The American Farmhouse style has evolved over the years into its many incarnations from traditional or classic, vintage, rustic, industrial, boho, chic and modern, to name a few. That is a testament to its broad appeal and enduring qualities.
Today, the Modern Farmhouse interior design style has . . . well, exploded! It’s everywhere. While it isn’t new, it may seem so to many because of its newfound widespread popularity and exposure on the web, television, and magazines.
In my opinion, Joanna Gaines and her show “Fixer Upper” with husband Chris has played no small part in its popularity explosion. Her chic, rustic interpretation of the farmhouse style permeates the incredible dynasty they have built.
As the name implies, modern farmhouse is a contemporary take on the original farmhouse setting born in the earlier days of agricultural Americana.
Like many styles of today, farmhouse design didn’t originate as a form of artistic and design expression. It evolved from struggle and necessity.
Isolation and self-sufficiency were the order of the day. Money was scarce, and living off the land was the harsh reality. Hoarding and frugality were necessary to the lifestyle when much of the landscape of the country was made up of self-sufficient agricultural or cattle farms.
The real homesteaders of the time made the best use of what they had and what they could obtain from the land. Practicality and survival were the defining attributes and not design and home decor. Often, what one obtained was handed down from one generation to the next or built by hand themselves. These factors are prominently illustrated in the enduring elements we now call farmhouse design.
Following our little history lesson here, let’s look at the fundamentals of farmhouse:
- A simplified, minimal approach
- Practical, simple, sturdy home furnishings
- Plentiful use of natural woods
- Vintage and rustic characteristics
- Neutral color scheme (debatable)
- Textures plenty
- Warmth and comfort factors
Regardless of the farmhouse style variations, these elements remain relatively standard. They are the core on which we’ll build our modern farmhouse reworking.
I think few interior design styles genuinely capture the spirit of the home as well as the farmhouse styles and Modern Farmhouse is no exception. It’s the perfect marriage of past and present.
A simplified, minimal approach
Modern farmhouse style preserves the simplified, minimal approach indicative of its origins without seeming barren or stripped. Minimal but not minimalistic if that helps. Sophisticated and contemporary rudiments are more pronounced.
Clutter is diminished, giving more emphasis for the thoughtfully chosen accessories to shine. Space is an essential consideration in the farmhouse design. Respect it as you would any tangible design element.
Worry not. As we incorporate the other elements into our modern farmhouse motif, the impersonal and coldness often associated with any minimal approach will fade away. Again, we’re not stripping our space of personality but filling it with it! We’ll get to the cozy without the clutter. I promise.
Practical, simple, sturdy home furnishings
Everything has a use and is built to last! That was the mentality of the time that continues to influence the home furnishing choices in the farmhouse style.
As wood was generally a plentiful resource in most areas of the country, this was reflected in the furnishings. Homes, chairs, and tables were built sturdy and made to last for generations. They lacked elaborate carvings and decorative elements. Again, basic design and functionality made for efficient and lasting pieces.
Much of the furniture retained its natural wood veneer as often seen today. The modern take on furnishings may include natural, stained, or distressed wood or paint as well.
However, you’ll discover more sleek and glossy features in furniture choices than in times past. Polish and refinement begin to replace vintage and rustic in our modern interpretation but not wholly. Stylish, smooth lines become more evident as contemporary furnishings are incorporated. Yes, you can mix and match!
Plentiful use of natural wood throughout
Modern farmhouse is a balance of classic and contemporary. However, an overabundance of modern accouterments may diminish the very homestead elements that make farmhouse so endearing. Discretion is recommended.
With that said, preserving natural wood elements in the mix is critical to protecting the farmhouse feel. Incorporating chic, fashionable, and gleaming metal and glass finishings will then bring that modern touch into your design.
Furniture isn’t the only way to make that happen, however. Natural wooden exposed beams in the ceilings, door frames and around windows are logical considerations.
