Shaker Woodworking: Characteristics of the Shaker Style of Furniture

he Shaker style is one of the most popular and enduring furniture styles in the United States. Woodworking luminaries such as George Nakashima and Wharton Esherick were influenced by the Shakers, and so are many contemporary makers like Garrett Hack, C.H. Becksvoort and Thomas Moser.

It seems that all furniture makers eventually pay homage to the work of the Shakers. What makes Shaker furniture so distinctive and lasting? What makes it so compelling to build? In this post I’ll describe the context in which the Shakers designed and built their furniture. I’ll also identify some of the characteristics that define the Shaker style and discuss how they came into being.

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Note: I took most of the photos below at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.

Shaker chair by a window

A Shaker chair basking in sunlight at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill

First and foremost, the Shakers were a religious sect. Officially called the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming, their faith was characterized by pacifism, celibacy, communalism, gender and racial equality, and independence from society, which they referred to as “the World.” Their furniture was both an expression of their religious faith and a reflection of their methods for survival.

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