Five Trends in Amish Furniture Design from the Northern Indiana Woodcrafters Expo

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Five Trends in Amish Furniture Design from the Northern Indiana Woodcrafters Expo

When you think Amish furniture, you probably think traditional.  You’re not wrong – Amish craftsmanship is rooted in old styles of woodworking.  The Mission, Shaker, Prairie, and Arts and Crafts styles emulated by Amish builders are aesthetic styles that have been around for a long time.  However, Amish-made furniture can also be very modern and sleek.  Inspired by collaborations with customers and other builders, Amish craftsmen create new designs every year.

Every year, the Northern Indiana Woodcrafters Association hosts an enormous exposition.  This is an organization of Amish craftsmen living in a community in Indiana.  Builders show off room settings of their most popular styles, and display some of their new designs for the year.  Incredible variety can be seen even within the designs of one builder.  We sent 3 Plain and Simple staff to the expo for a day, and are happy to report the trends we saw there.

1. Rougher Cuts of Wood

First, the basics.  We checked out the wood species builders used in their display pieces.  As we expected, we saw plenty of red oak, brown maple, cherry, and quartersawn white oak (the quintessential wood of Mission-style furniture).  In addition, a number of builders featured rustic woods – these are simply rougher cuts of wood, containing some natural knots, pits, and irregularities.  Hickory seems to be making a comeback this year, with its dramatic natural two-tone effect (and it’s extremely dense, too, making it excellent for dining furniture).  A number of our Amish builders displayed pieces made in wormy maple, which sounds odd, but looks wonderful.  The wood does not actually have worms in it (just like tiger maple doesn’t actually have tigers in it), but has been burrowed by beetles.  This does not compromise the integrity of the wood in any way, simply discolors the grain.  Wormy maple’s light tone is streaked with greyish-brown lines, making it very attractive in a natural finish. 

2. Mixed Materials

Some builders are incorporating metal into their designs this year.  The mixing of materials gives a very contemporary look, even to traditionally-shaped furniture pieces.  We expect to see a lot of growth in this type of construction over the next several years, as Amish builders continue to experiment and collaborate with other artisans.

3. Hybrid-Style Dining Tables

In dining room tables, a few trends were apparent.  In addition to classic leg tables, Craftsman style trestle tables, and elegant pedestal tables, we saw some extremely modern designs and some hybrid styles that blurred the distinction between old and new.  A number of builders are making very large round pedestal tables with most of the design centered in the base.  Plank-top tables are also popular, and center the eye on the top of the furniture.  Many tables can be made with a live edge; one solid piece of wood is used for the tabletop, and a piece from the outside of the tree is used as the rough edge of the table.  Perhaps most impressive of all was the number of new trestle table designs we saw.  Many table builders displayed new kinds of smooth slides for opening and closing tables with leaves.

4. Huge Variety in Chair Design

Our chair builders really impressed us with the sheer number of new designs they displayed.  Between the two workshops that build our dining chairs, over 50 new chair styles are available this year.  Both builders have designed new upholstered chairs, some of which are very formal and some of which are more casual.  Many of the new styles display intricate curves throughout the chair; this kind of design is made possible by a new type of router the builders have just started using.  We were impressed by the number of fully modern designs we saw, often displayed right next to classic mission and shaker styles.

5. Rustic Finishes

A variety of finishes were used to showcase different styles of dining furniture.   We saw a lot of the stain and paint colors we have been using already – traditional woody browns and reds still dominate the scene.  We also saw a lot of hutches, buffets, and sideboards finished with a rustic grey wash, giving the effect of an antique patina.  The same grey color, applied as a stain (rather than a top coat) on wormy maple is an interesting modern look; the stain softens the clean edges of a rectangular shape and complements the speckled wood grain well.

When you think Amish, think innovation.  Our builders are always working to make designs that will be loved and used by people with a variety of aesthetic preferences.  If you’re in the Evanston area, come check out our new catalogs and we can talk with you about the variety of new ideas from our builders.