Play kitchen décor detective and know the clues of real-deal Shaker woodworking

When you think “traditional kitchen” your minds’ eye sees Shaker cabinetry. Established by the frugal Shaker ethic that did away ornamentation, it was popularised in America 150 years ago. But how do you know you’re looking at the real thing? And, did you know that the Shaker design style isn’t just about cabinets?

Here are the clues needed to identify the real deal Shaker design style from the imposter.

Practical forms
The Shakers’ belief in austerity is clearly indicated in the most obvious clue of Shaker cabinetry: the frame and panel profile. Known by designers as “rail and stile”, this construction has had many variations since its inception, but the general principle of a flat, recessed front panel surrounded by a raised frame, remains the same. Allowing the quality and beauty of the wood to speak for itself, rather than applying ornamentation, today’s Shaker cabinets still capture the true spirit the original craftsmen were trying to achieve.

Simplicity and functionality aesthetics are found in all Shaker cabinetry including the painted . (c) nakedkitchens.com

Simplicity and functionality aesthetics are found in all Shaker cabinetry including the painted . (c) nakedkitchens.com

Natural wood
Nothing beats the beauty of Mother Nature, so the kitchen décor detective knows that real Shaker design style can be most clearly identified by the use of natural wood. The Shaker austerity and appreciation for nature compelled them to select the finest wood (like maple, birch, chestnut and walnut), shape it for their needs and then apply a simple stain to enhance the piece’s beauty and usefulness.

The Shaker-style cabinetry style can be most clearly identified by the use of natural wood. (c) nakedkitchens.com

Tapering and turning
Though typical antique furniture can be quite hefty, Shaker furniture is anything but. In fact, any woodworking that could reduce a piece of furniture’s mass (while maintaining its structural integrity) was permitted. Shaker craftsman used various woodworking techniques to keep their furniture light and easy to move about the home. Tapered legs were (and still are) used on Shaker-style tables. Turning, which transforms solid wood into delicate chair legs, stretchers and spindles, are also tell-tale signs of the Shaker style. As such, Shaker furniture is a great addition to today’s small kitchen spaces.

Wood hardware
Perhaps the most easily overlooked clue of Shaker cabinetry and furniture design is its use of wooden hardware. At the height of the Shaker movement, metal hardware, like drawer pulls would have been considered showy, so austere wooden pulls were made from the same wood as the rest of the piece. Now, it’s a great option if you are stuck for a hardware concept.

Metal hardware such as drawer pulls are kept to a minimalist design. (c) nakedkitchens.com

Metal hardware such as drawer pulls are kept to a minimalist design. (c) nakedkitchens.com

When it comes to identifying real Shaker design style, the kitchen décor detective knows that form follows function. If it isn’t practically beautiful, it’s not Shaker!