Shaker kitchens without a doubt, stand the test of time. And rightly so, as when you come to design a Shaker style kitchen you'll see just how perfectly it can complement a variety of homes. Its universal style is one that many interior designers flock to so often as it can suit country cottages, grander period residences and postwar homes that eschew minimalist kitchens, just as it can set off an urban and more modern home too. The beauty of Shaker kitchens is their simple, unpretentious design, with no elaborate mouldings or fussy decoration, and it's the perfect option for those who prefer to keep their kitchen makeovers to a minimum.
If you need any more tips head to our kitchen ideas page for more practical advice and beautiful ideas, whether you like Shaker style or another type of kitchen look.
- Kitchen design: find out how to design your kitchen from scratch.
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.
Key features of traditional Shaker furniture design
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A number of factors, traditionally, contributed to the design, perceived quality and durability of Shaker kitchens. Of course, furniture plays a very important part in completing a kitchen, and you'll be able to recognise similarities in Shaker furniture design that include:
- 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 in Shaker style kitchens 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 style kitchens 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
When it comes to Shaker kitchen design, think pared back. In real terms, this can mean:
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.
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.
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 that is synonymous with Shaker kitchens.
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.
11 Shaker kitchen design ideas to get you inspired
So once you have the practical elements of your Shaker kitchen sorted you can start to get exciting about decorating it, picking out cabinet design ideas, choosing storage and add personality to make the space your own. Here are some gorgeous Shaker kitchens to get your inspired...
1. Choose reclaimed furniture for your Shaker kitchen
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.
2. Mix and match Shaker kitchen cabinetry
Combining cabinets of different colours or materials is looking to be a big kitchen trend for the year ahead. In this DeVOL kitchen, the kitchen island has been painted in Printer's Black and the cabinets in Damask. If you aren't blessed with an island, another frequent iteration of the look includes using a darker colour for the lower kitchen cabinets and a lighter shade for shelves and wall cabinets. Think creamy, neutral coloured cabinets above and a darker, dramatic colour for the lower cabinets.
3. And do the same for the worktops
You could also add interest to a Shaker kitchen by using different worktop materials. In traditional Shaker kitchens worktops were always wooden, but more modern materials such as granite or quartz are often more practical and hardwearing, and will give the kitchen a contemporary edge. So get the best of both worlds by combining the two – this would work especially well if you wanted to have an island.
Find more inspiration in our white kitchen design ideas gallery.
4. Go bold with colourful Shaker kitchen cabinets
There is no doubt that Shaker style kitchens mostly neutral colour palette is a big part of its staying power, but we are starting seeing slightly bolder colours creep in. Okay, maybe pastels aren't exactly 'bold', but it's a nice change from cream or grey. We love that in this kitchen, the pale minty cabinets have been teamed with marble worktops and gold accessories to prevent it from looking too twee.
5. Or embrace the dark side with inky hues
If, like us, you are obsessed with dark and atmospheric interiors, turn to the Shaker style palette of muted deep blues, dark greens and inky blacks when designing your kitchen. If this look is a bit too Tim Burton for you, try combining darker cabinets with a light worktop like quartz or a pale wood, choosing knobs and handles in chrome will also give the look a lift.
Find more dark and dramatic kitchens in our design gallery.
6. Add shelving for Shaker style storage
Make sure you break up solid blocks of cabinetry with some open shelving. You could choose glass fronted cabinets to do this or have a few wall shelves to store only your prettiest glassware and china.
Check out our kitchen storage ideas for more space saving solutions.
7. Add interest to a Shaker style kitchen with wall tiles
By nature, the Shaker style is very simple, and while we love its understated, timeless design it does mean you have to find ways to add some added interest into your kitchen. Tiles are a great way to do this, whether it be a splashback in a quirky pattern or a whole wall of coloured tiles as seen below. For similar tiles try these crackle glaze tiles form Tiles Direct.
8. Choose the right flooring
If you are after that traditional, country cottage type vibe from your Shaker kitchen, then choosing stone flooring is your best bet. If you want a really rustic look, you could choose reclaimed stone flooring, it's slightly more pricey but the finish will be more authentic. If you are trying to stick to a tighter budget, opt for new stone tiles for a similar look.
For a modern, cleaner take on Shaker style go for bare boards or herringbone flooring. We love how the intricate pattern looks with the simple Shaker style. If having parquet flooring laid is slightly out of your budget, we say fake it till you make it with a herringbone effect vinyl.
9. Give your Shaker kitchen a modern twist
The Shaker style maybe be very traditional but that's not to say it can't totally be adapted to work in a modern space. The sage green cabinetry combined with the quartz worktop has brought this kitchen right up to date. And then there's the smaller details like the super modern lights, stylish house plants and those Crittall-style doors. Love it!
Find advice on choosing metal doors and windows in our practical guide.
10. Mix old and new shaker style furniture designs
If you love the practicalities that come with a modern kitchen but still want your space to have a bit of vintage charm, mix in some reclaimed furniture. Search markets and antique shops for an original Shaker-style dining table and chairs. The quintessential Shaker chair is upright with three horizontal struts across the back and a woven fabric seat, but any country-style chair will work.
You could also add some vintage (or maybe just vintage looking) kitchenware and accessories – copper pans, interesting pots, antique glass ware, just any antiquey odd and sods a pieces with a slight shaker style furniture design would add to that country feel.
11. Add a peg rail for extra storage
The Shakers were big on form and functionality, so of course they were big advocates of the humble peg rail. Not only do they look lovely above the stove or over worktops, they are also super practical as you can keep all the essentials at arm's length. You can always find this in antique shops in lots of different sizes but you can also buy them new from places like Garden Trading and Not on the High Street.