What Is A Shaker Kitchen? – Everything Explained

There’s a lot of talk about kitchen design trends these days, with the infamous “Shaker” style being one of the most popular. But what exactly is a Shaker kitchen? And what makes it so different?

In this post, I’ll explain what a shaker kitchen is, its history and characteristics, as well as answer some common questions about the topic.

Let’s get into it!

What Is A Shaker Kitchen?

In today’s home improvement language, a Shaker kitchen refers to a particular style of cabinetry door/drawer that features a flat recessed centre panel set in a frame with square edges and minimal to no beading or profiling.

At your home design centre, the display Shaker kitchen includes a crisp, clean appearance that offers superior function without distracting details. It likely has painted wood cabinet fronts and simple knobs and pulls.

Today’s Shaker kitchens often fit in with a contemporary or modern design, even though the basics of the decor style were founded more than 200 years ago. While some shoppers may call it old-fashioned, Shaker kitchens are actually timeless.

Shaker kitchen painted white
Shaker kitchen painted white

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The History Behind Shaker Kitchens

A Shaker kitchen gets its name from a Christian religious sect called the Shakers (United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing). The Shakers were established in 1747 and believed in a celibate and simple life devoted to their faith. Shakers lived in a communal setting and the membership made most of what they needed.

They applied the simplistic lifestyle to everything they did, including building homes and furniture. For example, a chair should provide good support and be a restful place to recoup your energy. It will not feature elaborate carvings or a plush cushion. In architecture, they shunned fanciful details in favour of designs that functioned without fuss.

At the same time, they invested in durable materials, such as oak, cherry, pine and maple so that they did not waste time and effort replacing tools, furniture, or buildings.

If you search for Shaker furniture, such as rocking chairs, the ones sold today look almost exactly like the ones built by the Shakers more than 200 years ago.

Shaker kitchens started appearing in homes as early as the 1800s as Shaker cabinetmakers built a reputation for quality work and craftsmanship. The clean design is easy to duplicate. So even as the Shaker communities died off by the early 20th-century, Shaker kitchens still retained popularity.

Since they have no intricate details, a Shaker kitchen easily rolls with the changing times. The style lends itself to current contemporary trends and can be dressed up for more traditional tastes.

Key Features Of The Shaker Kitchen Style

In kitchen decor, a Shaker design embraces the visible details associated with traditional Shaker architecture. Shaker cabinet doors feature a flat panel framed by simple square strips in natural or painted wood.

There are five elements to a shaker kitchen door:
2x Rails
2x Stiles
1x Flat recessed (inset) centre panel

Traditionally manufactured Shaker kitchen cabinets will include fine woodworking details such as dovetail detail in drawers and mortise and tenon joints on the cabinet doors. All the doors and drawer fronts will be solid hardwoods. You may have the cabinets painted or stained.

There may be pegs on the wall for coats or dishcloths. Knobs, handles and hardware will be simple round wood designs.

The tops of the cabinets will not have moulding. If there is ceiling trim, it will be a simple quarter-round.

Adding some Shaker bar-height stools to the island gives the space an authentic feel. The stools feature a woven webbed seat with a natural or painted wood frame.

A Shaker kitchen pairs well with many types of worktops (countertops). Take your pick of marble, granite, or quartz to bring the time-tested design into the current millennium. A butcher block counter embraces the roots of a Shaker design. Go with recycled glass or concrete and give yours a truly modern twist.

Shaker door construction diagram

Modern Day Shaker Kitchens

Today’s Shaker kitchen may include glass-fronted cabinets and open shelving, but they are not true Shaker elements. A true Shaker kitchen has all your dishes, pots, canisters, utensils, and even small appliances stored out of sight.

The Shaker philosophy embraced a clean home. You should not display your wealth or unnecessary clutter.

A modern Shaker-style kitchen may look like the traditional design but use lower quality wood and manufacturing standards. If you are thinking about a Shaker kitchen, be aware that a budget-friendly version will not have the same longevity as a custom version.

Are Shaker Kitchens Old Fashioned?

No, a Shaker kitchen will not look old-fashioned or out of place in your modern home. While the Shaker design is from the 18th century and hundreds of years old, the current contemporary trend of simple, minimalist cabinetry fully embraces the basics of Shaker kitchens.

Better yet, when styles change, its clean lines allow you to switch out accessories and hardware to go with the times.

Are Shaker Kitchens Good Quality?

The Shakers were renowned for excellent quality furniture and cabinetry. However, today’s Shaker kitchens are all about looks and not necessarily about good manufacturing.

If you are shopping at a big box kitchen store, look for solid wood cabinets and drawers. Pull a drawer out and look for dovetail joints. You should not see staples holding a quality Shaker cabinet together. A traditionally crafted Shaker cabinet will have all mechanical fasteners like screws hidden by wooden pegs.

Many cabinetmakers use the Shaker name (or shaker style cabinets) to imply their product is of high quality, but it is more likely a marketing gimmick.

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What is the difference between a Shaker kitchen and a traditional kitchen?

Today’s traditional kitchen design includes raised panel cabinets. There may be extensive detail and ornamentation carved around the edges of the panel. The top of the cabinets will be finished out in crown moulding that can be intricate or simple.

The hardware will be metal and full of fine detail. You may have open shelving with scalloped edges. Glass doors are often part of a traditional kitchen design. Cabinets are most often finished with natural wood stains. Traditional countertops could have a bevelled or ogee edge that adds interest to the surface.

Shaker kitchens are all about simplicity. Clean, straight lines with minimal details. Hardware is wood and round. The cabinets may be painted, which works exceptionally well with the current all-white kitchen trend. They can work with a classic farmhouse look or a more contemporary design.

Flooring can be tile or wood. You are less likely to opt for a mosaic glass tile upstand for the counters and simply paint the walls. A rounded countertop edge completes the picture. No fuss. No fluff. Crisp quality.

Are Shaker Kitchens In Style?

Yes. Shaker kitchens are in style. In fact, they are often referred to as a timeless kitchen style. Their simple and minimalist design means they can be adapted for a modern look or used to create a more traditional kitchen style.

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Final Thoughts…

There you have it! Everything you need to know about the shaker kitchen.

A timeless classic, shaker-style kitchen cabinets have been around for hundreds of years thanks to the Shaking Quakers and continue to remain a popular choice to this day.

Simple, honest and versatile. There’s a lot you can do with a shaker kitchen!



Michael from Kitchinsider.com

Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for over 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.