Amish Furniture Guide:  Shaker vs Mission?

When you’re looking for a new piece of furniture to put in your home, there are many options. But one of the best options is to go for a classic, timeless, well-built piece that’s versatile and durable. Amish furniture is well-known for its uncluttered design, subtle elegance, and structural resilience. Its versatility means it looks great in any setting, and its understated charm complements whatever room it’s in.

There are two main styles of Amish furniture: Shaker and Mission. In this brief guide, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between these two types of traditional Amish craftsman furniture.

What Is Shaker Furniture?

Shaker furniture is known for its simple yet elegant design and its functionality. Practicality is the goal with Shaker furniture, yet this simplicity creates an aesthetic all its own. A minimalist design and clean lines are its main characteristics. Another essential trait of Shaker furniture is that it’s made out of American-grown woods such as Cherry, Maple, Pine, or Walnut.

The most easily defined feature of Amish Shaker furniture is that it doesn’t have many outstanding features. It’s plain, simple, and functional. Subtle design touches include slender, tapering legs, ubiquitous knob handles, and an effort to bring out the natural colors and patterns from the wood on simple, flat surfaces.

This furniture style was created by woodworkers within Shaker religious communities in the New England area during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Known for religious fervency, simple living, and arts and crafts expertise, Shakers become well known for their simple yet well-built furniture. Over the decades, appreciation grew for the timeless appeal of these Shaker-inspired designs. Now in the 21st century, these simple, functional, and appealing furniture designs are still popular.

What Is Mission Furniture?

Mission furniture is a similar type of furniture that shares several design features with Shaker furniture. At first glance, they seem almost identical, but a few key characteristics set them apart. Mission furniture is known for its straight and clean lines, simplicity, and lack of ornate styling.

The key features of Mission furniture are simple, straight lines, quality woodwork, and heavy, thick components. There’s no ornamentation and few curving lines. The blocky style doesn’t integrate any ornaments, carving, or decoration. Instead, the focus is on classy simplicity and putting the color and grain of the wood center stage. Traditionally crafted out of Oak, the flat planes and exposed joinery of Mission furniture brings out the quality of the craftsmanship and materials that went into making it.

Mission furniture was developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement of the time that focused on timeless elegance and enduring quality. Its name is derived from the role that Spanish missions in California played in originating the major design features of Mission furniture.

Shaker vs Mission

Essentially, the main difference between Shaker vs Mission furniture is the intent behind their original designs. Shaker furniture was conceived for functionality, while Mission furniture is designed to highlight craftsmanship. Both these underlying goals lead to intersecting features. Both have a simple, no fuss aesthetic. Both focus on quality materials and well-built craftsmanship over ornate decoration.

The major differences are only borne out in the subtle design elements of the furniture. Shaker furniture has slender, tapering legs, thinner boarding, and gives a more elegant, uncluttered vibe. Mission furniture incorporates simple yet intentional stylistic elements such as thick, blocky legs, wide trim, and thick boarding and has a solid, sturdy, rustic ambiance. A good way to immediately identify if a piece of furniture is Shaker or Mission is to glance at the legs. Are they slender and tapered, or thick and blocky?

Some other specific differences include the wood finish. Traditionally, Shaker furniture didn’t make use of dark stains to accentuate the grain of the wood. Mission furniture, on the other hand, often used staining to bring out the grains of the wood and add to the furniture’s rustic, heavy-set look.

Another telltale sign is the joinery. Shaker furniture has the joinery carefully hidden within the seams of the furniture. Mission furniture, however, uses joinery as a stylistic element. A well-done piece of joinery not only displays good craftsmanship, but there’s an artistic sensibility to the basic, repeating patterns.

Finally, there’s some more details such as the occasional presence of leather or parallel slates in Mission furniture, or the distinctively traditional wooden knobs used on Shaker furniture. All in all, there’s a lot of crossover between these styles, while they remain distinct through subtle details. They’re both simple, straightforward, and timelessly appealing.

What’s Right for You?

Whichever of these two types of Amish craftsman furniture you’re considering, you can be appreciative of the minimalist, vintage designs shared by these two types of furniture. However, depending on what you’re looking for in a piece of furniture to complement your existing home furnishings or décor, one of these styles will probably end up being the better option.

Amish Shaker furniture is understated and neutral. It looks classy but doesn’t have many standout ornamentation or features. It plays a complimentary role in a room. It’s unstained wood grain, economical dimensions, and subtle design touches mean it won’t stand out.

Mission furniture, however, does stand out more and plays a more visible role in lending a vibe to a room. Its bolder design incorporates darker colors and highlights stylistic touches to give a piece of furniture more presence in a room. But whatever style of furniture works better for you, both of these styles of Amish furniture require excellent craftsmanship and let the quality and craftsmanship that’s been put into them to shine out.

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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