BY CHRISTIAN TTTW,|)W(,RKIN(; MASi LRS Jere IA/ Osgood, Sam Maloofand W W George Nakashima eac h evolved a style and explored it to its ultimate conclusion, and to hell with what was in vogue.The Shakers did the same thing, continually refining their idiom until they approached perfection, without regard to the latest trend.! hey developed a style of furniture that blends well and fits comfortably in any type of house. The Shakers went out of their way to eschew fashion:The result is timelessness.
I grew tip in a house hill of Danish modern furniture, which was, it turns out, heavily influenc ed by Shaker designs. Like the Danish furniture makers, I fell under the sway of Shaker furniture the moment I discovered it—in my case, during a slide lecture 111 an architecture appreciation course I took in college.! lie simplicity and utility of the furniture I saw in the slides stunned me. In the late 1970s, I began restoring Shaker furniture, and much of my own work has been in the Shaker vein ever since. I very seldom reproduce slavishly, but you can look at my work and without batting an eye see its derivation is Shaker.
lo make a Shaker-looking piece, adopt a Shaker attitude: Keep it simple m design and materials, make it functional, and in corporate authentic details.! lie details shown 011 these pages were commonly used by the Shakers until about I860, after which their furniture began to show the worldly influence of the Victorian style.
fhe Shakers believed "that which has in itself the highest use possesses the greatest beauty." It took the rest of the world nearly a century to come to the same conclusion, when, in die early 20th century, Louis Sullivan declared "form follows function." But these die turns alone do not lead inevitably to j particular style, much less to a specific set of elements and details. In addition to being inspired by their beliefs, the Shakers and die furniture they made were influenced by their historical context.
In short, the Shakers took the furniture they were familiar with, the local styles from New England to Kentucky, and stripped it of superfluous ornamentation. The Shaker craftsman Orren I laskins (1815-1892) perhaps said it best:"Why patronize the outside world? .. .We want a good plain substantia] Shaker article, yea, one that bears credit to our profession and tells who and what we are, true and honest before the world, without hypocrisy or any false covering.The world at large can scarcely keep pace with itself in its stiles and fassions which last but a short time, when
Moldings along the tops ot Shaker case pieces are hard to justify as anything but decorativc. Most styles of furniture (and architecture) incorporate moldings or some type of overhang at the top. To the eye, a crown molding or overhang denotes an ending; it is much like a period at the end of a sentence. The Shakers, presumably, were not immune to this near-universal need for closure.
Shakei craftsmen used base moldings and profiled bracket bases foi protection, not decora tion. A rounded or shaped edge is far less prone to splintering or chipping than is a sharp, square comer. This is especially true near the flooi, where base molds and brackets are likely to en counter biooms and mops or shoes and boots.
something still more worthless or absurd takes its place. Let good enough alone, and take good common sense for our guide in all our pursuits, and we are safe within and widiout."
Shaker furniture, especially from the classic period of 1820 to 1850, contains little in the way of excessive moldings and virtually no carving or veneer.The Shakers favored native materials and were dead set against materials they felt were decadent, suc h as brass.The Western communities tended to follow the local vernacular style to a much greater degree than their Eastern counterparts. So the Shaker furniture from Ohio and Kentucky appears more ornate.
Some forms of furniture were never built by the Shakers. You will never see Shaker coffee tables, for example, nor tea tables, highboys, pencil-post beds or upholstered pieces. Some furniture companies market these items "in die Shaker style," including improbable pieces such as entertainment centers.
Certain elements appear over and over in Shaker furniture and make sense within the idiom. In striving for a design that remains faithful to the Shaker style, be mind fitl of their approach—-just as you wouldn't build Queen Anne out of poplar, you wouldn't build Shaker out of rosewood. And pay close attention to the details.
CHRISTIAN BECKSVOORT is the author of The
Shaker Legacy, published by The Taunton Press.
The doors on early Shaker pieces usually had raised, fielded panels. Over time, howevet, the raised panel fell out of favoi, perhaps because it appeared too decorative or possibly because the shoulder was seen as just another dust collector. In any event, the flat panel ultimately replaced the more traditional raised panel as the first choice of Shakei cabinetmakers In the transition, the pillow panel, as I call it, was sometimes used. Instead of having a well-defined, shouldered field, the panel was planed on all four edges to fit the groove in the frame. The result was a field that was barely noticeable.
Although squaie-shouldered door ftames were used on occasion, more often than not, the frames featured a quarter-round thumbnail profile along their inside edges. To me, this represents a perfect example of a utilitarian, as opposed to a stnetly decorative, molding. Rounded edges along the inside of the door frame are much easier to keep clean than straight, square shoulders.
Flat panel with thumbnail frame
Raised, fielded panel with thumbnail and square frame
"Pillow" panel with thumbnail frame
Flat panel with square frame
Shakei craftsmen built both flush and lipped drawers. Flush drawers had square edges and fit fully Into their openings. Lipped drawers, although more difficult to make, covered the gap around the drawer front to keep out dust. The lips, however, were usually on the top and two sides only. A lip on the bottom was considered too fragile, should the drawer have to be set on the ground. The quarter-roiiid and thumbnail profiles were commonly used on all four edges of lipped drawers. Neither the Shakers nor their worldly contemporaries used the bevel-edged, raised door panel as a drawer front That design fiasco was perpetrated on consumers by the kitchen-cabinet Industry
Quartet round, lipped
Shaker craftsmen continued the theme of simplicity right clown to the knobs. FYioi to the 1850s, most Shaker knobs were shopmade, although some early pieces had commercially manufactured porcelain knobs in either white or agate, a marbled brown color. After 1860, manufactured knobs be came more and more common.
The typical Shaker knob was a variation of the mushroom form. Sizes ranged from % in. dia on tiny desk drawers to 2% in. dia. on large built ins. Knobs up to 1 % in. dia were typically spindle turned, with either a plain tenon (glued and wedged through the door or drawer front) or a threaded tenon. Larger knobs were usually lace turned and attached with steel screws Irom the inside. Shop-built Shaker knobs were always made, of hardwoods, often of a contrasting species to the rest of the piece.
CHERRY SINGLE DROP-LEAF DESK Top: 14Vi in. by 30 in. Leaf: 12 in.
Carcase: 12« In. by 20% In. Canterbury, N.H., Circa 1850-1900
A (air number of Shaker tabletop edges were square or only slightly eased. A square edge, however, was by no means the only profile used. Shaker craftsmen realized that a simple, shaped profile was not only less prone to damage than a square edge but also less painful when bumped.
Rule joints were used on drop-leaf tables. The joint looked crisp and was less likely to lodge crumbs or pinch items hanging over the edges.
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