Amish Furniture: The Difference Between Shaker and Mission Styles
Updated: April 18, 2022
Not all Amish furniture is created equal. While it might seem like all these handcrafted pieces fit into one category, many aspects make each piece of Amish furniture unique – even when it comes to the style itself. The two main styles of Amish furniture are shaker and mission. Each has a unique history and boast characteristics that make them stand out from other options.
To better explain the differences of each style, as well as their vast backgrounds, we’ve put together a comparison. We hope this guide will make choosing between shaker and mission furniture easier for you. While both fit into the Amish culture of simple, beautiful and functional pieces, they offer different attributes that make them unique. You might just fall in the love with the characteristics of each one.
The History of Shaker Furniture
The Shakers were originally a group of people who broke off from the English Quakers. Known as a radical group during that time, the Shakers adopted the name through religious worship that included shaking of the hands, arms and head. They called themselves a much more formal name – the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming. After the group left the Church of England, they came to the United States in the 1770s and settled into communities that followed strict rules which set them apart from the mainstream culture.
Their self-sufficient communities ensured that they relied on the land and their own hard work to survive. Though they thrived in these groups, the Shakers stuck close to their principles of simplicity and humility. These areas of practice could even be seen in their style of furniture.
Ornamentation was seen as sinful, often promoting pride. Faux finishes were also avoided because they were considered deceitful. Instead, the history of shaker furniture meant simple furniture was created to meet their basic needs. It would eventually become a sought-after style used in many homes today.
The History of Mission Furniture
Mission furniture came long after shake furniture took over the scene. It wasn’t until the 19th century that mission furniture arrived, mostly thanks to the rising demand of arts and crafts. Joseph McHugh, a New York furniture maker, released a line of rustic furniture featuring simple design elements for the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem in San Francisco. Many believed the church looked similar to Spanish missions that filled California and served the residents there.
The name stuck when another designer, Gustav Stickley, released his own version of simple, handcrafted pieces. Mission remained a very popular design up until the 1930s when the art deco movement took over the scene. Today, the history of mission furniture shines through in many modern pieces that reflect the simplicity and beautiful craftsmanship that made the style famous.
Differences Between Shaker vs. Mission Furniture
In addition to arriving at different times in history, shaker and mission furniture offer identifying stylistic differences – you just have to know what you’re looking for.
Shaker furniture can be identified by its round wooden knobs, tapered legs and subtle curves. These features give shaker furniture its traditional, gentle look. While maple wood also seemed to be the wood of choice for most shaker pieces, many modern versions include pine, maple, cherry or other American woods. Amishoutletstore.com features shaker style furniture in beds, bedroom sets, baby furniture and dining room sets.
One of the more popular pieces of Shaker furniture is the shaker chair. Traditionally made as lightweight as possible and with a seat woven from natural materials, the chairs were made so they could be hung on nails on the walls until they were needed. The additional pegs around the base of the chair – seen as a style feature today – were originally a functional feature to help keep the chairs off the ground. The chair is also typically designed at an angle, so it’s comfortable to sit in and easy to get in and out of.
Here, we’ll break down a few of the characteristics that are now seen as style, but had very practical purposes for the Shaker people.
Seen as a beautiful and simple style feature, tapering was used to keep the chairs and other pieces of furniture as light as possible. This way, they could be moved out of the way when not in use or during cleaning.
Similar to tapering, turnings help do away with excessive materials to make a piece lighter. Turned legs were created to offer the same results. In some cases, both tapering and turning could be done to the same piece of furniture.
Wooden Pulls and Knobs
Shakers used wood – rather than flashy glass or metal – as their primary material for knobs and handles throughout each piece of furniture. This not only helped keep the furniture simple, but meant they could use one supply source to complete the piece.
Plain, Clean Wood
You won’t find veneers, inlay or other woodwork in Shaker furniture. These elements were left out to showcase their humble lifestyles and use the furniture because of its functionality and durability. Dovetails, especially half-blind dovetails, which can only be seen when a drawer is open, are also a key feature of these pieces.
Pegs could also be used to stabilize legs on a table, but it would be done with the same kind of wood so they wouldn’t be able to show off their design skills.
Drawers that are largest at the bottom and get smaller at the top are a popular characteristic of Shaker furniture. Even this has a practical purpose: storing heavier items at the bottom of the dresser. It’s also naturally appealing to the viewer because it draws the eye to look upward.
While it takes some inspiration from shaker furniture, Mission is a style that is all its own. Sturdy slats, stable legs and straight angles are often seen throughout mission furniture. Mission hardware is also distinct from that of shaker because it is often black, metal or features diamond knobs.
This style of furniture is often made from oak, but other woods are also used. Regardless of the type of wood, the straight lines and flat planes this style of furniture is known for often highlight the natural grains found in the wood. It’s generally seen as more formal than shaker furniture, although its simple design elements make it a favorite of many people who like both styles. Amishoutletstore.com features mission furniture in rocking chairs, bookcases, coffee table sets and more.
