ISSUE 36  |  East Coast/West Coast

Object Lessons: The Shaker Peg Rail

December 27, 2016 6:00 AM

BY Annie Quigley

Our obsession with Shaker peg rails is well documented (some of us have even wrapped our hallways in peg rails; see Remodeling 101: How Shaker Peg Rails Saved My Summer Sanity). So today we’re offering a little history lesson.

A sect of Quakerism founded in the 1700s, the Shakers believed that their furniture and living spaces should embody their founding tenets: simplicity, hard work, equality, and order. (Their leader, Mother Ann, encouraged thorough room-cleaning to echo her sentiment that “there is no dirt in heaven.”) Shaker furniture not only facilitated their way of life (tables were elongated, for example, to accommodate communal dining) but also captured these beliefs in object form.

The peg rail was the Shakers’ simple but ingenious way of keeping communal households organized. Made of a length of wood with rounded pegs placed at six-inch intervals along its length, these rails were present in nearly every room and were used to hang everything—from clothing to brooms to chairs—to keep floors sparse and open. (The Shakers even created accessories for the rails, like an adjustable candleholder that could be hung at various heights from the pegs.) These peg rails exemplify the Shakers’ striving for order and harmony within the home; even the extremely even spacing of the pegs exemplifies their love of repetition, grids, and symmetry noted by Adam Gopnik in his New Yorker essay about Shaker design. The Shakers, Gopnik says, had a way of “imbuing the ordinary with a sense of the numinous.”

Though we may not live communally, these peg rails are still an easy way to corral kitchen utensils, coats and jackets, bathroom necessities, or wet towels in busy homes. (We’ve spotted them in hotels too: London’s High Road House wraps its guest rooms with them.) Here are six of our favorites.

Six to Buy

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Above: The Shaker peg rail gets an upgrade in this wood-and-brass version, handmade in Toronto; $200 CAD ($149 USD) at Mjolk.

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Above: Christine purchased Shaker peg rails from Peg & Rail, which offers a shelf and various finish options (she went for the shelf because it allowed her to display art without having to commit to hanging it). Photograph by Christine Chang Hanway.

Shaker Peg Rail from deVOL

Above: DeVOL’s handmade peg rails are available in three lengths starting at £60 ($74) for 23.6 inches.

Shaker Peg Rail by InterDesign

Above: This maple and birch rail by InterDesign has a thin, sleek profile; $10.49 at Life & Home or $9.79 at Target.

Shaker Peg Rail from Sturbridge Yankee Workshops

Above: This poplar peg rail is made in Maine and has a grooved shelf for displaying frames or plates. (The black is currently sold out online; the cherry version starts at $59.95 from Sturbridge Yankee Workshops.)

Shaker Peg Rail from Home Depot

Above: A shorter, four-peg rail is ideal for stashing keys and coats in small entryways; $12.28 from Home Depot.

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on September 13, 2016.