Defining a Style Series: What Is Shaker Design? The Key to Timeless Design

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Shaker design has deep roots in simplicity. Image: Kate Lester Interiors

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Interior design doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Many of the current style trends we love today claim roots that go back hundreds of years — that is, if you know where to look. This next installment of our Defining a Style series happens to be one those occasions. This time, we’re talking about Shaker design.

If you love the simplicity of minimalism and the natural beauty of Nordic interiors, this post is for you. Read on to learn what Shaker design is, how history impacts its aesthetic, and the ways in which you can update this look for today. This style is truly timeless design at its finest.

What is Shaker design?

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Classic minimalism

Shaker design gets its principals from the 18th-century Shakers community. Image: Stephen Moser Architect

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Shaker design started in the 18th century. Its moniker and influence can be traced to a branch of Christianity — the Shakers — that was popular at the time.

The Shaker belief system espoused hard work and community as well as freeing oneself from unnecessarily desires. Excessive materialism was chief among their undesirable traits.

As a result, their style of design is believed to be an early attempt at what we now know as minimalism. The two aesthetics share many of the same traits. However, Shaker design has a decidedly more natural flair to it than the ultra-modern sleekness we see in many of today’s minimal interiors.

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function over form

Function wins over form every time. Image: Michele Lee Willson Photography

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Put function first

The defining principle of Shaker design is that function comes before all else. For this reason, this style of furniture consists mainly of straightforward, wooden pieces. There is also an emphasis on maintaining clean lines and avoiding any ostentatious aesthetic ornamentation.

That’s not to say that Shaker work is devoid of its own brand of sophistication. You can often see slight decorative flourishes in the furniture’s elegantly turned legs and in small, detailed carvings in the wood. These carvings often depicted things like leaves or acorns.

Beyond the furnishings, the Shakers’ commitment to simplicity extended throughout their interiors. These layouts include plenty of negative space and utilize few accessories. Any accessories present are highly functional, so if you’re patterning this look, include items such as serving bowls and candles.

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Use quality materials

Choose design elements made of quality materials. Image: Palmerston Design Consultants

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Invest in quality materials

The Shakers may have believed in simplicity, but the design elements they kept on hand were incredibly well-made. In accordance with their belief system, they made the majority of their belongings themselves. Needless to say, they intended to have them stand the test of time.

While you probably won’t be making your Shaker décor by hand, you can mirror their principles by investing in high-quality, natural materials. Try to purchase flooring and furnishings in cherry, maple and pine woods. If possible, spring for the real deal (and leave the laminate lookalikes behind.)

Textiles are another area where you can do this. Materials such as wool, cotton and silk were plentiful at the time. Do you best to search for pillows, blankets and floor coverings in those fabrics.

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pick neutral colors

Stick to a neutral color palette. Image: Susan Corry Design

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Keep colors neutral

In keeping with the theme of natural simplicity, the Shaker color palette is based almost entirely on neutral hues. While we’d usually advocate for a bold, accent shade to round out the space, Shaker design is an exception. Bright hues would look out of place with this aesthetic.

That said, not all neutral shades are created even. Instead of relying on a harsh contrast between black and white, Shaker interiors favor more muted tones. Tans, grays and off-white — nearly oatmeal-colored — hues are the most common.

When using only neutrals, it’s crucial to follow the 10-30-60 rule to prevent the space from becoming boring. Choose one shade to cover 60% of the room (usually the walls) another to cover 30% (usually the furniture) and a final, statement shade to account for the last 10% (usually your accessories).

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shaker design

It’s time for Shaker design to make a comeback. Image: Carsten Arnold Photography

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If you needed any proof that today’s interior design trends have a history all of their own, Shaker design is it. This aesthetic has been around since before the concept of interior design came into being, yet it still remains relevant today. If you are a fan of simplistic interiors with a natural twist, this design is for you. Keep these tips in mind to help bring Shaker-chic into your home.

What do you think of Shaker design? Will you be embracing this look in your interiors? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.



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