Considering Shaker Style for Your New Kitchen?


Considering Shaker Style for Your New Kitchen?

Are you thinking about Shaker for the style of your remodeled kitchen?

After all, it’s the #1 most popular style in kitchen design, thanks to its timeless appearance and simple lines .

Here’s What You Need to Know.

A Shaker style kitchen has an understated sense of style. The cabinets are plain – no elaborate onlays in a Shaker kitchen — with a focus on craftsmanship and practical design. Homeowners are loving the Shaker look for their new kitchens because of its versatility. It can serve as the foundation for a transitional kitchen design or in a contemporary kitchen with streamlined features.

Before we get too far into the specifics of the Shaker style, a little background is in order.

Who Were the Shakers?

The Shakers were a religious group founded in England whose official name was The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. They started out as Quakers but broke away from them back in the mid-1700s, then came to America to escape religious persecution.

Everyone wonders why they’re called “Shakers” – it’s because they became filled with the Holy Spirit during their services to the point where their fervor caused them to tremble and shake.

Their lifestyle was based on simplicity, order and neatness and nothing contained unnecessary ornamentation. Every item in their lives had to have a purpose. Their commitment to leading simple lives led to the what we now call the “Shaker style”, which is known for clean lines and excellent craftsmanship.

The Shaker story is fascinating; there’s lots more to it that you may find interesting. Several members of the Shakers lived into the 20th century, which is a curious fact considering they were celibates.

What is Shaker Style?

What makes up what we consider “Shaker style” in the 21st century? Although it is rather chameleon-like in that it can be the focus of your kitchen or it can be the in the background and let other design elements star, there are certain characteristics it’s known for.  

  • It’s classic
  • It’s simple
  • It’s timeless
  • It’s functional
  • It’s utilitarian
  • It complements Traditional, Transitional and Contemporary designs
  • It’s understated
  • It features excellent craftsmanship

Shaker Cabinetry

Beyond simplicity, what Shaker cabinets are best known for is its excellent craftsmanship. The Shakers were skilled craftsmen and carpenters and became known for their practical furniture with plain, simple lines. They used joinery techniques, like dovetail joints and wooden peg assembly, to build ladder-back chairs (so they could be hung on pegs on the wall when floors were swept), square tables with square edges and square legs, and solidly-made wood cabinets.

Cabinets used in today’s Shaker kitchens reflect the type of furniture built by the Shakers.

They didn’t build their cabinets and furniture from imported Mahogany, that furniture makers used in America at that time. And they didn’t use the imported brass hardware that was popular. Instead, they built their furniture and cabinets from the local hardwoods – Maple, Cherry and Pine — and hand-turned wood knobs for their cabinets.

Shaker Doors and Drawers

A Shaker cabinet door is what is called a five-piece door, or frame and panel door. Its uncomplicated construction is made up of a recessed flat center panel with no ornamental details on the stiles and rails, that is the vertical and horizontal door pieces.

A cross section of a Shaker cabinet door shows a flat center panel with raised stiles and rails

Cross section Shaker door

Modern cabinet makers continue to build the Shaker door the same way the Shakers did, with five-piece construction—one piece for the flat center panel and four additional pieces that make up the frame.

For the Shakers who didn’t build anything that wasn’t practical, this construction method prevented warping and gave the doors superior strength. And it still does that today.

Typical Shaker door

When the five-piece doors are combined with five-piece drawer fronts or simple slab drawer fronts, we get a complete look. This photo shows a Shaker door with a slab drawer with wood knobs.

Shaker door & drawer with wood knobs

Inset or Full Overlay

In keeping with the Shaker design principle of simplicity, doors and drawers can be installed using inset or full overlay styling. The door and drawer combination shown above shows inset installation. Notice how the doors and drawers fit inside the frame, and the frame is visible.

The picture below is another kitchen that used Shaker doors and drawers, this time installed in full overlay. Notice how the doors and drawers completely cover the cabinet frame. The frame is visible only when you open doors and drawers.

Photo thanks to Craig Allen Designs

Both full overlay and inset show off the simple beauty of the Shaker style; either one gives a nice, smooth, flat run of cabinets. It all comes down to a matter of personal preference.

What did a Shaker Kitchen Look Like?

Shakers built their cabinets from Cherry, Pine and Maple and finished them quite simply with hand-rubbed Linseed oil. If they painted furniture or cabinets, they used muted tones found in nature, such as terra-cotta, ocher and olive green. Cabinet pulls were turned wood knobs.

Flooring was varnished wide wood planks, and walls and ceilings were soft white to create a sense of serenity and purity.

Since every element of a Shaker kitchen was functional, shutters were built on the inside of their homes and were used to block too much sun in summer and too much cold wind in winder.

I’m Still Not Convinced. Tell Me More Why I Should Choose Shaker.

Timeless style.  A Shaker-style kitchen looks like what we think of as modern. These cabinets are perfect for modern kitchens because their sharp, clean lines can work well with even very modern appliances and other design elements, such as stainless steel or black stainless appliances and range hoods, colorful backsplash designs, even modern artwork.

