What is a Shaker kitchen? Interior designers explain the key features of this classic look

The Shaker kitchen is a design classic you can really make your own, but what actually are the characteristics of a Shaker-style kitchen?

neptune what is a shaker kitchen, neutral shaker kitchen
(Image credit: Neptune)

When thinking of a traditional kitchen, it's typically a Shaker kitchen that comes to mind. Inspired by 18th-century workmanship and beloved for its timeless, utilitarian style – a Shaker kitchen perfectly combines age-old design principles with contemporary aesthetics.

In fact, some of our most favorite home tours have featured delightfully characterful Shaker-style kitchens. Equally at home in both traditional and contemporary homes, this kitchen trend is instantly recognizable by its recessed paneled doors and clean lines making it one of the most versatile kitchen ideas around.

So if you've just embarked on a renovating or remodeling journey in the heart of your home, and are perhaps leaning towards Shaker cabinets – we've got you covered. Here, we delve into the essence of a Shaker kitchen, exploring the origins, characteristics, and enduring appeal with insights from renowned interior designers and kitchen makers alike.

What is a Shaker kitchen?

plain english kitchens traditional shaker kitchen in blue

(Image credit: Plain English Kitchens)

First things first, what really is a Shaker kitchen? And where did it come from?

Captivating homeowners with its simple yet sophisticated charm, "Shaker" is a generic name to describe a cabinetry door with no molding and a flat drawer head. 'In essence, it is a simplistic approach to kitchen cabinetry,' says Bob Bakes, head of design at Bakes & Kropp. 'The original, purist form of Shaker cabinetry was inset, however, the overlay was introduced to the market as the style grew in popularity.'

Plain English Kitchen's design director Merlin Wright takes us through the origins of the style. 

'The name Shaker derives from an American community established in the 1790’s. They believed that the quality of their work was a testament to their devotion to God.  “Beauty rests on utility” and “Whatever is fashioned, let it be plain and simple and for the good” are just two of their founding beliefs. The Shaker’s influence on furniture design and making has been extensive with them often referred to as the Fathers of modernity,' explains Merlin.

devol kitchens white shaker kitchen with statement yellow island and open shelving - boho styling

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

'These days a simple kitchen with a recessed door and no moldings is often referred to as ‘Shaker’ while the attention to detail, faultless craftsmanship, and fine proportions of true Shaker furniture has since become the hallmark of good design,' he continues. 

When designing Plain English's own version of Shaker-style cabinetry, the Williamsburg range, founder Katie Fontana decided to forego any modern gadgetry, relying fully on traditional joinery methods that withstand the test of time. 

'Gentle pillow-fronted drawer arrangements combined with a considered recessed door panel add the perfect visual interest without requiring decoration,' adds Merlin. 'American Maple or Cherry wood drawers and hand-turned knobs ensure we remain true to the Shaker’s beliefs. A Shaker kitchen offers a range of cupboards that sit comfortably in any home, are well-mannered, and ensure everything can easily be found.'

devol kitchens shaker kitchen with green-gray cabinets

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

Helen Parker, creative director at deVOL, notes that their Shaker cupboards were also designed to be made to the distinctive and classic principles that were so fundamental to the very heart of the Shaker communities. 

'Their desire to be self-sufficient, humble, hardworking, honest, and utilitarian gave way to furniture that has become so revered and loved the world over. This almost accidental style was born from sheer hard work and strong beliefs of thoughtful, functional form and proportion,' explains Helen. 

With cabinets designed to make every day easier, from drawers to cupboards and everything in between; each element of a Shaker kitchen gives careful consideration to kitchen storage and easy access.

Helen Parker portrait
Helen Parker

Helen is the Creative Director at deVOL, a leading kitchen design company that mixes classic and contemporary. Helen has been creative director at the company since 2011, passionate about the signature understated approach deVOL takes to designing kitchens. 

neptune neutral kitchen with shaker style cabinets and marble countertop and backsplash

(Image credit: Neptune)

Simply put, the hallmarks of a Shaker kitchen are a single central panel, raised frame, and little-to-no further adornment. 

'A Shaker kitchen typically refers to the cabinets, it’s a flat center panel with flat trim that surrounds it,' explains Meredith Owen of Meredith Owen Interiors. 'Shaker style was typically more arts and crafts style but these days, with painted cabinets, and more updated shaker cabinet options, this is a great style for transitional or new modern kitchen designs too!'

interior designer Meredith Owen
Meredith Owen

Austin-based Meredith Owen Interiors was founded in 2016. The firm focusses on high-end residential projects, including new construction, renovations and interior/exterior furnishings. Meredith and her team works diligently to create a custom design experience that helps to bring each individual project to life. Meredith believes that a home should not only function flawlessly but also reflect the people who live inside the home.

blue shaker kitchen with paneling and gingham skirt

(Image credit: Vaughan Design & Development)

Found in every style of home from the most modern apartments to the grandest of period homes, the Shaker's timeless simplicity seamlessly adapts to various design aesthetics making it a versatile choice for any home.

