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Shaker Style Furniture (Designs & Characteristics)

Here’s our guide to traditional and modern shaker style furniture designs for your bedroom, living, and dining room, as well as their characteristics and comparison to mission style furniture.
Wooden family table with metallic legs and shaker style chairsSprucing up your home does not only include changing the colors of your walls but also adding a piece of furniture inside the room and home. While this might seem like a very small change, the addition can actually be impactful to the space it’s placed in. And this is particularly evident when it comes to shaker style furniture. 

Shaker style furniture is a popular style of furniture when it comes to the craftsmanship and quality of the piece of furniture. If you’re considering getting your own piece of shaker style furniture, this means that you’re committing to this popular style and so you need to explore everything you can about it.

What Is Shaker Style Furniture?

Home office with long table, chairs and weathered look console tableShaker style furniture has its origin rooted in history, particularly way back in the late 1700s, and is associated with the religious group known as Shaking Quakers or Shakers, which is obviously where it got its name.

The original name of the religious group is the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing and the group’s movement started in 1747 in England before it spread to the United States in the 1780s. 

The Shakers are a bit traditional in values and virtues but a bit more forward when it comes to their way of thinking. These celibate and feminist Protestants are known for being hands-on and building their own homes, household items, and even furniture, making the act of creating something sacred an endowed blessing and skill for all people. 

Following the simple and daily rituals of the Shakers paved the way for innovations in their own right. Much more than the creation of the circular saw, clothespin, and broom, the Shakers were able to introduce furniture that is practical yet high-quality. 

With a good reputation for innovation and quality work, they were able to introduce them to outsiders who are willing to pay for their creations. They are known to be the first minimalists, which introduced practical yet timeless innovations anyone can make the most of. 

Shaker furniture, in particular, has become a vital part of American design history because of these contributions. And while the religion did not have enough staying power in history, their furniture continues to be a part of people’s lifestyle in the past and even in the present. 

Popular for its elegant and timeless look, shaker furniture styles feature minimalist designs from simple and clean lines to its practical tapered legs. Compatible both for traditional and modern homes, shaker style furniture can easily be identified because of their distinguishable characteristics.

Made from wood, this style has a utilitarian design that prioritizes both functionality and practicality. Its minimalist style is the reason why many homeowners prefer the design, especially with today’s busy nature and cluttered daily routines.

The Shaker craftsmanship follows enduring aesthetics that are meant to look good with a stunning appeal that can last for a long time. In fact, the Shaker-style chair is still a recognizable and iconic piece of furniture that exists even now.

Its austere, clean-lined, and simple wooden appearance helps to remain a top-selling style today. Some of the popular materials used for this styled furniture are cherry, maple, oak, and walnut. 

Shaker Design Style Characteristics 

White walls with wooden floor lamp, table and potted plantsShaker style furniture is meant to be simple yet functional, as well as practical yet aesthetically sophisticated and timeless. Despite being minimalist-forward, the shaker style has an extraordinary attention to detail.  It’s more than just notable but also makes it stand out from other introduced styles.

The style also promises a high standard of quality and the authentic ones to appear more hand-crafted compared to other pieces of furniture. 

If you are thinking about getting your own shaker style furniture, some of the basic characteristics it features are the following:

• Inexpensive

• Built Locally

• Lightweight

• Made of Natural Materials (Popular options include: Cherry, Maple, Pine, and even Wicker)

• Practical in Design

These characteristics are more general in their essence and if you’re looking for specific details you can check out to consider a piece of furniture an authentic shaker style, here are some worth looking into

Plain Wood – Shakers value simplicity and this is evident in the type of materials they use. Free from inlays and intricate woodwork, shaker style furniture showcases basic designs that focus on plain wood with edges that are either rounded or gently beveled. The style also avoids using veneer for its deceptive nature and highly figured wood for its eye-catchy appearance. 

Tapered Legs – Shaker style furniture has noticeable tapered legs, specifically on tables in order to reduce the impact of the furniture’s weight and make it lighter and so easier to be moved around when needed. See more types of table legs here.

Turned Legs, Stretchers, & Spindles – Similar to tapering, legs are also turned (including spindles and stretches) to reduce the furniture’s mass and at the same time retain the wood’s structural integrity. Most turned parts are also tapered and choosing turned parts is practical considering it’s easy to replicate them. 

