A History of Shaker Cabinetry


Shaker cabinets have stood the test of time with their classic style and elegant functionality. One reason for their ongoing popularity is that they are so versatile. For a more rustic kitchen design, they’re easily paired with a corner farm sink and functional appliances to create a simple, warm, and welcoming atmosphere; but they can just as easily be integrated with granite countertops, sleek faucets, and smart designs for a minimalist and modern home. But where did these cabinets originate, and who designed them? Read on to familiarize yourself with the history behind these cabinets.


The Shakers
As a group, the Shakers formed in Manchester, England in the eighteenth century. Like other religious groups such as the Amish and Amana, they established communities in the United States and were known for the simplicity of their lifestyles. The Shakers were an offshoot of the Quakers and were also pacifists. During the Civil War in the United States, they provided medical care for soldiers from both sides.


It was during the period of the Civil War that the Shakers increased the production of their furniture, especially chairs. They espoused a philosophy that prized hard work and precision, and this commitment to quality was seen in their furniture as well as their architecture. They tended to use inexpensive woods that were readily available, which resulted in lightweight furniture that was nonetheless solid and of the greatest craftsmanship.


Shaker Craftsmanship
In keeping with the spirit of the simple Shaker lifestyle, Shaker furniture and craftsmanship is distinguished by functionality and simplicity. According to Troy Segal in his article “The Shakers and Their Furniture,” there are “three P’s” characterizing Shaker values that can also be seen in their approach to making furniture: plainness, practicality, and pride. This means that Shaker furniture is generally free of adornment, with clean lines and an emphasis on functionality. This practical approach also incorporated innovative design, and according to Segal (citing Clarence Hornung), the Shakers were likely the first to produce rocking-chairs on a large scale.


Shaker style is often compared to Mission craftsmanship: the Shaker aesthetic tends towards lighter furniture that can be easily moved, whereas the Mission style gives a more overall impression of solidity and permanence; the lighter colors of Shaker designs showcase the functionality of the designs, while Mission style uses darker stains to provide a more solid appearance; and Shaker craftsmanship favors seamless, tapered looks, with Mission furniture often featuring exposed joinery. Mission style cabinets, for example, tend to be of darker wood with pulls made of darker metals and Shaker cabinets come in colors like white and gray, with little or no hardware.


Modern Shaker Cabinets
Today, the Shaker cabinet enjoys continued popularity because it is so easily integrated into a variety of different kitchen styles. The hallmark feature is the recessed panel, which adds some visual interest to an otherwise ornament-free design. Generally, knobs on Shaker furniture are round and wooden, and legs of furniture will have a subtle taper. Shaker cabinets are also distinguished by an overall sleek appearance. Dovetail joints, such as those in Nelson Cabinetry’s products, provide solid, quality construction for the interior of the pieces, while the outside surfaces showcase a functional simplicity.