Furnishing Utopia

From May 20 to 24 DWR´s Studio store in SoHo presented an independent design collective group that underscores the influence of Shaker design on modernist furniture and interiors. Furnishing Utopia: Shaker Design Influences were led by Oregon-based Studio Gorm, and presented 14 international design studios and their design objects that were displayed alongside the original Shaker artifacts that served as inspiration.

Often credited as the first minimalists, the Shakers and their furniture have inspired countless modernist and contemporary designers all over the world. In collaboration with two preserved Shaker sites – Mt. Lebanon Shaker Museum in upstate New York and the Hancock Shaker Village in the Massachusetts Berkshires – Furnishing Utopia organized two week-long workshops giving international designers access to an extensive archive of objects and engaging them in a dialogue with Shaker museum curators. Following the workshop, the designers produced everyday pieces, from brooms to baskets,that translate the ingenuity and ethos of Shaker style into objects suited to contemporary life.

The 14 design studios presented were: Studio Gorm, Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, Darin Montgomery, Norm Architects, Jonah Takagi, Hallgeir Homstvedt, Studio Tolvanen, Christopher Specce, Gabriel Tan, Zoë Mowat, Tom Bonamici, Anderssen & Voll, Vera & Kyte and Bertjan Pot. Nytt Rom present a selection of the designs:


Hancock Baskets by Studio Tolvanen.

Hancock Baskets were inspired by a laundry basket in a storage room at Hancock Shaker Village. Four baskets make up the family – a Large Basket for laundry or magazines, a Bread Basket, a Serving Tray, and a Mushroom Hunting Basket. The four incorporate details from various baskets we liked in the archives, but the material is modern bent plywood – which we think the Shakers would have wholeheartedly embraced for its strength and lightness. Photo cred: Petter Johansson.


Doverail-mirror & Doverail-shelf by Hallgeir Homstvedt

The Doverail derives from the Shakers form-language and other wall hung objects seen at the shaker village. The rail is simply hung on the wall with one screw and is intended for the modern home where the shaker peg-rail is no longer common. The dove-tail shaped rail allows for vertical adjustment of the mirror or shelves through the turn of a brass knob, giving the product a flexible nature. Simple geometric shapes in combination with natural materials has where used to give the product a light yet strong character. Photo cred: Charlie Schuck, Natasha Felker.


Work Station by Ladies & Gentlemen Studio.

Inspired by the Shaker desks and their thoughtfulness for compartmentalization, L&G Studio decided to create a modern day working station that’s both versatile and well-considered for different scenarios. The piece has a front which front folds down and opens up a working surface, while the inside has integrated accessories for organization. When one is finished with work, one can simply close the cover and visually stow away the work. The top section doubles as a standing work surface. Photo cred: Charlie Schuck, Natasha Felker.


Beat it by Vera & Kyte

‘Beat it’ is a contemporary interpretation of the original carpet beaters made by the American Shakers in the C19th. The Shakers believed in “That which has in itself the highest use possess the greatest beauty”. This philosophy highlights the beauty in commonly overlooked everyday objects. With ‘Beat it’ the aesthetic value of a useful, and simple tool can be brought into the modern home.


Secret Night Table by Gabriel Tan

This night table combines the utility of two iconic pieces of shaker furniture – the side table and chest of drawers. The drawer is almost unnoticeable and ideal for keeping our most personal items. Photo cred: Petter Johansson.


Baskets by Studio Gorm

Inspired by the construction of the Shaker bentwood oval boxes and the forms of woven split black ash harvest baskets. Utilizing a modern flexible bamboo plywood and solid plywood base allows for bentwood forms that are not possible with traditional methods. They are extremely light and durable, suitable for many uses. Photo cred: Charlie Schuck, Natasha Felker.


Rung Racke by Zoe Mowat

The Rung Rack is a simple folding storage rack that references the rungs or crossbars of a ladder’s step. Inspired by the lines of an original apple picking ladder made by the Shakers and found at the Hancock Shaker Village archives, the versatile piece is ideal as a clothing rack, a room divider, or a simple store-all for textiles and magazines. The ends of the ash dowels are notched to form additional hooks and the numerous crossbars provide ample surface for draping storage. The central pivot allows the rack to sit open at various spans, including fully extended to lean flat against a wall, or folded completely closed for storage. However, the Rung Rack takes a cue from the Shaker approach to objects in the home and is designed to be on view, close at hand, and not hidden away. Photo cred: Petter Johansson.

Peg Rail & Broom by Tom Bonamici

Cleanliness is next to Godliness. This broom, thanks to a low profile and dense bristles, is easy and efficient in use. A rigid hang loop allows for easy storage. The Shaker pegs threaded into their rails. This version uses a section of threaded wood for the peg itself, giving good grip and allowing fragile items to be securely fastened. Photo cred: Petter Johansson.


Hanging Utensils by Studio Gorm

Inspired by the many types of hanging utensils (typically metal) and wooden tools made by the Shakers.  We developed a set of utensils that referenced these as well as the wooden peg rail, shrinking it down to the scale of kitchen utensils.  Creating a set of essential tools that were always accessible when cooking and graphically pleasing when put away. Wooden utensils attach to the rail with integrated magnets. Everything in its place. Photo cred: Petter Johansson.


Paper Basket & Paper Hat by Christopher Specce. Photo cred: Petter Johansson.


You can see all the exhibited objects here. Photo by Charlie Schuck.