Love the simplicity of Shaker style decorating? We take a look at the key elements of this famous design style and how you can incorporate it into your home.
Who were the Shakers?
The Shakers were a religious sect, founded in England in 1770. They were an off-shoot of a sect of Quakers, called the ‘Shaking Quakers’ as they danced to express religious fervour. In the 1760s, Ann Lee joined the Shaking Quakers and became dissatisfied with some of their beliefs, before leaving to found the Shakers. She became known to her followers as Mother Ann Lee, and in 1772 had a vision from God in which she was told to emigrate with her followers to America. Shakers believed in common ownership of property and communal living, and led lives of abstinence and celibacy. They believed that everything in their houses should have a purpose, and decoration and embellishment weren’t necessary.
Two of their favourite sayings sum up their philosophy: ‘Whatever is fashioned, let it be plain and simple and for the good’ and ‘Beauty rests on utility’. However, they believed that whatever they created was a tribute to God so the quality of their workmanship was extremely high and they also made goods for sale to support themselves. Mother Ann taught them that they should work as though ‘you had 1,000 years to live, and as if you were going to die tomorrow’.
Although they were a hard-working sect, they didn’t believe in unnecessary work and created the first labour-saving rooms, with cupboards that went right down to the floor and right up to the ceiling, so there was no need to clean under or on top of them.
When not in use, chairs, tools and clothing were hung on hooks around the room to make it easy to clean the floor. Rooms were open plan and easy to maintain, with a simple, uncluttered feel. Colours were limited to a basic, natural palette of red, blue, yellow and green.
Furniture was always made by hand from natural materials – in fact, they had a very modern attitude to sustainability and environmental impact! Their only form of decoration was a motif of an open hand with a heart in the middle, meaning ‘hands to work and hearts to God’.
How to get the Shaker look in your home
‘Shaker style’ is a still major influence on modern interior design, prized for its simplicity and timelessness. Here’s how to get the look in your own home:
- Walls should be neutral. The Shakers used a natural colour palette and made their own dyes from plants, so colours shouldn’t be too strong. A matt, chalky finish works best.
- Wooden furniture is key. Wall-to-floor cupboards, ladder back chairs, simple trestle tables and open book cases all work well. Furniture should be painted in plain, neutral colours with darker knobs or pulls for contrast. Put wooden pegs around the room for hanging.
- The Shakers lived without any soft furnishings that weren’t essential, so no seat pads or throw cushions! If you don’t want to follow the trend quite that closely, look for natural fabrics with a rough weave in soft, muted colours. The Shakers made their own fabric, so don’t choose anything too modern or brightly coloured.
- Floors should ideally be bare boards, but if you have to go with a carpet choose a neutral colour such as oatmeal. Floors can be varnished or painted.
- Overall, the look should be clean and uncluttered. Candlesticks work well, as will a few simply-framed photographs, but overall less is more.
Top Shaker style home picks
Wooden peg rack, The White Lighthouse
Wall mounted wooden peg rack with five metal pegs on a driftwood coloured back. £8 from The White Lighthouse.
Westleigh shaker style kitchen, B&Q
For Shaker-style kitchen units on a budget, take a look at the Westleigh range in ivory from B&Q.
Oak ladder shelf, Grace & Glory
This is a beautiful and practical piece of furniture with clean lines and a simple shape. £375 from Grace & Glory.
Pair of padded Shaker hearts
If the ‘no decoration’ rule sounds a little harsh, then these padded hearts in shabby chic fabric will blend in. £3.95 from live laugh love.