. There, they quickly established a reputation for their craftsmanship, with their high-quality furniture prized for its simple style, durability and practicality. Their religion taught them that ornamentation was deceitful, so decorative features were few and sparingly applied.

Eschewing expensive imported woods, the original Shakers used the native New England timber they had to hand, such as pine, maple and cherry. These finishes remain popular choices for modern kitchens. For an authentic Shaker look, you need simple, free-standing units with plainly-panelled doors, made from real wood. Painted Shaker kitchens can look amazing, but here it’s definitely a case of less being more: if you have coloured units, keep the walls neutral and vice versa. And while wooden handles, knobs and worktops are more traditional, modern materials work just as well, and can give your kitchen a sharper, more contemporary edge.

Simple and frugal in all things, the Shakers couldn’t abide wasted space, so made drawers and cupboards to fit items exactly. In modern kitchens, this means specific storage for important equipment such as knives, appliances hidden behind doors, and a peg rail for hanging coats.

After more than 200 years, we reckon there’s still plenty of life and possibilities in the Shaker style, and we design and build them regularly for clients. To find out more, and discuss your kitchen project, please contact us.

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