Shaker furniture and design continue to inspire designers more than 150 years after its peak in the mid 1800s. Last year, Furnishing Utopia, a collaboration between Hancock Shaker Village and the Mt. Lebanon Shaker Museum, in Massachusetts and New York, respectively, held a workshop for 11 international designers to engage with the museums’ archives and then create their own pieces.
Now Mjölk, a lifestyle shop and gallery in Toronto, has done something similar, curating a selection of original Shaker products and commissioning a group of Canadian and Scandinavian designers to craft their own interpretations.
Titled “That Is Best Which Works Best,” the show spotlights minimalist but functional design, traits that characterize much of Shaker-produced goods. Designers include Hallgeir Homstvedt (from Norway, who also contributed to Furnishing Utopia), Canadian designer Thom Fougere, and Jason Collett, all of whom made simple objects like a toolbox, shelving, and a table out of wood.
Original Shaker artifacts like a large cabinet, cast iron stove, and utensils are displayed alongside designs by Danish masters like Hans J Wegner and Børge Mogensen. According to Dezeen, Mjölk co-founder John Baker believes that the recent popularity of Danish modernist design has led to a renewed interest in the “Shaker aesthetic,” which was a major influence on the afore-mentioned designers:
You start to look at these Danish pieces and you think, that's somewhat reminiscent of older pieces. You end up going down the rabbit hole and I think it's a natural conclusion to reach the Shakers. We're talking about modern ideas: function first, reduction. This was happening a hundred years before the modern movement.