Fireplace mantels in natural wood are especially dramatic choices that can affect the entire look of a room. Fresh cut wood stacked alongside brings more of the outdoor flavor inside.
Natural woods incorporated into wall covers have a striking effect. The classic farmhouse style would undoubtedly use more wood paneling than I recommend in the modern fashion. I would lean more toward a single accent wall in natural wood rather than filling the entire space.
Old barn wood, or close imitations, have practically become a modern-day staple in many homes. Barn wood used on closet, pantry or laundry room doors is almost an expectation rather than an exception these days.
Wooden accessories such as candle holders, woven baskets, boxes, and trays can provide added texture if needed to balance your classic versus modern look.
Lastly, and perhaps one of the best choices for the use of natural wood in the home, is in the flooring. Classic farmhouse usually included wide-plank flooring which works equally well in the modern version.
Vintage and rustic characteristics
While vintage and rustic characteristics are vital elements in the farmhouse style, they are combined with contemporary, sophisticated, and sleek essentials to acquire the authentic modern look.
Today, vintage and weathered furniture are big bucks. Rare is the yard sale, or flea market find that doesn’t accompany a new, exorbitant price tag. They’re still out there, just harder to find.
What was once considered trash is now declared treasure. You can thank HGTV and DIY’ers the world over for these changes! They inspired our creativity and changed how and what we define as vintage or antique value.
Fear not! The vintage look now permeates the shelves of new home furnishing stores. So, you can get that old look in new products.
It often takes an expert to distinguish between what is actually something old and what is simply old looking.
Typical of the farmhouse style, we don’t try to hide our dents and scratches anymore but enhance and celebrate them as a newfound character. Sandpaper in a skilled hand can completely transform any hardware or furniture piece in ways some styles would consider blasphemous.
Modern farmhouse seeks a harmonious balance between the rustic and the sleek. Yes, vintage and modern finally met and fell in love!
Our electronic and automated devices can now mingle with our manual and hand-operated. Roughened wood plays nice with polished and glimmering metals. Wooden and granite countertops work in tandem. Simply mix and match until a balance is achieved.
Stainless steel appliances can support wooden countertops. Conversely, granite countertops with wooden cabinets or a wood bench table might give you the modern farmhouse kitchen you crave. Add some vintage-style signage to really pull it together.
Want to take it up a level? The application of an apron sink will add authenticity to any farmhouse kitchen. Modern it up by selecting one of beautifully polish metals instead of the classic porcelain.
Adding contemporary art and lighting into your classic farmhouse style can quickly transform it into a modern farmhouse look.
Neutral color scheme
I’m going to get some push back on this one so I might as well dive in headfirst.
There appears to be little agreement on what constitutes the traditional farmhouse color palette version it’s modern-day cousin. So I draw upon my own experience and knowledge of the time to make my best judgment on which side of the fence I want to stand.
Rich, bright-colored dyes and paints were not typical of the early homesteaders, so it is easy for me to side with those that have the same leanings as myself.
Whitewashing and faded color fabrics from overuse seem more typical of the true farm life. Quilts constructed from pieces of no longer repairable clothing, blankets and sacks didn’t burst with color either.
The bright red barns most envision as the quintessential image of Americana evolved much later in our history. Paint to cover barns were a luxury most farmers didn’t enjoy. They were generally left bare until around the 1700s, and even those were likely a dull, rust color instead of red. My grandparents raised a large family on farms, and there wasn’t a red barn in sight!
Therefore, I side with the folks that believe traditional farmhouse style primarily included a neutral palette while the modern flair provides for a little more flexibility.
I have to be honest. Adding bits of bright color in the form of accessories is perfectly acceptable! The traditional color scheme is my personal favorite, and I don’t like a huge variation. However, you are entirely within the modern farmhouse style to expand a bit.
