Shakers’ Design From the 1700s to Modern Chairs

There are two unshakable tenants of Shakers Design—utility and simplicity. 

The utility is evidenced in the sturdy, minimalistic construction of Shaker furniture. Simplicity is featured in clean, unadorned lines, reflecting the original creators’ uncomplicated lifestyles.  

The History of Shakers’ Design 

Shakers design - house

The history of Shakers’ design began in the 1700s. Shakers (also known as Quakers) came to America from England in 1774. Much like most groups that traveled to America during this time, they pursued the freedom to practice their religious beliefs. These beliefs included living pure and humble lives on earth as though they were in heaven. As a result, Shaker communities embraced one another but remained largely separated from surrounding communities. These small townships grew their food, constructed their buildings, and manufactured their tools and household furnishings. 

Shakers abided by a set of guiding principles as they governed their behavior. These included honesty, utility, and simplicity. As you might imagine, these principles found expression in the clothing, tools, and furnishings that marked their daily lives. 

Shakers’ design focused on functionality, as opposed to style. Shakers were not lured by ornate or gaudy fashions, which provided decoration but served no real purpose. 

Shakers were concerned with the practicality of providing space for their communities to grow. Therefore, rooms were built to larger dimensions than were needed in the “present moment.” 

An example of this is the peg rails they built around the perimeter of most of their rooms. Shakers built these peg rails at shoulder level to provide a place to hang chairs, clothing, and other crafts as a means of keeping floor space open and tidy. 

Modern Shakers Design and Construction

handcrafted Shakers design chairs

At Troutman Chair Co., we specialize in Shaker construction processes and methods from selecting the wood we bring on-site to manufacturing our chairs. When it comes to building Shakers’ designs, we faithfully adhere to two main techniques-—swelled joint construction and interlocking joinery.

A common complaint of modern-day American chairs is that they become “wobbly” over time. A Troutman chair will get tighter over time. This is because we use Shaker techniques. We begin with locally sourced wood, which we cut to dimension, stack, and dry. Due to the nature of Shaker construction, no glue is used in a Troutman product. 

Swelled joint construction is a technique of furniture construction borrowed from Shakers. Moisture content in the lumber is closely monitored, and when it reaches the right point, the wood is made into base pieces. Larger posts (front and back posts) have higher moisture content than smaller ones (rungs). With the variance in moisture content, the small posts swell as they absorb moisture from the larger posts, and the larger posts shrink as they lose water to smaller parts, making a much tighter fit than if builders had glued them together. 

Another Shaker construction technique rarely used in today’s manufacturing processes is interlocking joinery. This process locks the components of our chairs together using moisture and the drying of wood to create shrinking and swelling of interlocking joints.

The front frame and back frame of the chairs and rockers are assembled separately. When these two parts are clamped together, the boring on each frame notches the dowel on the front post and back post, making it nearly impossible for the front assembly or back assembly to be pulled apart. Using swelled joint construction and interlocking joinery assures our customers the furniture they purchase is built for lifetimes of use. 

Shakers Style

Shakers’ design is minimal and features a clean-lined design. At Troutman Chair Co. we use Shaker construction and manufacture chairs that reflect the style Shakers created to reflect “heaven on earth.” 

15 Small Farmhouse Chair

Our 15 Farmhouse Chair embodies the Shaker style in both form and function. This chair features steam bent back posts and curved back slats. No glue was used at any point of the construction process, which is evident by its interlocking joinery and swelled joint construction. We have four available seat styles: slatted double scoop, solid, seagrass or paper cord. If you’re looking for a chair that will capture the style of cottage living, the 19 Cottage Ladder Back Chair will do just that! Like the 15 Farmhouse Chair, this chair is constructed with no glue but interlocking joinery and swelled joint construction. This process ensures the continued strength of joints as your chair ages. This chair also comes in four seat styles: slatted double scoop, solid, seagrass, or paper cord.

17 Martha Washington Chair

If you’re looking for a design with a rich history and one that’s exceptionally accommodating to people with back problems, the 17 Martha Washington Chair is beautifully designed using Shakers’ furniture design. Our Martha Washington has the traditional styling of the ladder back with the extra cuts in the back slats for a comfortable seat that’s better for the back: no slouching!

Though Shakers’ design came of age in an era when most furniture included increasingly heavy and ornate features, Shaker furniture’s unembellished surfaces and clean lines still bring sophistication to contemporary eyes. Because Shaker pieces are so carefully crafted, they look stunning and withstand the test of time. 

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