Category Archives: Country Cottage

Shaker Style Furniture

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing formed in 18th. Century England when a small group broke away from the Society of Friends. The Society were commonly known as Quakers, and the  new sect were derisively called “Shaking Quakers” or “Shakers” in reference to the enthusiastic dancing that was part of their worship. (The term “Shakers” was so commonly applied that, in time, it came to be accepted by followers themselves.)

8 Shakers emigrated to America in about 1774, and established a community in upstate New York. They practiced celibacy, abstinence, pacifism, and aspired to both self-sufficiency and an austere, simple life. Through conversion and the adoption of unwanted children, the sect grew to encompass some 19 communities from Indiana to Maine by the mid-1800’s.

Country Side Table with Drawer

Country Side Table with Drawer

They took pride in their education and their industry, and produced tools and furniture that were both cleverly designed and highly functional. Sparingly decorated, but never lacking in their own distinctive beauty, Shaker tables, chairs and cabinets were made primarily from light, versatile pine and used innovative methods of joining.

The Shaker aesthetic was perhaps best symbolized by their distincitve pegboard system, which often ran the entire cicumference of a room and was used to hang not only coats, but anything that would hang, including their lightweight chairs and other furniture.

Slate Creek Peg Shelf

Slate Creek Peg Shelf

Able to produce their unique furnishings in large quantities, the Shakers were happy to sell them to the general population, who admired them for their sturdy quality and clever design features. Thus, Shaker furniture found its way into many homes in the Northeast and beyond, where it greatly influenced furniture-makers of all stripes.

Although genuine Shaker furniture is now entirely in the realm of antiques — today, there are approximately 3 practicing Shakers left — its classic designs are still emulated by modern artisans. Relaxed Cottage Living features a broad (and growing) Shaker Style Furniture Collection, made from American pine and in the traditional style, right down to the classic handmade drawer-runner systems.

Barn Stars

 

Copper Barn Star

Copper Barn Star

A useful explanation of what a barn star is, and what it means, is necessarily more about what it’s not.

More popular than ever, this simple metal or wooden wall adornment — often in the form of a five-pointed star — is the subject of much confused speculation.

What is true is that they first appeared (although they may have previously existed in Europe) on barns in the regions of Pennsylvania which were in large part populated by German and Dutch immigrants and their descendents. From this fact comes the often repeated notion that they were associated with the Old Order Amish (many, including other retailers, even call them “Amish Barn Stars”). This is not only inaccurate, but fairly ridiculous — it takes only the slightest knowledge of Amish traditions to realize that a large, colorful object with no purpose other than adornment would be the last thing you’d see on an Old Order farm.

In fact, the barn star originates with their non-Amish neighbors, known to some as the “Fancy Dutch” in order to distinguish them from “Plain Dutch” communities like the Amish.  They may have been the trademarks of professional barn-builders, and they may have been thought of as lucky symbols. Ultimately, as their numbers increased following the Civil War, there’s little doubt that the barn star was just what it appeared to be — a bold and distinctive decoration for a large wall space calling out for one.

With the advent of the automobile early in the 20th. century, barn stars began to attract the attention of more and more passing tourists. Some took home replicas and hung them both inside and out, spreading this folk art tradition to all corners of the continent.

Our own Barn Stars at Relaxed Cottage Living are handmade in the U.S.A. from 100% copper, to last in continuing beauty on either an interior or exterior wall. In fact, they’re designed to develop an attractive patina over time, especially in the elements. If you’re thinking of adding one of these American classics to your wall, make a point of checking them out.

 

Penny Rugs

Coin Rug

The Penny Rug emerged as a folk art tradition in the mid-19th. century, one of the many products of resourceful American homemakers.

At a time when little went to waste, every left-over scrap of fabric — from other crafts, as well as worn-out clothing — was kept, and put to use. Tiny, oddly-shaped tidbits of cloth could often only be formed into circles, with the aid of a handy penny or other coin as a guide.

More and more concentric circles of wool or felted wool would be embroidered in repeating patterns onto a piece of burlap-backed wool to compose the classic Penny Rug design. Of course, other shapes such as diamonds and stars made their way into the mix.

So admired was the Penny Rug that, in some cases, they were used as table runners or wall hangings, though the term “rug” was still applied. Now, as in the past, the same Penny Rug piece could be laid on the floor or hung on the wall without being out of place. At Relaxed Cottage Living, our assortment of Penny Rugs — all handmade in the authentic style — are appropriately dispersed throughout multiple categories. That’s why we’ve assembled them all in the Penny Rug Collection as well.

Or, if you’re the handy type, you can read a how-to on crafting your own folk art classic at Penny Rugs and More.

Pie Safes

 

Classic Country Pie Safe

Classic Country Pie Safe

For those of you who don’t know (and if you were born in the 20th. century or later, that’s understandable), the pie safe was a staple of the American kitchen until it was made obsolete by the icebox and, later, the refrigerator. Also called a garde-manger in Louisiana and a pie chest elsewhere, it was the place to store not just pies – although pies were, and are, important – but any and all perishable foodstuffs.

With the threat of pie-hungry rodents and insects being a leading concern, the pie safe was made of sturdy wood construction, with long, tapered legs to discourage climbers. Alternatively, some homes actually suspended the pie safe from the ceiling. Ventilation was necessary, and so the door panels of the finest safes were comprised of wire mesh or artfully punched tin – known by some as tôles de panneaux.

Nearly ubiquitous until the mid-19th. century, the pie safe was displaced by the icebox (when ice harvesting and delivery became widespread), and vitually disappeared. Presumably, only the largest and most pie-savvy kitchens retained room enough for the old pie safe, where, over a century and a half, it matured into a unique and distinguishing conversation piece.

Portia Pie Safe

Portia Pie Safe

From there, it evolved, inspiring diverse takes on the classic design. Relaxed Cottage Living has not one, not two, but three pies safes on offer in our burgeoning Buffets & Cabinets section. Two of those are more modern takes inspired by the pie safe concept. The third (pictured above)  is the genuine article — a meticulously detailed recreation of the classic, right down to the punched tin panels.

One might make an excellent additon to your cottage-style kitchen, and any would be an excellent place to keep your fresh-baked pies.