What is a Shaker kitchen? Interior designers explain the key features of this classic look

What Is A Shaker Kitchen?

First things first, what really is a Shaker kitchen? And where did it come from? Captivating homeowners with its simple yet sophisticated charm, "Shaker" is a generic name to describe a cabinetry door with no molding and a flat drawer head. 'In essence, it is a simplistic approach to kitchen cabinetry,' says Bob Bakes, head of design at Bakes & Kropp. 'The original, purist form of Shaker cabinetry was inset, however, the overlay was introduced to the market as the style grew in popularity.'

Plain English Kitchen's design director Merlin Wright takes us through the origins of the style. 'The name Shaker derives from an American community established in the 1790’s. They believed that the quality of their work was a testament to their devotion to God.  “Beauty rests on utility” and “Whatever is fashioned, let it be plain and simple and for the good” are just two of their founding beliefs. The Shaker’s influence on furniture design and making has been extensive with them often referred to as the Fathers of modernity,' explains Merlin.

'These days a simple kitchen with a recessed door and no moldings is often referred to as ‘Shaker’ while the attention to detail, faultless craftsmanship, and fine proportions of true Shaker furniture has since become the hallmark of good design,' he continues. When designing Plain English's own version of Shaker-style cabinetry, the Williamsburg range, founder Katie Fontana decided to forego any modern gadgetry, relying fully on traditional joinery methods that withstand the test of time. 'Gentle pillow-fronted drawer arrangements combined with a considered recessed door panel add the perfect visual interest without requiring decoration,' adds Merlin. 'American Maple or Cherry wood drawers and hand-turned knobs ensure we remain true to the Shaker’s beliefs. A Shaker kitchen offers a range of cupboards that sit comfortably in any home, are well-mannered, and ensure everything can easily be found.'

Helen Parker, creative director at deVOL, notes that their Shaker cupboards were also designed to be made to the distinctive and classic principles that were so fundamental to the very heart of the Shaker communities. 'Their desire to be self-sufficient, humble, hardworking, honest, and utilitarian gave way to furniture that has become so revered and loved the world over. This almost accidental style was born from sheer hard work and strong beliefs of thoughtful, functional form and proportion,' explains Helen. With cabinets designed to make every day easier, from drawers to cupboards and everything in between; each element of a Shaker kitchen gives careful consideration to kitchen storage and easy access.

Simply put, the hallmarks of a Shaker kitchen are a single central panel, raised frame, and little-to-no further adornment. 'A Shaker kitchen typically refers to the cabinets, it’s a flat center panel with flat trim that surrounds it,' explains Meredith Owen of Meredith Owen Interiors. 'Shaker style was typically more arts and crafts style but these days, with painted cabinets, and more updated shaker cabinet options, this is a great style for transitional or new modern kitchen designs too!'

So Why Are Shaker Kitchens So Popular?

Found in every style of home from the most modern apartments to the grandest of period homes, the Shaker's timeless simplicity seamlessly adapts to various design aesthetics making it a versatile choice for any home. 'Shaker kitchens tend to work in almost any style and period of home,' agrees Holly Vaughan of Vaughan Design & Development. 'Their simple, traditional look will always stand the test of time.' Elizabeth Sherwin, creative director of Naked Kitchens has found Shaker kitchens' popularity stems from their versatile, functional, and timeless approach to design. 'The style is characterized by unadorned cabinet doors, minimal ornamentation, and a focus on quality craftsmanship. Its pared-down simplicity makes it a popular choice in both traditional and contemporary aesthetics,' says Elizabeth.

While the Shakers created a blue-print for the family kitchen centuries ago, the Shaker kitchen remains a steadfast favorite today – boasting a longevity that outlives all other kitchen trends. Fuss-free in its simplicity with functionality at its core, it's no wonder that the Shaker kitchen is one of the most popular styles of kitchen to this day. 'The lack of ornamentation and simple clean lines has become the go-to look for so many of us as it allows us to choose between keeping it simple or adding our own changeable ornamentation and decoration,' observes deVOL's Helen Parker. 'This was not the purpose of this design or the intention of the Shakers, but it does allow it to be a very flexible and almost chameleon-like style which appeals to so many of us,' she adds.

How Should You Style A Shaker Kitchen?

The pared-back nature of a Shaker kitchen allows the craftsmanship to truly sing - creating a blank canvas for interior and kitchen designers to inject personality with color and decor. 'You can add character and a touch of your own style by choosing bold kitchen colors and some special hardware,' advises Holly Vaughan.

Despite un-painted wood being the most popular iteration of early Shaker furniture, modern-day Shaker kitchens come in a myriad of colors. The simplicity means you can go bolder with your color palette, and accessorize with hardware of traditional material like unlacquered brass and countertops in contemporary finishes like marble or quartz to offset the perennial charm of the cabinetry. Bethany Adams of Bethany Adams Interiors says 'Shaker typically refers to the cabinet style – a plain, square-edged door with a simple recessed panel – but can also generally mean a simple kitchen devoid of excess decoration similar to those favored by the Shaker communities of the past.' 'Wall pegs, beadboard, and wood or brick floors along with muted, historic colors would also imbue a space with Shaker style, but feel free to mix it up. Shaker-style cabinets pair beautifully with other, more exciting pieces because they are so simple,' she adds.

While rooted in tradition, Shaker kitchens have evolved to meet the demands of modern living. Open shelving, integrated appliances, and innovative storage solutions all blend seamlessly with the classic design, creating spaces that are both timeless and practical.

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