The Reforms


History of Architecture and Interior Design from the 19th Century



Chapter 15  – The Shakers; 1774-1900


Shakers were a 19th-century utopian religious group founded upon the teachings of Ann Lee.   Shakers today are mostly known for their cultural contributions (especially style of music and furniture).  Characteristics include minimal ornament, simple forms deriving from function or utility, perfected proportions, and excellent craftsmanship.

Concept of the people:

Shakers wanted separation from the rest of the world, their lives focused mainly on work and worship.  They believed in equality between genders, and put the community before individuals.  Their lives revolve around unity, purpose, and shared experiences within their villages.  Their secluded communities became advertisements of the better worked to be had through the shaker lifestyle.

Design Characteristics:

  • Unembellished forms
  • Refined proportions
  • Beauty in materials/Natural materials
  • Functionality
  • Perfection in quality
  • Simplicity

Because the shakers basically felt decoration was forbidden, no motifs were associated with them other than occasional flowers and hearts that appear in paintings.


Shaker style architecture was domestic or utilitarian and favors neatness, efficiency, function, and easy maintenance.  Because they built structures as a community, everyone developed similar carpentry styles.  This results in similar appearances throughout the shaker communities.  Popular buildings were meeting-houses, barns, and utilitarian buildings.

  • Chimneys at the end of the buildings
  • Gable Roofs
  • Rectangular double hung windows
  • Brick or Shingled façade
  • Emphasis on symmetry


  • Uniform
  • Simple
  • Functional
  • Easy maintenance
  • Little or no decoration

Wood and Plaster are common materials.  Characteristics include built in cupboards and drawers, sparsely furnished rooms, millennial wallpaper, carpet, and horse-hair upholstery as well as walnut and mahogany furniture.

Furniture and Decorative Arts:

Like the architecture and interiors, the furniture of the shakers reflects their belief system and supports their lifestyles.  Plain and utilitarian, movable and built-in furniture is uniform in appearance.  The millennial Laws prescribe what furnishings each member should have so that no one has more or less than anyone else.  All pieces of furniture belonged to the community, even if it was custom build for an individual.  Shaker designers didn’t sign their work, but rather applied numbers to the furniture or art to indicate what room a piece belonged to or who it was made for.


History of Architecture and Interior Design from the 19th Century



Chapter 16  – The Aesthetic Movement; 1860s-1890s


The aesthetic movement attempts to reform design through education of artistic principles.  Not a single style, but an attitude or philosophy, the movement draws upon many styles and cultures for inspiration and largely rejects the idea that art should serve a higher, moral purpose.  It was short lived, however, and lasted only about 3 decades.


Emphasizes beauty and usefulness for all forms of expression.  Adherents believe that each surrounding surface, object, or pattern provides an encounter with art, and therefore, should be carefully chosen and arranged.

“Art for Art’s Sake” is the idea that art and beauty should give pleasure in which one should freely indulge.

Sources of inspiration include Greece, Rome, The Middle Ages, Italian Renaissance, Vernacular Traditions, and the arts of Japan, China, India, and the Near East.

Motifs:  Sunflowers, peacock feathers, lilies, paisleys, flowers, leaves, Japanese forms, insects, butterflies, and birds.


There is no specific architecture style called “aesthetic movement” so most of the design characteristics appear in the interiors.  Queen Anne and Old English were associated with the time.  Some Japanese and vernacular influences are seen in the architecture.  Garden suburbs and urban landscapes are affected by the aesthetic movement.


Colors are brilliant, gaudy hues obtained from newly synthetic dyes.  Popular colors are gold, yellows, reds, blue-greens, olives, terra-cotta, and khaki.  Electricity is becoming available, however most people still used candles and gas lights because it was more reliable and gave off a softer light.  Oriental rugs are popular; wall to wall carpet is considered a waste.

Furniture and Decorative Arts:

Rooms are cluttered with arm chairs, side chairs, foot stools, small tables, large tables, plats stands, music stands, wall cabinets, and folding screens.  Chippendale and Sheraton are favored.  The movement uses antique furniture with honest construction and appropriate decoration.  The movement doesn’t introduce new types of furniture.


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