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Object Lessons: The Shaker Peg Rail (Plus Five to Buy)

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Object Lessons: The Shaker Peg Rail (Plus Five to Buy)

January 10, 2018

Our obsession with Shaker peg rails is well documented: We’ve sung their praises in our book, The Organized Home, and on Organized-home.com; 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 on this ingenious invention.

A sect of Quakerism founded in the 1700s, the Shakers believed that their furniture and living spaces should reflect their founding tenets: simplicity, hard work, equality, and order. 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. When it came to design, the Shakers, writes Adam Gopnik in his New Yorker essay, had a way of “imbuing the ordinary with a sense of the numinous.”

Though we may not live communally in the modern day, these peg rails are still an easy and artful 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 five of our favorites.

Five to Buy

DeVol’s handmade Peg Rail is available in three lengths, starting at £60 ($81.20) for 23.6 inches.
Above: DeVol’s handmade Peg Rail is available in three lengths, starting at £60 ($81.20) for 23.6 inches.
The Container Store’s modern take: a Shaker Peg Rack in maple, with four or six hooks; $9.99 and $14.99.
Above: The Container Store’s modern take: a Shaker Peg Rack in maple, with four or six hooks; $9.99 and $14.99.
The tiny Two-Hook Oak Peg Rail from Father Rabbit is ideal for tight spaces; $89 NZD ($64.07 USD). It’s also available in a length of Four Hooks; $159 NZD ($114.47 USD).
Above: The tiny Two-Hook Oak Peg Rail from Father Rabbit is ideal for tight spaces; $89 NZD ($64.07 USD). It’s also available in a length of Four Hooks; $159 NZD ($114.47 USD).
This maple and birch rail by InterDesign has a thin, sleek profile; $17.49 at Life & Home or $10.59 at Target.
Above: This maple and birch rail by InterDesign has a thin, sleek profile; $17.49 at Life & Home or $10.59 at Target.

Our own Christine purchased Shaker peg rails from Peg & Rail, which offers various finish options, and opted for the added shelf option because it allowed her to display art without having to commit to hanging it. Photograph by Christine Chang Hanway.
Above: Our own Christine purchased Shaker peg rails from Peg & Rail, which offers various finish options, and opted for the added shelf option because it allowed her to display art without having to commit to hanging it. Photograph by Christine Chang Hanway.

For more options, see 10 Easy Pieces: Peg Rails at the Organized Home. And see our posts on Shaker style:

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

Cover image courtesy of Juli Baker, from O Canada: Mjölk’s Renovated Scandi-Style Cabin on a Lake.

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