Mission vs. Shaker: Furniture Styles

Although Amish furniture itself is marked with distinction by quality and durability, there are actually several different furniture styles represented. Two of the most common styles are Shaker and Mission (which is often associated with or called Arts and Crafts). Both of these styles feature simple designs and clean lines. However, to a knowing eye, these two styles are very different. To fully grasp the differences, it’s important to know the history and reasons behind each characteristic. Let’s break it down!

Shaker

The Shakers originated as a break-away group from the English Quakers and moved to America in the 1770s. They were a staunchly strict community with rules that set them completely apart from mainstream culture and created a self-sufficiency through hard work, simplicity, and humility. Ornamentation was viewed as sinful, promoting pride. Paint and stains were viewed as deceitful and were avoided. These guidelines set the tone for simple furniture that met basic needs, and it is a style that is still used in homes today.

Shaker furniture can be identified by several distinct features, outlined below. Each of these features is a result of the simple and strict rules set by the Shakers years ago.

  • Tapered Legs – This beautiful feature was originally created to keep the chairs and tables as lightweight as possible, so they could easily be moved for storing or cleaning. Many chair legs feature an additional peg around the base, which was originally designed so chairs could be hung on the wall when not in use.
  • Turnings – Similar to tapering, chair legs are often turned outward to keep the chair as light as possible. Many times legs are both tapered and turned, creating a look unique to Shaker style.
  • Wooden Pulls and Knobs – Instead of using decorative metal knobs and pulls (and risking the sin of pride), Shakers used plain wooden materials on every part of their furniture.
  • Other key features of Shaker furniture are dovetail drawer boxes and graduated drawers in pieces like chest of drawers and night stands. You also won’t find inlays or other decorative woodwork in pure Shaker furniture; that would be too fancy!

Mission

Mission-style furniture developed more than a century later, when a New York furniture maker, Joseph McHugh, released a line of furniture for a church in San Francisco. Much like the popular arts and crafts movement, this furniture featured simple design elements. Many thought this new line of furniture looked very similar to that of Spanish missions, which is where the name “Mission” was born.

Heavier than Shaker, Mission furniture features characteristics that are sturdier and straighter, but just as elegant. These differences can be most seen in these areas:

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  • Parallel slats – Often the backs of chairs are made with parallel slats instead of the lighter round slats in Shaker furniture, giving an impression of strength. The intricacies of building these pieces can be tedious, but reflect both the craftsmanship and design the Mission furniture is most know for. The flatness of these slats also accentuates the grain of the wood, which is most commonly quarter-sawn white oak.
  • Straight Angles – Since weight is not a primary concern for Mission furniture, legs are often straight and square, instead of turned out and tapered.
  • Other characteristics of Mission style are exposed joinery that call attention to the craftsmanship, black hardware that give the piece a more finished, ornate look, and the use of leather and darker stains to complete a more formal look.

Both the Mission and Shaker styles have looks that are uniquely their own, and both exemplify the use the clean, simple lines in their designs. Regardless of your choice, our Amish furniture is always made just the way you want, with care and attention to every last detail.

Which is your favorite, Shaker or Mission? Comment below!