Concealed Joinery – Shaker furniture usually come with extensively joined dovetails, mortise, and tenon. Shaker drawers often have half-blind dovetails and can be seen once the drawers are pulled out.

Shaker tables, on the other hand, have pegs to fortify the tenons on the table legs. Make sure that whatever you use to conceal the joinery is the same wood species so that they can easily blend in. 

Wooden Pulls – Shakers value simplicity and this is the reason why shaker style furniture chooses wooden pulls rather than showy metal pulls that easily stand out. In an attempt to avoid catching attention, these pulls are made from the same wood species so that they can blend in with the furniture. 

Writing table with chair, art on the floor and ship modelGraduated Drawers – Shakers followed the golden ratio when designing drawer chests and this means that the drawer at the bottom is significantly larger than the other types of drawers. The sizes of the drawers will then be incrementally smaller as you worked all the way toward the top drawer.

This meaningful proportion allows the furniture to stay grounded and avoid getting toppled (since heavier and bigger items won’t fit the top drawer), as well as aesthetically encouraging your eyes to move from the bottom to the top. 

Shaker Bedroom Furniture 

Room with beige walls, carpet, sliding door and drum ceiling lightsThe main pieces of furniture you can find in a bedroom include the bed, closet, drawers, and side tables. For shaker style bedroom furniture, the pieces need to have clean lines and simple construction.

Some of the pieces of furniture you can consider for your Shaker style bedroom are the following:

• Pencil post bed

• Elegant case goods

• Real wood jewelry armoire

When choosing these pieces, make sure that they are simple in construction and free from ornamental detailing. You can choose the most popular species of wood associated with the shaker style, including oak, cherry, walnut, and maple.

And since the style is minimalist-focused, the bed, dresser, and nightstand need to have high quality and showcase incredible craftsmanship. See more about the types of bedroom furniture here.

Shaker Living Room Furniture 

Room with open layout, grey loveseats, center table and sheer curtainsThe living room is supposed to be the epicenter of all activities in the home and so needs to be in essence open and inviting. If you’re planning for a shaker style living room, this comes with some obvious features. One good example is if you have a coffee table in your living room.

For a coffee table to be deemed as shaker style, all legs need to be tapered. This goes the same for the entire living room set and the end table set. The tapered legs are a clear sign that the pieces of furniture have a shaker style. 

For a more general look, shaker style living room furniture should be simple yet functional in design. Preferably, they need to be made of solid wood. One of the most iconic and traditional shaker style pieces of furniture is the ladder-back chair.

And you can use it either in the living room or the dining room. This utilitarian design dominated by plain straight lines is what started the minimalist trend in the first place. 

Shaker style is all about high-quality construction and superior craftsmanship and you can definitely benefit from these factors despite how simple the chairs and tables of your shaker style living room may be. It is actually an ideal style to consider in a common area where you entertain guests, especially if you want to carry on an unpretentious ambiance for your guests. 

Shaker Furniture for the Dining Room 

Room with red wall, white painted wainscoting and wooden dining setThe shaker style is much more popularly used in the kitchen but you can also choose dining room pieces of furniture in this style. One of the most prominent shaker style dining room chairs is that which is lightweight enough to be hung on the pegs installed on the walls.

While some may seem a whimsical and unique style, hanging chairs on the walls serve a practical purpose that fits well with the shaker style. More than just freeing floor space for more uses, you can also provide extra seating storage and even make it easier to clean the dining room floors

Another accepted addition to your shaker style dining furniture is a no-frills table with square legs. Of course, the legs still need to be tapered and the decision to have no-frills comes from the understanding that the furniture needs to be simple and minimal as much as possible.

Solid wood cabinets can also be added, which will include the use of strong joinery techniques, wooden pegs, and complicated dovetail joints in order to set a high standard and quality for the construction of this structure. 

You can also add recessed panel detailing on the cabinet doors and while this is slightly more decorative than the traditional flat-front cabinetry, the design can still be considered as simple and timeless as an aesthetic addition.

The cabinet doors can also showcase a four-piece wood frame on top of the detailed joints. The choice for these modest looks is because of the religious views of the group which it originated from. 

