Pie safes were once common in American kitchens. The one shown at left reflects the Shaker devotion to utility. The cabinets were essentially large bread boxes, designed to store baked goods made and consumed by Shaker families. That the cabinets are elegant and attractive is, in a sense, coincidental, for it is a reflection of the Shakers' spare and utilitarian ethic rather than an expression of esthetics.
All property and goods in Shaker communities were owned collectively, to be used as needed. Since belongings were not considered private, latches and locks on the doors of a pie safe would have been superfluous. Doors sported simple wooden knobs and mating rabbets cut along the inside faces of their stiles so they would close flush and tightly together. The most clever feature of the safe lies in the design of the tin door panels. The cabinets had to keep rodents and insects from getting inside while allowing enough air to circulate to prevent the food from becoming stale. With the use of tin door panels, Shaker furniture makers solved both problems at once. The small holes in the panels permitted the passage of air. And, by punching the holes from the inside out, they created sharp edges on the out
One of the charming elements of these pieces is the hole pattern. The designs were sometimes abstract and sometimes pineapple-shaped or floral, as in the example shown on page 86. But again, these details were not primarily intended to be ornamental or flamboyant. The panels had to be perforated, so the Shakers chose to punch the holes symmetrically to avoid an unnecessarily ornate or otherwise distracting appearance.
Pie safes were traditionally made from cherry, although communities where hardwoods were scarce frequently resorted to pine. This chapter provides detailed step-by-step instructions for building a Shaker-inspired safe, beginning with cutting the rails, stiles and panels for the cabinet (page 90) and continuing through gluing up the case (page 97), making and installing the shelves (page 104), and assembling the doors (page 106). Although rooted in the Shaker tradition, a pie safe like this one would be a perfect addition to any modern, country-style kitchen.
With its sturdy frame-and-panel construction, adjustable shelving, and perforated tin door panels, the pie safe shown at left is ideal for storing baked goods. In a modern incarnation, the safe could be used as an entertainment center, with plenty of space for audio or video equipment.
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