This week we’re launching a new series on kitchen cabinet doors, starting with our favorite (we’ll admit it): the Shaker-style cabinet front. Here are the ins and outs:
What is a Shaker-style cabinet front?
Above: A dark green London kitchen from deVOL‘s Real Shaker Kitchen line mixes Shaker-style cabinet fronts with more traditional molding and tongue-and-groove paneling. Helen Parker, creative director of deVOL, says, “You can’t possibly go wrong with Shaker cabinets.”
First, a bit of history: The Shakers were a religious group that fled to the American colonies in the eighteenth century to establish a utopian society, which included making all their own furniture. Simplicity, utility, and honesty were the hallmarks of Shaker style, as well as attention to form and proportion.
Technically, a Shaker-style cabinet front is a “five-piece door with a four-piece frame—two stiles on the left and right, two rails on the top and bottom, and a flat, inset panel,” according to John McDonald, founder of SemiHandmade, a company that makes Shaker-style cabinet doors for Ikea cabinet boxes (“half of what we sell is Shaker style. I hate to use the word timeless, but they really are”). Adds Charles Denning, owner of Denning Cabinetry in San Francisco, “The doors are usually rectangular,” he says, “because a door that is taller than the width is less likely to sag.”
Every designer and architect we interviewed used the same word to describe Shaker-style cabinets: simple. The next most common word was flexible. “Shaker cabinets are not traditional, and they’re not contemporary,” says New York interior designer Fawn Galli, “so they can really work in any type of interior. Shaker style gives some interest and depth without being stodgy, old-fashioned, or complicated.”
What finishes work well for Shaker cabinets?
Several experts reminded us that solid, natural wood—most often maple, cherry, or walnut—is the traditional Shaker look. But painted cabinets are increasingly popular, according to Parker of deVOL, who is especially fond of Shaker cabinets in dark colors.
Above: Smitten Studio blogger Sarah Sherman Samuel painted her lower cabinets in Farrow & Ball’s Pigeon but left the upper cabinets white. For her cabinet fronts, she used SemiHandmade’s DIY Shaker line of cabinet doors that coordinate with Ikea cabinet boxes. Read how she did it in Ikea Upgrade: The SemiHandmade Kitchen Remodel. Photography courtesy of Sarah Sherman Samuel.
What kinds of cabinet pulls work best with Shaker cabinets?
At the moment, brass is king, according to our experts. (Galli recommends the unlacquered type.) If you’re a traditionalist, the best choice is a wooden knob or very simple wood pull, notes Denning. Avoid anything too fancy or shiny, says Parker: “I think anything you choose that’s understated is fine.”
Above: Gray-blue cabinets in a Victorian-era London home from deVOL’s Real Shaker Kitchen line. Concrete floors, subway tile, and brass pulls give the kitchen a more contemporary look. (See more in Kitchen of the Week: A Shaker-Inspired Kitchen in East Dulwich.) Photograph courtesy of deVOL.
Above: Interior designer Amy Sklar used Shaker-style cabinets in her own kitchen in LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood, paired with solid bronze handles and pulls. “They were a splurge, but they feel good in my hand every time I open a cabinet and they patina so beautifully,” she said. (Read more in Kitchen of the Week: Practicality in White Marble.) Photograph by Amy Bartlam, courtesy of Amy Sklar Design.
Can I mix Shaker-style cabinets with other styles?
Many kitchens mix five-piece Shaker cabinet doors with solid, “slab-front” door panels. (Several of the projects featured here mix the two.) John Troxell of Wood Mode notes that Shakers themselves would have used both, since “there was less work involved” in making a slab-front style. To him, the all-Shaker look is a more contemporary interpretation. “As the look has evolved,” he said, “people are less concerned with the genuine ease of construction and simplicity. Instead, it plays into the architectural aesthetic that people are going for.”