Modern Shaker Inspired Furniture 

Side table with wicker baskets, wooden wall portrait and brown lampShaker style is definitely a part of the past that made a mark in history but it doesn’t mean you can’t have modern shaker style furniture. The good thing about the shaker style is its association with the minimalist style.

Many even considered the shaker style as the foundation that paved the way for the minimalist style to flourish. And with the rise of the minimalist style in modern times, it’s not surprising that shaker style furniture can be associated as modern. 

Modern furniture has this focus on lines, warmth, and minimalism, which are some of the characteristics you can easily associate with the shaker style too. The simple lines of the shaker style can be used for the sleek aesthetics that the modern style offers.

Free from decorations, modern shaker style cabinets usually feature five pieces, including four sturdy boards for the frame and one piece to serve as a flat door panel. And this basic construction allows the furniture to have superior strength and not warp. 

Besides durability and strength, you can keep some of the elements of the traditional shaker style furniture or you can change a few things to make sure that you add a modern vibe to it. One of the changes you can make is by adding modern hardware to the mix.

Instead of choosing the standard wooden knobs, you can go for something with a gold or brass finish. Another change you can go for is to choose dark matte shades for your shaker style cabinets instead of the usual neutral colors.

Some of the darker shades you can explore are deep blue, soft black, or slate gray, depending on the trend and aesthetics you wish to go for. 

The important thing with the changes though is to make sure to stay away from intricate designs and focus on craftsmanship. The changes also need to at least add to the appearance of durability and strength, as well as simplicity, elegance, and timelessness. 

Shaker Vs Mission Style Furniture

Dining room with slat-back chairs and natural stone tile floorAlong with shaker style furniture, mission style furniture had also made a name for its own with its respective notable details to showcase. These two different styles are often confused with each other and are even used interchangeably by some people despite not pertaining to the same thing.

This is because both styles have many similarities with each other, including the following:

• Both styles originated in New England.

• Both are associated with a particular group of people (The shaker style comes from the religious group Shaking Quakers while the mission style comes from the Amish).

• Both are referred to as traditional furniture craftsmanship.

If you want a quick glance at their differences in terms of details, here is a useful table to explore. 

Mission Style Furniture Shaker Style Furniture
Parallel slats Use of plain wood
Exposed and eased joinery Tapering 
Darker stains Wooden pulls
90-degree angles with horizontal & vertical line Mushroom-shaped wood knobs
Rectangular spindles Graduated drawers
Originated in the 1780s Originated in the 19th century

Mission Style Furniture Design Features

Room with fireplace, white curtains and wooden rocking chairIntroduced and became rampant in the 19th century, mission style furniture became popular in the Arts & Crafts period or American Craftsman era. This is because of the rising demand in this century for arts and crafts and this style replaced shake style furniture in popularity.

The style combined stunning craftsmanship with beautiful aesthetics and applied it to tables, dressers, living room sets, and even lighting.

This style is characterized by the following notable elements:

• Rectangular Shapes & Spindles

• 90-degree Angles

• Straight Vertical and Horizontal Lines

• Parallel Slats for Visual Strength and Appearance (Mission Style Bed Posts and Living Room Furniture)

• Eased Edges

• Exposed Joinery for More Durable and Timeless Aesthetics

• Traditionally Made with Oak Wood and Sometimes Maple or Cherry

• Features Darker Stains or Colors for A More Decorative and Ornamental Look

Furniture Design Features of Shaker Design 

White kitchen with staircase with wood railing and pendant lightsWhen considering what comes first, the shaker style has established its roots decades earlier than mission style. In fact, it was the mission style that was considered the replacement for the shaker style.

This does not mean though that it has disappeared from the industry when in fact, this style has made a dent in history.

This elegant and timeless style showcases the following distinguishable characteristics that make it different compared to the missions style:

• Clean and Simple Lines and Designs

• Minimalist Aesthetics

• Practical Details

• Tapered Legs to Keep Furniture Lightweight for Moving

• Wooden Pulls with Similar Wood Species with the Entire Furniture 

• Mushroom-shaped Wood Knobs

• Plain Wood for Overall Durability and Functionality

Visit our guide to craftsman style living rooms for more related ideas.