Shaker Style has a moment | Architectural Summary
At a bustling restaurant in New York’s West Village, a blackboard specialty menu hangs from a peg rail, bench-like wooden booths offer comfy seating near a zinc-clad bar, and generous bench seating at spindle back surrounds the dining room. Purity of form reigns here at The Trade Inn, the latest flagship establishment from Jody Williams and Rita Sodi, the chef couple behind the mainstays of West Village, Buvette and Via Carota. Their culinary and aesthetic inspiration? The Shakers, a radical utopian Christian sect that 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, furniture, and objects as a spiritual practice.
“The Shaker aesthetic has been on our minds for a decade,” says Williams, who along with Sodi has collected and lived with a range of utopian community items, from old cookbooks, baskets, brooms and boxes to well – I loved the ladder back chairs. “I am attracted by simplicity, history. There are real roots here, real stories. It just resonates. It is alive today.
She’s not the only one to think so. Despite the fact that the Shakers were renowned for their celibacy, which caused their numbers to dwindle in the 20th and 21st centuries (at their greatest number they were around 5,000), their approach to manufacturing, which prioritized the lens and equal parts perfection, is barely dead in the water. Creators, artists, restorers (Sting’s Houseanother Shaker-style restaurant, recently opened in New York’s Hudson Valley), and institutions continue to tap into the utopian community in pursuit of ideals and aesthetics that resonate today.
“The Shakers were constantly reinventing, improving and perfecting their designs,” says Ben Bischoff, director of DESIGN/CONSTRUCTION, who designed and fabricated the custom dining furniture as well as the interior millwork and cabinetry for The Commerce Inn. He is also a director and chairman of the building committee at Shaker Museum. For the Commerce Inn’s interiors, he and his team tapped into that mindset, reimagining classics like the Enfield Chair and Tapered Back Bench, and recreating them to withstand the wear and tear of a downtown restaurant. New York City. “We wanted to build a bench with no upholstery, no upholstery, just the right proportions in the right material combined with traditional joinery,” he told AD PRO. “He looks stiff and a bit intimidating, but he has a natural gift that makes him quite a pleasant seat at dinnertime.”