August 30, 2010

Shaker Furniture: The Birth of Modernism?


Poor modern furniture. If it had feelings, it would almost certainly have an assortment of self-esteem issues. It’s so polarizing – people either love or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be much room for a middle ground.

The same features that make modern furniture so appealing are the ones that turn many people off. Its smooth lines and sleek appearance can sometimes favor style over functionality, while a generally abstract (and sometimes bizarre) design can simply leave some people confused.

Despite its bad-boy reputation for not staying inside the lines of traditional furniture design, the ideas for some of today’s hottest modern furniture designs have been propelled by a surprisingly humble source: Shaker furniture.


Established in the 18th century, the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing was a religious sect known for their emphasis on equality, rejection of marriage, hard work, and the pursuit of perfection. These Protestant Quakers believed God could be found within oneself rather than through clergy or rituals.

Although they didn’t perform rituals per se, they did dance, as they considered music to be an integral part of the religious experience. The group’s erratic dancing often frightened outsiders, who took to calling them “Shakers.”


Shakers were known for creating a style of furniture known as Shaker furniture, which they made for their own use and sold to the general public. Shaker furniture is widely admired for its simplicity, innovative joinery, quality, and functionality.


Many examples of Shaker furniture still exist today, including Shaker tables, chairs, rocking chairs, and cabinets. Collections of Shaker furniture are maintained by many art and historical museums in the United States and England, as well as in numerous private collections.

Though it would be a stretch to say Shaker furniture gave rise to modern furniture design, the influences are striking. The underlying principles of Shaker design have given inspiration to some of the finest designers of modern furniture.

Narratives are for entertainment purposes only and frequently employ literary point of view; the narratives do not necessarily reflect the opinions of El Dorado Furniture, its officers, or employees.

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