At RealCraft, one of our guiding principles is, “Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.”
We didn’t come up with this, although we wish we did. This maxim is actually attributed to the Shakers. But who are the Shakers, and what do they have to do with woodworking? Keep reading to find out, or watch this video instead!
Who Are The Shakers?
The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as the Shakers were a small religious sect that originated in England and settled in the United States in 1774. At its height, the Shakers had over 6,000 members from Maine to Kentucky. Today there are only three living members, which means that the Shakers are in danger of dying out. But what may surprise you is how this small religious movement has had an outsized impact on American furniture and architecture.
The Shakers believed in utopian communal living and separating themselves from the outside world in order to live a more virtuous life. So they grew their own food, constructed their own buildings, and made their own furniture. They were also socially progressive and women held prominent leadership roles in Shaker communities. They were sort of like the back-to-the-land hippies of their day—but way more clean-cut and strait laced.
Shakers also believed that working on everyday tasks could itself be an act of worship. They dedicated themselves to mastering whatever craft they attempted. This made their products of unusually high quality. The Shakers were also great innovators, since they made their tools and machinery themselves. They’re credited with the invention of metal pen nibs, flat brooms, the circular saw, the clothes pin, a no-kill mousetrap, condensed milk, and a wheel driven washing machine.
So now that you know a little bit more about the Shakers, let’s talk about their furniture and woodworking design principles.
Shaker Design Features and Principles
Shaker wood products developed a reputation for unsurpassed quality and minimalist design, which was quite different from the ornamental styles that were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. But they weren’t using minimal silhouettes just to be trendy. Why were the Shakers against decoration? They believed it encouraged the sin of pride.
Shakers also cared a lot about the principle of honesty. According to their philosophy, manufactured goods should be honest in appearance, meaning that a technically deceitful action like veneering or ornamentation was not allowed. This is why the Shakers used solid wood. Earlier versions of Shaker woodcrafts might have included some decoration like inlays, but eventually those too were eliminated. And while other furniture makers used imported woods, Shakers used domestic woods like pine, maple, and cherry.
Because Shakers didn’t earn wages, they had to find a way to support their communities. So they sold surplus goods to people outside the community. By the 1860s, Shakers had become known for their chairs. And this is probably one of their most famous contributions. These famous chairs typically include turned posts, ladder backs, and woven seats. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Shaker chairs were simplified versions of a centuries-old design that remained popular in part because the component parts were comparatively quick and easy to produce".
Our Shaker Style Doors
Our Shaker Double Panel Entry Door.
Our Shaker Style Doors continue this tradition of form following function and the use of genuine materials. We offer swinging, sliding, and entry Shaker style doors. They’re all made with solid wood and mortise and tenon joinery. These doors are free from ornamentation, and the main way in which they differ is the number of panels on the door and whether you opt for flat panels or tongue-in-groove panels. Just like the Shakers themselves, our goal when crafting doors is to create an item that’s functional and beautiful in an understated way. We also build the door so it lasts. That’s the advantage of building with solid wood.
Shaker style doors are best sellers at RealCraft because their simplicity makes them super versatile. Of course, they’re perfect for very traditional or historic homes. If you choose them in a lighter wood like Maple or Ash, or paint them white, they’re beautiful in coastal décor schemes. They work well for farmhouse design because the Shakers lived on farms, so it just makes sense. We like them for Scandinavian minimalist design, and they can even add some grounding to a more eclectic or bohemian space. We wouldn’t recommend these doors for very modern spaces because they’re just too obviously from a different time. We also generally wouldn’t recommend this style of door for a space that feels very industrial.
Now that you know more about the origins and features of the Shaker style, we hope you’ll incorporate it into your space—whether through doors, chairs, cabinetry, or other wood furnishings. It’s a classic, timeless style that expresses a truly heartfelt commitment to craftsmanship, utility, and simple, natural beauty.