When most people think of Amish furniture, they imagine traveling down Ohio’s or Pennsylvania’s country roads and stopping at quaint, cottage furniture shops attended by owners in 18th-century dress. While this idea reveals several misconceptions about the Amish (they have communities all over the United States), much of the picturesque scene would have been accurate in the 1990s or early 2000s. Today, who buys Amish furniture, where they buy it, what it looks like, and how it’s made have all shifted. Like many areas of retail, those shifts have to do with the internet and changing customer expectations. Despite shunning modern life, Amish furniture makers have thrived in modern markets.
The Amish Furniture Through the Generations
Dating back to the 1800s, Amish furniture’s appeal has stood the test of time, gaining popularity whenever society turns away from fast, easy, and cheap goods toward more artisan crafts.
Amish furniture first started gaining attention during the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century that reacted against industrialization. Designers believed mechanization had deteriorated workmanship, so they turned to cultures and traditions that still prized hand craftsmanship.
Amish furniture gained further traction in the 1920s with the rise of an American folk-art movement. Artists and curators began prizing handmade, homely objects like quilts, weathervanes, carved decoys, and of course furniture, especially pieces that dated back to the 1700s. As living artisans able to create colonial-style wares, Amish craftsmen gained attention and prestige for their furniture.
The real Amish furniture boom came in the early 1990s, when Baby Boomers were in their early to mid-40s, and a generation of “English” consumers fell in love with the quality of Amish-built furniture. In some ways, Boomers began the original ‘farm to table’ movement at this time—not around food, but around furniture built to last a lifetime.
In recent years, Amish furniture has seen a surge in popularity as Millennials begin reaching the same age—and buying power—that their parents did in the 1990s. Like their parents, they value Amish furniture for its quality and craftsmanship, but it also appeals to younger generations’ values surrounding sustainability, supporting local and regional businesses, and artisan goods.
How Amish Furniture Style Has Changed
Typical Amish furniture has historically been constructed out of oak or maple with designs limited to Shaker or Mission styles. But throughout history, Amish woodworkers have allowed design trends to influence their furniture styles, as long as they align with simplicity and quality.
Amish furniture’s signature Shaker style originated in the 18th century with the Quakers, who were contemporaries of the original Amish settlers. This simplistic style focusing on function and durability was passed down through generations of Amish carpenters. When the Arts and Crafts movement simultaneously popularized Mission furniture and Amish craftsmanship, the Amish incorporated Mission style as part of their repertoire. Likewise, as Baby Boomers began calling for Amish furniture, the Amish began adapting, using the most simplistic style of their era: Mid-Century Modern.
New, younger buyers come to Amish furniture expecting quality but also have grown up in an era of limitless choices. They fully expect to be able to purchase Amish furniture that matches their home décor, and true to form Amish furniture woodworkers have responded. While Amish furniture always consists of hardwoods and high-quality craftsmanship, it also now includes nearly every furniture design style, a variety of stain options, and often custom work.
How Modern Amish Furniture is Made and Sold
Using Some Fasteners: Amish furniture has maintained a tendency toward dovetailing and joint work, using little to no fasteners, throughout the centuries. At first, this was because nails and screws were expensive, and over time they became a symbol of shortcuts and low quality. However today, Amish woodworkers have learned that screws or nails in some joints can help a piece’s durability.
With Electricity: Most people believe that the Amish shun all electricity, and so must carve and finish each piece of furniture by hand and candlelight. While Amish furniture is all handmade, builders often use electricity in their woodshops. Each community has slightly different rules regarding electricity, but the main requirement is that it is created off the grid (i.e. using solar energy or diesel engines).
Using Some Power Tools: Power tools began entering Amish woodshops in the late 1960s as the seat of American furniture moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. Amish woodworkers began purchasing equipment from vacating furniture factories—but of course, they never created assembly lines. The Amish use hand-held woodworking power tools like sanders, saws, and drills using hydraulic and pneumatic power. The tools supplement their handiwork, never replace it.
Wherever You Live: It’s no longer necessary to make a trip to Amish country to buy high-quality Amish furniture. A network of regional retailers like Amish Elegance works with Amish builders to bring Amish furniture to every area of the country. They attend Amish furniture exhibitions and build relationships with Amish craftsmen, then bridge the gap between modern customer expectations and the strictures of Amish life. Retailers provide logistics, transportation and technology, so shoppers can easily access Amish goods through websites and local showrooms while the Amish can maintain adherence to their cultural and religious beliefs.
High Quality Fine Furniture from Amish Elegance
At Amish Elegance, we believe that quality furniture comes from solid, durable wood, expert craftsmanship, and simple, elegant design. Those are the straightforward parameters we put around Amish furniture, which now comes in many woods, any style, right to your neighborhood. Our aesthetics go far beyond the traditional Shaker and Mission styles, though of course, you’ll find stunning examples of these types of furniture in our show room.
If you’ve been looking for that perfect piece and want something beautiful and built to last, Amish Elegance has enough options to suit any style. You can even work with our team to design custom furniture to fit perfectly into your home. Visit our website for a broad overview of what we have to offer or come visit our showroom at 613 N. Campbell Station Road. We’re ready to welcome you to a whole new furniture shopping experience!