How to design a Shaker kitchen

Looking for a timeless design for your kitchen? Shaker kitchens never date, look wonderful in both contemporary and traditional homes and are easy to decorate. Here's how to design a Shaker kitchen

How to design a Shaker kitchen: white shaker style kitchen by Brayer Design
(Image credit: Brayer Design)

Looking for advice on how to design a shaker kitchen? There is no other kitchen style that has stood the test of time quite like the Shaker kitchen design, nor one so universal, suiting country cottages, grander period residences and postwar homes that eschew minimalist kitchens. 

The key to the timelessness of Shaker kitchens is their simple, unpretentious design, with no elaborate mouldings or fussy decoration. Find advice, inspiration and more in our guide to how to design a Shaker kitchen.

If you need any more tips on planning, designing and furnishing your kitchen, you'll love our ultimate guide to kitchens. You'll find plenty more inspiration with our stylish Shaker kitchen design ideas, too.

What is a Shaker kitchen?

Who were the Shakers?

The United Society of Believers, commonly known as the Shakers, were a religious group that broke away from the Quakers in the late 18th century, earning their moniker from the shaking motions and dancing used in their worship.

Originating from Manchester, England, they emigrated to America, initially settling in New York before later spreading out across the region of New England.

Inspired by the Shakers, a religious sect renowned for their craftsmanship and high quality, homespun furniture (amongst other things), modern Shaker style kitchens tend to be simple, functional and easy to live with, making them a popular option for those looking to design a kitchen that will stand the test of time.

Traditionally, Shakers revoked practices like veneering and applied ornamentation on the grounds that they were 'deceitful,' instead focusing their efforts on the creation of a kitchen that was honest in both construction and appearance.  

‘Shaker kitchen style is very versatile,' says Graeme Smith, Senior Designer at Second Nature Kitchens. 'It achieves so much and gives the impression that it’s an effortless look that will continue to look fresh in years to come. It can be dressed up or down, truly traditional or with a modern edge.’

It's this versatility that makes Shaker style kitchens equally suitable for period properties as they are for more contemporary spaces. 

How to design a Shaker kitchen: The shaker showroom at Cotes Mill by deVOL

(Image credit: deVOL)

Key features of traditional Shaker furniture design

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(Image credit: Period Living)

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A number of factors, traditionally, contributed to the design, perceived quality and durability of Shaker kitchens. These included:

  • Use of local woods – while other American designers used imported woods, such as mahogany and rosewood, Shakers made most things out of local timbers such as pine, maple and cherry. 
  • Colourful finishes – most pieces were originally painted or stained, with popular colours blues, greens, reds, and yellows. 
  • Simple knobs – in place of imported brass cabinet furniture, Shakers used simple turned-wood knobs.

With such an appealing ethos of thoughtful, quality craftsmanship and simplicity of style, it’s no surprise that Shaker-inspired units have become a mainstay of modern kitchens.

Designs, however, are rarely faithful, with the style’s clean lines lending a timeless backdrop to 21st-century appliances, smart kitchen storage and characterful accessories. While features such as side panelling and glass aren’t strictly Shaker features, they can be beautiful complements to new kitchens.

How to design a Shaker kitchen: small shaker style kitchen with arger and white colour scheme

(Image credit: deVOL)

How to design a Shaker kitchen

When it comes to how to design a Shaker kitchen, think pared back. In real terms, this can mean:

Real wood

Simple, unadorned free-standing furniture made of real wood, either left natural or painted, with panelled unit doors, is a staple of the Shaker look.

Separate modules 

Buying separate modules will allow you to have the freedom to rearrange the layout in the future. If that’s not practical for your kitchen, then there are many manufacturers that produce beautiful built-in ranges. 

Kitchen island

Where room allows, a central kitchen island or kitchen dresser, on which to display your treasures, will give the impression of a free-standing kitchen design.

Browse our clever kitchen island design ideas for inspiration and find out how to design a freestanding kitchen using our specialist guide. 

Painted cabinets

Painting Shaker kitchen cabinets is a good way to update an existing kitchen and to get a bespoke look. Ideal colours are cream, muted green, pale grey-blue or pink, but even deep blue and red work well as accent colours, perhaps confined to just one statement piece. 

Combine two different colours, or natural and painted finishes, for a more characterful look, but don’t overdo it: if colouring the units, keep the walls neutral and vice versa. In addition, ‘avoid using patterns unless they are naïve and natural,’ says Helen Parker, deVOL’s Creative Director.

Find out how to paint kitchen cabinets using our specialist guide. Our pick of the best paint for kitchen cabinets should point you in the right direction, too.

How to design a Shaker kitchen: Pastel mint shaker kitchen with marble worktops

(Image credit: deVOL)

Shaker kitchen design details

Once you've built the basis of your Shaker kitchen, you can start thinking about the finishing touches. Again, the key to success here is to keep things simple. Ideas include:

Timber knobs

If you're designing a Shaker kitchen, keep things simple. Traditionally, cabinet door furniture was timber knobs, painted or stained to match the units’ colours, but satin nickel knobs or cup handles are a good alternative.

Worktops

Worktops were also wooden, but more modern materials such as granite or quartz are often more practical and hardwearing, and will give the kitchen a contemporary edge. 

You can find our more about the kitchen worktop options available in our guide to the best types of kitchen worktops – we've covered everything from granite, quartz and marble to laminate, glass and wood.

Open shelving 

It’s important to include either open shelving with a few often-used objects, or glass-fronted wall units in the design, to break up a solid row of doors and let you show off beautiful glassware or china.

How to design a Shaker kitchen: white shaker style kitchen by Brayer Design

(Image credit: Brayer Design)

Kitchen storage ideas for Shaker kitchens

The Shakers believed in having a place for everything and keeping everything in its place, making drawers and cupboards to fit each item exactly. Take a leaf out of their book by designing in specific kitchen storage for key items such as knives and a butcher’s block. 

‘Try to hide all appliances behind simple doors,’ says deVOL's Helen Parker. ‘This keeps the look serene and seamless, which is so important.’ Ideas might include:

Peg rails

One instantly recognisable feature of Shaker kitchens is the peg rail, a simple strip of wood with round pegs, which was used to create wall storage space for coats, hats, brooms and even chairs while the room was cleaned. 

You might even consider hanging a peg rail above a worktop to display kitchen paraphernalia, blackboards and aprons.

Storage baskets

Below the worktop, wicker storage baskets are ideal for a country look.

Find more kitchen storage ideas in our guide. Or, if you're working with a small kitchen, try our storage ideas for small kitchens

How to design a Shaker kitchen: Kitchen sink with shelves and peg rail above

(Image credit: deVOL)

Choose reclaimed furniture for Shaker kitchens

Visit flea markets to search for old chairs to paint. The quintessential Shaker chair is upright with three horizontal struts across the back and a woven fabric seat, but any country-style chair will look good, such as the Windsor design.

‘Sourcing old chairs and a table will make the room more believable and less contrived,’ says Helen Parker. If there’s space for a main table, one with a wooden top and painted legs will be the perfect finishing touch.

Remember you can always give old furniture a new lease of life with a coat of paint. Check out our guide to how to paint furniture for step-by-step instructions. 

How to design a Shaker kitchen: white shaker style kitchen with terracotta tiles and plants

(Image credit: Floors of Stone)

More on creating your Shaker kitchen: