Selldorf Architects to design new home for Shaker Museum furniture and artifacts

Shake It Out

Selldorf Architects to design new home for Shaker Museum furniture and artifacts

A Shaker needlework box (Courtesy The Shaker Museum)

The Shaker Museum in Upstate New York has selected Selldorf Architects to design a permanent home for its collection of artifacts from the Shakers, a utopian community best known today for its minimalist furniture.

The building will complement the museum’s programming in Mount Lebanon, New York, a museum village near Albany, New York, where visitors can learn about the life and beliefs of the Shakers by touring the grounds and buildings. The Shaker Village at Mount Lebanon was active for 160 years, from 1787 to 1947.

Shakers were radical Christians who practiced pacifism and celibacy; believed in gender equality; farmed; and designed austere wood furniture to support themselves (this is the Cliffnotes version of the movement). There were multiple Shaker settlements in addition to Mount Lebanon. As of 2017, there were only two living Shakers.

While Mount Lebanon is in rural New Lebanon, New York, the Selldorf structure will be built in downtown Chatham, New York, about 20 miles away. The 30,000-square-foot building will house the museum’s 18,000 artifacts over four floors, and provide space for public programming. The scope of work also includes a renovation of an older building downtown. Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects is designing the grounds and is using native plants.

The $15 million project is expected to break ground next year, and work will wrap up in 2023. No renderings are available at this time.

The Shakers were arguably the most successful of the utopian communities associated with the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant religious revival movement that began in the United States around 1790 and ebbed around 1840. Other products of the period include the Oneida Community, which supported itself via the manufacture of Oneida silverware, and the Latter Day Saint movement, which created Mormonism.

Oregon-based Studio Gorm’s 2017 work for Furnishing Utopia, a furniture collection produced by Bernhardt Design with Hancock Shaker Village and the Mount Lebanon Shaker Museum. (Courtesy Charlie Schuck)

While the Shaker aesthetic is a close cousin to Scandinavian minimalism, designers often draw specifically on the Shaker tradition. In 2017, North Carolina–based furniture company Bernhardt Design partnered with Hancock Shaker Village and the Mount Lebanon Shaker Museum for Furnishing Utopia, a 32-piece furniture collection from 11 design studios, which debuted at Sight Unseen OFFSITE.