Amish Furniture: Appreciating Hand-Crafted Solid Wood Design
Amish furniture designs stand apart in our modern world of outsourced and cost-cutting manufacturing practices. Most furniture brands don’t believe people appreciate hardwood designs and hand-crafted artisanship anymore—at least not enough to gamble on their sales numbers. We’re here to tell you that you should care and help you fall in love with Amish-designed furniture.
What is Amish Furniture?
Amish furniture is a slight misnomer in that it describes two things. One, it’s a general term used to describe a style of furniture. Secondly, it’s a term used to describe furniture that’s manufactured by Amish craftsmen. Can non-Amish woodworkers craft an Amish piece of furniture? That’s a good question. We’d argue it’d only be half Amish. Can an Amish woodworker craft a non-Amish design? Another good question.
We’d argue that anything designed by such a craftsman would be, inherently, Amish in design. The lines get blurry and, in this case, a picture is worth a thousand words to help describe the style of furniture referred to as Amish. Generally, when non-Amish produce Amish-style furniture it's simply referred to as Shaker or Mission style designs—each of which is a subtype of “Amish” furniture.
A Shaker-style kitchen server showcasing a beautiful natural finish, wooden knobs, and shaped top
Shaker vs. Mission
Amish furniture is a more generalized term than most realize. Two of the major differing styles of Amish furniture are Mission and Shaker—each with a rich history and unique set of design features. Learning a bit about each can help depth one’s appreciation of both furniture history and Amish furniture.
The Shakers were a group of English Quakers that broke off from the major sect during the 1700s. Their name was ultimately adopted in cadence with the group’s religious worship that involved the shaking of hands, heads, and arms. Formally, this group was named the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming—but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely.
The Shaker style of furniture evolved under the guidance of two main philosophical premises: ornamentation being sinful and faux finishes being deceitful. Rather than creating ornate carvings popular during previous centuries, Shaker craftsmen expressed their flair for design through more structural perspectives.
Mission-style furniture grew in popularity long after the Shakers had established themselves in the marketplace. In many ways, it was considered a modernization of Amish design though this isn’t a very accurate perspective in our opinion. In the early 1900s, a New York furniture designer knocked off some furniture that was designed for a California Church. The Church itself had an appearance similar to Spanish-style missions—hence the name mission furniture.
As far as we are aware, Mission style furniture is associated with the Amish style out of sheer coincidence that the California Church’s furniture was Amish. It’s doesn’t have nearly the anchor in the Amish community that Shaker-style design does. Nonetheless, this style of furniture has remained fairly popular—at least enough for most major manufacturers to have a group in their catalog still.
Mission-style bed featuring a dark finish and abundance of slats.
Comparing Design Traits
Knowing the history of each design style isn’t very practical. Knowing how to spot each one is. Below you’ll find a brief list of the most characterizing design traits of each style.
- Liberal use of parallel slats
- Exposed Joints
- Use of leather
- Darker stains
- Tapered legs and bedposts
- Chamfered drawer edges
- Wood Knobs
- Natural stains
Many furniture companies such as Stickley mass-produce their own interpretations of Amish furniture to meet consumer demand.
Benefits of Amish Furniture
Shaker and Mission-style furniture aren’t the only two varieties of Amish-styling but they are the most common. Again, any furniture produced by an Amish craftsman is technically Amish furniture after all. Don’t let titles, styles, or pop culture dissuade you otherwise. Any sub-style will inherently embody the beneficial and defining characteristics of Amish furniture. These can be regarded as the “benefits” of owning Amish furniture. Below you’ll find a list of some of the most persuading features of Amish furniture. For a complete and more thorough look, we suggest checking out one of the many Amish Furniture websites.
It’s heavy and expensive but it lasts longer, looks better, and feels better (biased opinion alert.) When you buy Amish furniture you can wave goodbye to particleboard, faux veneering and edges that often lose their luster. In addition to overall durability and lifespan, solid wood manufacturing allows more advanced woodworking techniques to be used. These included rounded edges and structure joinery.
This one’s a bit of personal preference, but wouldn’t you rather own furniture that was handmade? Wouldn’t you rather an artisan having dedicated a considerable portion of their lives to their labor have made your bed, rather than some international conglomerate? This characteristic of Amish furniture is one of the strongest selling points. It has a rich history, often a designer-specific set of nuances, and hasn’t ever been treated with potentially harmful chemicals.
Low Environment Impact
Major furniture retailers might make a quick million advertising a new Eco-Friendly lineup but Amish furniture is the original low-carbon footprint design. Truly Amish designs are produced without the use of electricity, on small farms, by dedicated artisans and wood-workers. What’s more green than not using electricity?
Amish furniture isn’t the only style to offer customizable options. Many major furniture brands offer customizable options. Amish furniture takes it to a whole other level. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any truly Amish furniture company that isn’t willing to customize nearly any aspect—provided you don’t ask them for veneering or some style outside their specialty. Need a custom-sized dining table though, no problem!
Attention to Detail
Lots of furniture designs borrow from the Amish without giving credit where credit is due. Working with solid woods and minimal processing chemicals, the Amish have developed an impressive approach for approaching structural integrity. You’ll find Amish furniture integrates many design features that modern furniture only mimics.
Final Thoughts About Amish Furniture
Amish furniture isn’t just timeless but it’s also likely to last forever. That’s a dynamic combination of positive traits right there. In all seriousness, Amish-style furniture breaths a fresh breath of perspective into the furniture design world. Its solid wood designs with bespoken and subtle perfections are meant to develop a deep love rather than flashy impulse purchases. We’re huge fans of this style and, while it’s not appropriate for everyone, we suggest you take a sharp look if you’re in the market for new furniture.