American Shaker furniture - bench

I’m a huge fan of Shaker furniture.

It seems quite remarkable that a community without a specific design background somehow managed to achieve such a timeless and elegant style. Their work sits comfortably in rural and contemporary settings alike, and I feel there is a real honesty to its simple response to the practical needs of its time.

Everything was made from one material – wood and nothing else. Like myself, they tend to favour cherry wood – the American hardwood that darkens with age and exposure to light. Hard and resilient, it’s a material perfect for well-used (and loved) furniture.

There is nothing flamboyant or fussy about Shaker furniture, their style has symmetry, producing a look that never feels overdone.

The Iford Library Step Chair by charlie caffyn - inspired by shaker furniture

The Iford Library Step Chair

Shaker is the name commonly known for the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, initially known as “Shaking Quakers” due to their lively movements while at worship. Founded in England in 1770 by Ann Lee, the Shakers developed furniture that reflected their beliefs of simplicity, utility and honesty.

In 1774, nine Shakers moved to the US and eventually became one of the most successful utopian communities in American history. They were self-sufficient; growing their food, building their homes and making their own tools and furniture.

The furniture they made was purely functional and minimalist in design, much like a lot of the contemporary furniture we see today. This minimalism came from their rejection of fussy, ornate decoration common in the furniture of the day.

In the 1860s the Shakers developed what is now an iconic piece of furniture – the ladder-back chair with woven seat. These were quick and easy to make, and have influenced designers and makers ever since, particularly the postwar Danish furniture designers who went on to influence future generations of designers worldwide.

Among other recognisable furniture they produced are the Shaker rocking chair, tables and cabinets. The MET museum wrote this essay on the movement if you are interested in finding out more about shaker furniture.

Their influence on my own work is subtle. I don’t want to copy them, but their ideals of good honest furniture with timeless quality resonate wholly with me.

View my current furniture collection here.


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