'Shaker kitchens tend to work in almost any style and period of home,' agrees Holly Vaughan of Vaughan Design & Development. 'Their simple, traditional look will always stand the test of time.'

Elizabeth Sherwin, creative director of Naked Kitchens has found Shaker kitchens' popularity stems from their versatile, functional, and timeless approach to design. 'The style is characterized by unadorned cabinet doors, minimal ornamentation, and a focus on quality craftsmanship. Its pared-down simplicity makes it a popular choice in both traditional and contemporary aesthetics,' says Elizabeth.

holly vaughan of vaughan design and development
Holly Vaughan

Founded by husband-and-wife duo Holly and Will, Vaughan Design and Development is an all-in-one design and build solution working across Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex in the UK.

devol kitchens dark red shaker kitchen with paneling and open shelving

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

While the Shakers created a blue-print for the family kitchen centuries ago, the Shaker kitchen remains a steadfast favorite today – boasting a longevity that outlives all other kitchen trends. Fuss-free in its simplicity with functionality at its core, it's no wonder that the Shaker kitchen is one of the most popular styles of kitchen to this day.

'The lack of ornamentation and simple clean lines has become the go-to look for so many of us as it allows us to choose between keeping it simple or adding our own changeable ornamentation and decoration,' observes deVOL's Helen Parker. 

'This was not the purpose of this design or the intention of the Shakers, but it does allow it to be a very flexible and almost chameleon-like style which appeals to so many of us,' she adds.

How should you style a Shaker kitchen?

devol kitchens dark blue and pink kitchen with paneling and wall plates for decor

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

The pared-back nature of a Shaker kitchen allows the craftsmanship to truly sing - creating a blank canvas for interior and kitchen designers to inject personality with color and decor.

'You can add character and a touch of your own style by choosing bold kitchen colors and some special hardware,' advises Holly Vaughan.

Despite un-painted wood being the most popular iteration of early Shaker furniture, modern-day Shaker kitchens come in a myriad of colors. The simplicity means you can go bolder with your color palette, and accessorize with hardware of traditional material like unlacquered brass and countertops in contemporary finishes like marble or quartz to offset the perennial charm of the cabinetry.

Bethany Adams of Bethany Adams Interiors says 'Shaker typically refers to the cabinet style – a plain, square-edged door with a simple recessed panel – but can also generally mean a simple kitchen devoid of excess decoration similar to those favored by the Shaker communities of the past.'

'Wall pegs, beadboard, and wood or brick floors along with muted, historic colors would also imbue a space with Shaker style, but feel free to mix it up. Shaker-style cabinets pair beautifully with other, more exciting pieces because they are so simple,' she adds.

Bethany Adams
Bethany Adams

Bethany Adams has over 15 years of experience designing and project-managing high-end residential projects all over the US. She started her design firm in Louisville in 2015 and before worked for several designers and architects over the course of a ten-year career in Chicago.

jeccica helgerson interior design neutral shaker kitchen with no wall cabinets and warm accessories

(Image credit: Jessica Helgerson Interior Design)

While rooted in tradition, Shaker kitchens have evolved to meet the demands of modern living. Open shelving, integrated appliances, and innovative storage solutions all blend seamlessly with the classic design, creating spaces that are both timeless and practical.

When interior designer Jessica Helgerson approached this kitchen in Iowa City, above, she felt it important to ground the project with a real sense of place. 'We admired the simplicity and restraint in the traditional Iowa City architecture and chose the design of the cabinets, the simple backsplash, and the quiet color palette of our design to reflect that. We worked with a woodworker from the Amish community to design and build the island,' Jessica explains. 

'We also employed the traditional Shaker (and Amish!) technique of wooden pegs on a rail; used to hang all sorts of useful things, but most often associated with the hanging of chairs,' adds Jessica. 'The final layer of styling for this kitchen included a small painting by Iowa painter Grant Wood, cafe curtains, and simple vintage American-made kitchenware.'

Lexie Sokolow, designer at STUDIO LIFE/STYLE, says that simple Shaker cabinetry will never go out of style. 'We like to use this as a skeleton and further develop the details within the cabinetry when designing custom kitchens. We love using Drop Cloth from Farrow & Ball on Shaker cupboards for an off-white shade to make the space feel cozy and inviting.'

It's clear that thanks to its traditional craftsmanship and roots in American history, the Shaker kitchen will be an everlasting trend in kitchen design. Simplistic in nature, but undoubtedly elaborate in its attention to detail and function, according to the experts you can truly do no wrong by opting for a Shaker-style kitchen in your home. Whether you have a contemporary or a centuries-old property, a Shaker kitchen can be designed and styled to suit any home.

Charlotte Olby
Style & Trends Editor

Charlotte is style and trends editor at Homes and Gardens, and has been with the team since Christmas 2023. Following a 5 year career in Fashion, she has worked at many women's glossy magazines including Grazia, Stylist, and Hello and most recently worked as Interiors Editor for British heritage department store Liberty. Her role at H&G fuses her love of style with her passion for interior design, and she is currently undergoing her second home renovation in Surrey - you can follow her journey over on @olbyhome