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Shaker Style Is Having a Moment | Architectural Digest

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At a buzzy restaurant in New York’s West Village, a chalkboard specials menu hangs from a peg rail, pew-shaped wooden booths offer cozy seating near a zinc-topped bar, and a generous, spindle-backed banquette wraps around the dining room. Purity of form reigns here at The Commerce Inn, the latest hot ticket establishment of Jody Williams and Rita Sodi, the chef couple behind West Village mainstays Buvette and Via Carota. Their culinary and aesthetic inspiration? The Shakers, a radical utopian Christian sect who left England for America in 1774 to build intentional communities that prioritized gender and racial equality, environmental stewardship, and the making of near-perfect buildings, furnishings, and objects as a spiritual practice.

“The Shaker aesthetic has been in the back of our minds for a decade,” explains Williams who, with Sodi, has collected and lived with a range of wares from the utopian community, from old cookbooks, baskets, brooms, and boxes to well-loved ladder-back chairs. “I’m attracted to the simplicity, the history. There are real roots here—real stories. It just resonates. It’s alive today.”

The Sawkille Co. bench and hook railing in the entrance of Anne Hathaway and Adam Shulman’s Pam Shamshiri-designed California country house are both nods to the Shaker aesthetic. 

Photo: Stephen Johnson

She’s not the only one who thinks so. Despite the fact that Shakers were famously celibate, causing their numbers to dwindle in the 20th and 21st centuries (at their largest, they numbered around 5,000), their approach to making, which prioritized purpose and perfection in equal parts, is hardly dead in the water. Designers, artists, restaurateurs (Stissing House, another Shaker style restaurant, recently opened in New York’s Hudson Valley), and institutions are continuing to mine the utopian community for ideals and aesthetics that resonate today.

“The Shakers were constantly reinventing, improving, and perfecting their designs,” explains Ben Bischoff, principal of MADE Design/Build, which designed and fabricated the custom dining furniture and interior millwork and cabinetry for The Commerce Inn. He also serves as a trustee and chair of the Building Committee at the Shaker Museum. For the interiors of The Commerce Inn, he and his team tapped into that mindset, rethinking classics like the Enfield chair and spindle-back bench, and re-creating them to stand up to the wear and tear of a downtown New York restaurant. “We wanted to build a banquette that had no cushioning, no padding, just the right proportions in the right material put together with traditional joinery,” he tells AD PRO. “It looks rigid and a bit forbidding but it has a natural give that makes it a quite pleasant seat at dinner time.”

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