Traditional style inspires Harrisville furniture maker Stephen Barlow

Union Leader Correspondent
February 11. 2013 8:08PM
Elegance and simplicity are the focus of Stephen Barlow's portfolio at Shaker Style in Harrisville. 

HARRISVILLE -- With an eye on the simple beauty of Shaker style, but a mind always toying with new interpretations, Stephen Barlow creates furniture that has won him both a loyal following and critical acclaim.

Barlow, 46, the owner of Shaker Style in Harrisville, was recently awarded the lofty title of "Best in Show" for his furniture at the 17th annual Providence Fine Furnishings Show in Rhode Island. The show gathers more than 60 craftspeople from around New England to exhibit their wares and face scrutiny from a panel of judges, and the panel found that Barlow's pieces offered "an excellent range of scale from objects to furniture, fine craftsmanship, refined interpretation of tradition, and finishing consistent with the tradition of the work."

"It's nice to get recognition from your peers," said Barlow, adding that he doesn't participate in the show just to compete. "It's inspiring to go to a show like this and see what everybody else is doing."

A third-generation craftsman, Barlow creates his Shaker-inspired furniture in an antique barn in Harrisville, running the business alongside his wife Cheryl. He founded his business on the idea of creating simple, elegant, functional furniture the way the Shakers did, but he doesn't confine himself to reproducing their efforts.

"The Shakers didn't set out to create a style," said Barlow. "They just built furnishings to support their community using wood they could find locally. They mirrored somewhat what was happening the in the outside world, but their interpretation was simplified.

Like the Shakers, Barlow likes to let the wood speak for itself and follows the ethos that each piece should just be really well made. But he allows himself to venture back and forth into different periods to find details or elements that the Shakers would not consider incorporating into their furniture. A simple table that would fit into a Shaker household becomes something a bit different when Barlow adds contrasting inlays or other intricate details.

"I like graceful simplicity," said Barlow, "but I want to blend that simplicity with a modern interpretation."

Nearly a quarter of the furniture Barlow builds is custom - ideas brought to him by clients that he then creates based on their inspiration. But folks looking for traditional Shaker designs wouldn't be disappointed with his portfolio either.

"There's a wide range of what I can, and have, done for customers," he said.

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