Everything you need to know about the history of Shaker-style kitchens…
There have been some pretty dodgy design trends and interior concepts over the years. From popcorn ceilings to woodchip wallpaper, beaded curtains to carpeted bathrooms, all of which had the shelf life of an overly-ripe avocado. That’s what makes shaker kitchens the exact opposite. As a kitchen style, they are so popular they have managed to stay in style since the mid-18th Century. That’s incredible.
And the reason for their endless popularity: they celebrate simplicity and tradition by combining craftsmanship, functionality and sustainability. And because the artistry of shaker cabinets adds a versatile charm, our shaker kitchens are able to adapt to so many different interior styles.
Here we’ll provide an answer to one of our most commonly-asked questions: what exactly is a Shaker kitchen?
What is a Shaker Kitchen?
The standout feature that has always defined a Shaker-style kitchen is its simplicity. It’s the way functionality works hand-in-hand with versatility, as well as the laid-back style that has made this the most sought-after kitchen design on the market.
In fact, 27% of all kitchens are home to Shaker cabinetry — that is to say a symmetrical style of kitchen cabinetry that features a flat centre panel and square edges, with minimal detailing or profiling. No intricate carvings or ornamentation, just an effortlessly chic kitchen that can be adapted to any style of home, from farmhouse cottages in the country to modern townhouses in the city.
The Story Behind Shaker Kitchens
Every piece of design has a story attached to it, and the Shaker kitchen is no different. But to learn about the very origins of this concept, we need to head back 200 years to the mid-18th Century, when a small group of Quakers split to create their own religious sect. Based in Manchester, this newly-formed religious group was officially known as The United Society of Believers, but because of the way they used dancing and shaking in their worship, they became known as the Shakers — a name they took with them when they emigrated to America.
Having settled in New England, it was here that they became known for producing artisan furniture of such high-quality that they developed a reputation and prestige for their unrivalled craftsmanship — a craftsmanship that we still celebrate in our UK-based workshops today.
The other key characteristic of the Shakers culture was honesty, which is why they did away with unnecessary details and motifs — features that they believed to be misleading — and instead focussed on three new pillars of design: functionality, durability and simplicity.
What Features Define a Shaker-Style Kitchen?
In a word: functionality. That has always been the main philosophy behind the design of every Shaker kitchen. They are designed to make everything easier by giving everything a place to be stored and accessed easily and efficiently. Drawers, cupboards, everything is designed with precision and the kitchen-owner’s lifestyle in mind — and each kitchen can be fitted to each individual too.
So many of our clients have asked us to hide their appliances behind cabinet doors or chosen to add our clever chopping board and tray storage options to enable a larger, clearer work space. Shaker kitchens are about looking at every nook, cranny, corner and space with careful consideration to make sure every aspect of the kitchen is used to the maximum in a way the owner can enjoy.
What You Can Expect From a Traditional Shaker Kitchen
Where more traditional craftsmen would opt for imported woods such as mahogany, Shakers preferred to use locally-sourced timbers everywhere they could, like pine, cherry and maple wood — and that is exactly what we still do today.
Preferring to use natural materials that celebrate a more sustainable lifestyle, we use carefully-sourced materials from local-suppliers that are traceable, accountable and accredited by the FSC, the international organisation that’s dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests).
And just like their cabinets, the Shakers traditionally opted for simple handles and worktops made from wooden knobs, which is one of the only significant changes to the philosophy behind the Shakers craftsmanship in over 200 years. That’s because almost all of our clients now prefer to go with more modern materials, such as brass handles and natural stone — although we do still offer solid wood worktops and traditional wooden knobs. It all depends on the style — and lifestyle — of your dream kitchen.
In short: there is a reason Shaker kitchens have always been popular, and it’s to do with the timeless style, careful functionality and unrivalled versatility.
We know this because Al Bruce, the founder of Olive & Barr, has been a cabinet maker for over 25 years, creating bespoke cabinets and kitchens using the traditional methods and philosophies of the first Shakers: sleek designs that focus on function and celebrate sustainable materials.