Rise of the Craftsman
While not a furniture feature, the rise of the arts and crafts movement impacted mission-style furniture. It meant that workers didn’t feel bogged down in a factory. They could take some pride in a handmade product. Since this concept of a craftsman rose during the time that mission furniture became popular, these pieces – while still plain and functional – were exceptionally well-made. Many factory-manufactured goods were of low quality, so the demand for handcrafted furniture rose as the country prospered.
Mission furniture often features a darker stain than earlier versions of shaker furniture. Even though it’s sometimes more ornamented than shaker furniture, it still calls for simplicity. Many designers will encourage little to no ornate art on the walls or carpeting.
Here is where functionality and durability meet style. Mission furniture often uses exposed mortise-and-tenon joints, which are incredibly strong but also very beautiful.
Another distinct feature of mission furniture, parallel slats give the visual appearance of strength. The uniform lines and harmonious pieces can be tedious to create, but reflect the true appreciation for the craftsmanship that mission furniture is known for.
Open slat styles also have the ability to make a heavy piece of furniture appear lighter. The illusion and style feature of these slats are very common and are often requested for mission furniture.
You might come across a few pieces of mission furniture that feature leather seating or small design elements. While not incredibly common, the simplicity and natural element that leather provides fits in well with the mission style.
Great Characteristics About Both Styles
While it’s easy to go back and forth comparing shaker vs. mission furniture, we should not forget the great characteristics that both possess. If you are still undecided on what style of furniture you are looking for, these features may help you see how great each one can be.
Shaker and mission furniture are known for their longevity and durability in the home. They are meant to be used every day and should become a natural fit in your home. The natural elements and handcrafted workmanship make either style one that will last in your home for years to come. Some of these pieces are also passed down from generation to generation – so you know they last.
The color palettes of the mission and Shaker stained wood furniture make for excellent pieces in your home. If you’re looking for furniture that’s lighter in color, Shaker furniture is a great option for your home. Shaker furniture will typically have a light wood finish, using materials like maple, cherry or pine.
If you want bold furniture that stands out or something dark to match the rest of your home’s aesthetic, mission furniture is the option for you. Mission furniture makers use dark stains on thick pieces of wood. You’ll find mission furniture in colors like deep dark brown or nearly black.
Shaker and mission furniture are incredibly functional styles. Many pieces are made to be helpful with storage, whether it’s a hope chest waiting to be filled to the brim or a bed with extra storage space underneath. Drop-down desks, dressers and other furniture made specifically for storage are not only functional but beautifully designed.
While you might not want to hang your shaker chair on the wall as the early settlers did, you can find plenty of functionality in both of these styles. Move them around for easy storage or cleaning, or find other ways to take advantage of the functionality these pieces offer.
These beautiful handcrafted pieces each maintain their natural elements. Wooden furniture looks beautiful in many homes and fits many design schemes. While one piece often looks great in a home, designing a room or home around these natural pieces truly brings the style together. Embrace the simplistic, natural features of shaker and mission furniture for a clean look.
Clean lines and basic design elements are far from boring. Instead, these characteristics make shaker and mission style so popular they last beyond the centuries. A modern look with a handcrafted touch helps these styles appeal to many people. Incorporating them into a home design is easy – and the relaxed, beautiful look will be one you cherish for a long time.
Not many people can say they have handmade furniture in their home. Shaker and mission furniture were designed with the utmost care so that resources wouldn’t be wasted and the furniture could be of service no matter what home they ended up in. Enjoy the craftsmanship that these two furniture styles offer. Instead of filling your home with cookie-cutter factory pieces, consider how a crafted piece of furniture might benefit you.
If you’re still having a tough time choosing between shaker and mission style furniture, we hope these suggestions help you narrow things down.
Shaker furniture works well for people who appreciate simple, clean lines and furniture that has a rustic, country feel to it. With its often lighter stain, shaker furniture works well with a variety of décor items and can help brighten a space. Rather than feeling or looking heavy, the light furniture is great for someone who wants easy-to-move furnishing, or who appreciates the brighter look.
Mission furniture is for those who are a little more bold, but who still find a simple look appealing. Although simple, mission is far from boring. Often a bit darker, mission furniture doesn’t always mix seamlessly with other furniture styles. It works well with little to no added decorations, but just a few accent items could contribute to its rustic, crafty side.
Let Amishoutletstore.com Find the Right Pieces for You
Once you know which style of furniture will best meet your needs, let AmishOutletStore.com help you find the right pieces or complete sets to put in your home. Browse our wide selection of shaker and mission furniture options, or have a sales representative help you choose the best style for your home.
No matter which style you choose, AmishOutletStore.com provides the high-quality craftsmanship that signifies shaker and mission furniture. Choose from stains that include Seely, Michaels and Acres. If you need help envisioning the look, use our online design tool to mix and match different wood types or stains for different color palettes. Get lost being your own interior designer and imagine how you’d feel with these stunning pieces in your home.
When you’ve found the right look, order your new Antique Mission bedroom furniture today right here online or by giving us a call at 1-800-217-6999.