The classic or traditional farmhouse color scheme is based upon neutrals, and modern farmhouse relies on them as well. Tans, creams, beiges in the brown family are typically found in the most impressive modern interpretations. Greys, whites, and silvers have a strong traditional presence and have transitioned effectively. Those are typical earth tones of the past homesteading period. Again, they remain my favorite foundation color choices of today as well.
Various shades of blue seem to be the more popular alternate hues. Coastal color hues seem to mix well with modern farmhouse. The contract of stark black is another chic choice. There are no hard/fast rules but stick close to the traditional farmhouse color palette to make the most of your modern adaptation.
Textures plenty and the warmth and comfort factors
I’m going to combine our last two fundamental elements into a single discussion. While they are conceptually different, they lend themselves to each other perfectly.
Truthfully, this is what makes it or breaks it for me on any design style. Textures! And I love texture!
There really isn’t much deviation from the classic to the modern farmhouse style in terms of the texture factors. It’s all about comfort and coziness as well as adding depth. Some say the modern practitioners crank up the comfort and cozy factors several degrees. Hey, you can’t go wrong there!
We’ve already discussed the use of natural woods in depth. Metals, also mentioned, come in various textures depending on the type. Keep your metal choices to a couple. Too many types are simply distracting.
Don’t forget, to balance the weathered appearance with the new and sleek. All those scratches, dents, and faded places add to the dimension of your space, so don’t eliminate them entirely.
What I really want to draw attention to here is primarily the subject of textiles. Fabrics such as cotton, wool, canvas, and upholstery create a pleasant tactile experience in any room. You can literally “feel” a blanket, pillow, or throw before touching if it is texture-rich! That mental trick is essential in creating a space of comfort.
I’m a sucker for quilts, blankets and afghans, especially meaningful handmade ones. They are like being wrapped in love and home. There is no better sensation. You bring that into your farmhouse décor, and you’re golden.
High-quality fabrics make all the difference if your budget allows. In place of high-quality materials which can carry a high-quality price are the well-worn, well-used options. Softness arrived from use can’t be duplicated! So, whatever your budget, you have many great options from which to choose.
You don’t have to buy new. Second-hand stores and antique shops are great places to find authentic vintage pieces. Additionally, there is no shortage of places online to buy used.
Farmhouse style was built on hand-me-downs. You can be as frugal or as extravagant as your taste and pocketbook will allow.
A new preference for me is dye-free, organic cotton. I love it!
Consider for a moment, those giant weave blankets of super soft material that are perfection made tangible. Sometimes called chunky blankets, you can find them in a variety of weaves that you are guaranteed to relish.
Organic materials, in general, are excellent sources for textured elements. Again, we mentioned wooden elements and wood floors and accessories but consider items made of wicker or grass woven into baskets.
Rock or stone can make for exciting additions. Those of odd shapes or collected from unique places you’ve traveled make fantastic conversation starters and add different textured elements to the mix.
As always, don’t forget the addition of live plants. Twigs and branches used in decorative pieces also bring nature indoors.
Lastly, rugs and tapestries are favorites in my arsenal of textures.
Clearly, there is no shortage of options here to blend and weave the perfect textures into your modern farmhouse design. Don’t let the myriad of opportunities here lead to distraction. Remember our first fundamental – simplified and minimal approach. Little is much.
Hopefully, you’ve got a much clearer picture of how the modern and traditional farmhouse styles look. They’re personally among my favorite interior design concepts. They are full of all the things that make home the perfect respite from the world.
If the modern variation isn’t to your taste, examine the other farmhouse styles. If the enduring and timeless basics of farmhouse appeal to you, there are many variations that you might consider. Additionally, with the basics of classic farmhouse in place, it is easier and more budget-wise to switch variations on that common theme than start a whole new interior design concept.
Let’s face it. Chasing trends can be expensive and time-consuming. I always focus more on timeless elements and styles that won’t leave me out of step with the changing fashions. Much like farmhouse itself, I find that approach both practical and economical.
by Steve Baker, Roost + Refuge