The Shakers

The architecture, interiors, and furniture of the American Shakers, a 19th century utopian religious group, grow out of their belief system and worldview. Minimal ornament, simple forms deriving from function or utility, perfected proportions, and excellent craftsmanship reflect the communal, celibate, labor-focused lifestyles of the Shakers.

1. Types: communities have a meetinghouse, dwelling houses for families, and a variety of utilitarian support buildings such as barns, stables, sheds, shops, and bath houses.
2. Meetinghouses: two or three stories, white painted clapboard, two entrances, and a gambrel roof.
3. Dwelling houses: large wealthy families build stately dwellings of stone or brick with two to six stories and 40-50 room and hold up to 100 members! They have high ceilings, wider hallways, and larger rooms to accommodate the traffic.
4. Shaker architecture normally will have these attributes: a chimney at the end of the building, a side gabled roof, rectangular double-hung sash windows, plain brick facade with slender proportions that reflect the Federal style, double entrance doors, and a center axis which emphasizes symmetry.


Shaker furniture, like architecture and interiors, reflects their belief system and supports their lifestyle. The Millennial Laws prescribe what furnishings each member should have so that no one has more or less than anyone else. Rooms are sparsely finished because accumulating possessions is believed to engender worldliness and pride.

1. Types: worship spaces, meeting rooms, and sleeping rooms. Sleeping rooms have a bed, chair, and storage for each inhabitant and a communal washstand and a table.
2. light in scale, simplistic, no applied ornament
3. Seating: ladder-back chairs and rockers are the most common, seats are made of woven cotton tape and eventually colored tapes allow for checkerboard and herringbone patterns.
4. Large Shaker families require great amounts of storage – so built-ins may fill attics, under stairs and in corners.
5. Beds: double beds accommodate as many people as possible for space and trundle beds are common for space conservation and to help care for the sick.

Symbols and Motifs
Because the Shakers regard decoration as worldly, thus forbidden, no motifs are associated with them other than flowers and hearts that appear in their paintings.

Decorative Arts
Accumulating and displaying possessions are incompatible with Shaker beliefs and lives, so rooms typically have no decorative accessories, except possibly a painting or scroll. The Millennial Laws forbid pictures and paintings, although they do permit a single, small mirror in retiring rooms. At first, clocks also are forbidden, but later the elders realize that time pieces help maintain orderly lives. Many communities have a tall case clock in the hall of their dwelling houses and in their shops and barns. Shakers do not make their own tablewares, but purchase plain, white utilitarian ceramics. The Shakers are known for the elegance and beauty of their baskets and oval wooden boxes that they make in various sizes and shapes.

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