If the modern look isn’t for you, Shaker kitchen cabinets can lend themselves to transitional styling, without looking “country” or “farmhouse.” But their style is flexible enough that they can be country or farmhouse.

Cost-effective.  BecauseShaker-style doors are simple and don’t include fancy moldings or edge details, this means they cost less. They’re not as expensive as mitered door styles, and the added expense of glazing or other specialty finishing techniques doesn’t make sense for such a simple style door.

When you choose Shaker cabinets, you can use more of your money for better woods, more durable hinges and drawers, better construction and other features you will enjoy day-in and day-out for years.

Another cost consideration: since Shaker cabinets are considered “timeless”, if you invest in them today, you can save money in the future if you ever want to update your kitchen’s look.

Shaker style cabinets build the foundation of your kitchen. You can add whatever you’d like on top of this foundation, and follow trends if you want. Change out your countertops or get new appliances – the Shaker cabinets will fit in with whatever you choose.

Easy to clean.  Ornate kitchen cabinets may look great, but they can be a cleaning nightmare. On the other hand, the basic lines of Shaker cabinets make them a dream to clean. The Shakers kept their lives and their homes clean. Be more Shaker-like and spend less time wiping down cabinets and more time enjoying your kitchen.

It’s All About Stained Wood.  Shaker cabinets have a go-with-anything style, and cabinets made of wood can bring warmth and texture to a room. Wood can vary from the tight grain of Maple to the wider grain of Oak to the wild grain patterns in Hickory. These woods take well to the variety of natural and stained colors available, from light blonde and honey tones, to dark coffee and steely grey.

This Shaker kitchen used wood as its focus

White Painted Cabinets Are Popular. Shaker cabinets are perfect for the white kitchen look. White is associated with simplicity, cleanliness and purity — all characteristics of the Shakers.

While Shaker kitchen cabinets can be painted any color, simple white also has lasting popularity.

White painted Shaker kitchen

Simple Cabinetry Goes With Modern Appliances. The clean lines of Shaker kitchen cabinets fit in well with modern appliances, whether they’re visible or concealed. Some people like the idea of disguising their appliances and making a wall of cabinet doors that covers a hidden refrigerator or dishwasher.

White Shaker kitchen with refrigerator concealed behind panels. Kitchen by Kathy Tracey Design

And because Shaker kitchen cabinets are simple, they also work well with today’s professional grade appliances.

Shaker-style Design Elements

Round Wood Knobs. Shakers used round wood knobs on the cabinets and furniture that they made themselves. You might think of these types of knobs as the ones used on dresser drawers, but they can look great in the kitchen too. Adding a color contrast is an option, as is a different wood material for a unique look.

Shakers used round wood knobs on their cabinets

Open Shelves. The simple, classic look of Shaker cabinets matches well with the open shelving trend. This look is easy to pull off, although it can create a cluttered-looking kitchen if you don’t stay on top of keeping your shelves organized.

Open shelves in a Shaker kitchen

If you like to display pottery, dinnerware and glasses, open shelves can make your room look bigger. The variety of items on the open shelves is easily balanced with the simplicity of the Shaker cabinets.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is to make sure you have enough storage to meet your needs. Cabinets serve an important function, so don’t give up your wall cabinets entirely if you need the space for storing food and other items you don’t want to put on display. A shelf filled with cereal boxes may have been funny on Seinfeld, but it’s probably not what you want in your newly remodeled kitchen.

Jerry Seinfeld’s kitchen with cereal boxes on open shelf

Dress Up Your Shaker Cabinets

The Shakers used hand-turned knobs but you can let your personality shine and bring in some variety by including something more daring on your cabinets. Shaker kitchen cabinets are popular for their simplicity, but you can jazz them up if you wish. They can take it! You can also experiment with different sizes and shapes — no need to stick with tradition. There are countless options.

It’s entirely possible that the Shakers used leather pulls on their cabinets. This website has a section devoted to leather drawer pulls. You can go from one extreme to another – from very sophisticated to very rustic. Versatile Shaker can fit in anywhere.

Wood handles can be the same color and species as cabinet doors and drawers, but you can go for contrast that will make the cabinets ”pop”. If you get tired of them, it’s simple to change them out in the future.

Final Words

Remodeling is expensive so it’s entirely understandable that you don’t want to make a mistake. You’re probably wondering “will my kitchen look dated in ten years?” Although no one can predict the future, think of it this way: If you choose a style that has been popular for more than a hundred years, like Shaker, you can probably feel safe in your selection, and your new kitchen will look terrific for many years.

And the beauty of Shaker cabinets is that if (or when) you get tired of the way your kitchen looks, you can change out the hardware or get new countertops, backsplash, range hood, appliances – something or anything. But your Shaker cabinets will fit in with the new additions, no matter what they may be.

Kitchen remodeling is an investment. You want to choose a style that goes beyond trends and fads. When you select Shaker style cabinets for your kitchen remodel, you can get be assured that you’re getting a timeless look that will endure for years to come.


KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.