'Furnishing Utopia': the enduring influence of the Shakers on modern design
The aesthetics of the Shakers – a religious community that came to the United States around 1774, the philosophies of which were centred on principles of simplicity, utility and honesty – are often regarded as establishing the first tenets of American design. With Shaker communities largely self-sufficient, and alive and well right up until the 1950s, their handcrafted furniture and minimalist designs have inspired designers and furniture makers around the world.
This week, a group of young designers will stage a showcase of reinterpreted Shaker designs at Sight Unseen Offsite, a curated platform for exciting and emerging design work, in New York City. The group, comprised of 11 international designers, visited the Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts and the Mount Lebanon Shaker Museum in upstate New York for a week-long workshop, handling Shaker artifacts and exploring the community’s philosophies and inner workings to produce a new collection of Shaker-inspired furniture.
Each object in ‘Furnishing Utopia’ highlights the influence of Shaker style on contemporary design. From benches and rocking chairs that riff on traditional Shaker style to bent wood baskets and storage boxes by Studio Gorm, an elegant secretaire by Ladies & Gentlemen Studio and a pair of austere candlesticks by Jonah Takagi, the inspiring collection will shed new light on the enduring appeal of Shaker style. The exhibition will be presented as a series of vignettes that evoke the unadorned simplicity of Shaker community life. A catalogue of the products, photographed by Charlie Schuck at the Hancock Shaker Village, will also be on offer.