Amish furniture has been present in North America since 1737 when the first Amish families arrived from the Netherlands. As more Amish settled in America and applied their gift of wood craftsmanship, they soon made a name for themselves as master furniture makers. It wasn’t until 1774 that the arrival of Shakers from England began to change the way the Amish designed their furniture.
The Shaker brought with them a style of furniture that was simple, unadorned and visually appealing to the way of life the Amish chose to live. Amish furniture makers adopted this new style, aptly named Shaker style, and began to craft this type of furniture. The long history of the Shaker style amongst the Amish communities is reason why this particular design is most often associated as the classic Amish furniture type. However, there is another type to consider.
The second style of Amish furniture is Mission style. Mission furniture was adopted by the Amish in 1898 and appealed to craftsmen that wanted that heavier, dark look in their work. This style was adapted from the furniture commonly found in Spanish missions. Despite being so heavy looking, overall the designs of Mission furniture are very simple, similar to why the Shaker style is so beloved.
While both Shaker and Mission style furniture are made by Amish craftsmen, and they’re both very similar in terms of simplicity, there are some significant differences between the two. If you plan on investing in something like an Amish living room furniture it is important you understand what sets these two styles apart from one another.
Features of Classic Shaker Furniture:
Tapering and Turnings
In effort to keep furniture as light as possible tapering and turning of furniture, especially the legs, was done. Tapering is the graduation of the wood piece to a small size while turning is the removal of excess material, often on the inside part of table and chair legs. When tapering is done it is very gentle and gradual, not ornately or sharply tapered.
Wooden Drawer Pulls and Knobs
Shaker style is most often finished with wooden drawer pulls and knobs. This maintained the overall simple, understated look for the furniture. It also allows the craftsman to use one product for the entire piece of furniture.
Plain Wood Finish
Majority of Shaker furniture is made of light colored woods like pine, maple or cherry. These were sealed and finished but never stained dark. The purpose of this is to allow the quality of the wood to speak for itself without relying on a heavy stain to show the beauty.
The Amish are not prideful and do not do work to appeal to the ego, which is the main reason why their furniture is fairly basic. Joinery requires meticulous skill and is often hidden from sight. For example, a half-blind dovetail will be used on drawers, which could only be seen when open.
If you’re purchasing a dresser, buffet or some other type of Shaker furniture with drawers you’ll notice that, more often than not, the drawers are graduated. This means the drawer at the bottom will be the largest while the drawer on top will be the smallest. This design is practical and also looks appealing.
Features of Classic Mission Furniture:
Thick Wood Stained Dark
Oak is one of the more common types of wood used for Mission furniture, but regardless of wood type Mission work tends to consist of thick pieces. Mission furniture is also stained dark, varying from a rich brown to a deep stain close to black. This really makes the furniture stand out and look even stronger.
Rather than having hidden joints Mission furniture tends to really showcase the joinery. The mortise and tenon joint technique is very common with Mission furniture, and for good reason. This joint is incredibly strong and also very beautiful to look at.
Most Mission furniture relies on straight lines, with very little tapering or curvature present. This is an even more simplistic design than Shaker, though it requires just as much skill to design.
Since Mission furniture is thicker the use of parallel slats on open portions of furniture, such as the back of a couch or chair, to make it lighter. Slats are very popular and highly requested on custom Mission furniture.
While not exceedingly common, some Amish to incorporate the use of leather into their Mission furniture. This was done in the Spanish style and has been carried over in some shops. Most often you will see leather touches on chair seats or perhaps even on a headboard.
Choosing a Style
Shaker furniture is the epitome of Amish craftsmanship. It retains the very original designs of tapers, all-wood construction, and plain wood. In a way Shaker furniture settles more into the room and is more neutral. Mission style furniture is bold and stunning, easily becoming the statement pieces in the room. The use of hardware is more traditional of what most Americans are accustomed to in their furniture.
Both Shaker and Mission style furniture are beautiful as well as equally appealing to anyone that appreciates minimalistic, handcrafted furnishings. Choosing to go with Amish-made furniture is a guarantee of quality, expertise and traditional design.