There's something enduring and warm-hearted about farmhouse style. Classic farmhouse has stood the test of time and evolved into today's modern farmhouse style, which is welcoming, comfortable and timelessly fresh.
Origins of Farmhouse Style
Whether it's called classic, vintage, rustic or traditional, farmhouse style has a historic place in America. Drawing from the farm homes of early settlers, this style mimics the look and feel of days past. It incorporates the simplified, minimalistic décor molded by the surroundings of farmhouse residents and their need for sturdy, practical furnishings.
Characteristics of Classic Farmhouse Style
- Natural wood accents: Wood was abundant and, therefore, the natural building material. Farm homes usually had panelled wood walls, wide-plank floors and exposed wood beams. Today's classic farmhouse style often uses barn board for accent panelling and butcher block for countertops.
- Apron sinks: Nothing says farmhouse like an apron sink. In a classic farmhouse, this sink is usually porcelain.
- Vintage furniture and accessories: An easy way to decorate in classic farmhouse style is to use vintage furnishings. It's best if they're not in perfect condition and they could even have weathered finishes. Vintage-inspired lighting looks ideal in a classic farmhouse.
- Traditional fabrics: Decorating fabrics lean toward floral and paisley, and slipcovers give vintage furniture a second life.
How Modern Farmhouse Is Different
Modern farmhouse design takes the comfortable, relaxed farmhouse style and adds modern touches such as smooth lines, glossy accents and neutral color schemes. It's less rustic, more sophisticated and uses contemporary design elements like stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and sleek lighting.
How to Achieve the Modern Farmhouse Look
More Cowbell, Please!
In an age where the term ‘modern farmhouse’ conjures up images of chic vacation homes decorated with white-washed walls, fed to you by the latest algorithm from some trendy home decorating site, it can be easy to forget that the style hasn’t always been around. In fact, not even ten years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a design expert who knew anything at all about the style. In the context of interior design, modern farmhouse is a baby. It’s so-called parents? One Chip and Joanna. Here’s the (relative) story of how and why it sprang to life – and continues to take over homes across the nation.
How Did Modern Farmhouse Become So Popular?
You can't talk about modern farmhouse without talking about Chip and Joanna Gaines. Before Fixer Upper, the term 'modern farmhouse' rang few bells in the collective conscious — and what bells did ring were of some vague understanding of the style. Before the duo, 'modern farmhouse' was less a trend than it was a sort of random pairing of two distinctly different style terms. ("Modern, as what's currently trending, and "farmhouse," as that 1800s thing people used to live in.) Of course nowadays, if you have even a remote interest in interior decorating, it's one of those styles that's hard to avoid. Numerous TV shows, books, social media influencers and websites have amassed cult-like followings for the decorative aesthetic, all within the span of less than a decade.
A National Craze
What accounts for the seemingly random spike around the early 2010s in interest for the aesthetic? Could it be as simple as one HGTV show? Are Chip and Joanna to be credited for the national craze that is modern farmhouse — on their own? Danny Ben Hsu, a designer with 12 years of industry experience, thinks it runs a little deeper. He subscribes to the idea that the Gainses simply came onto the scene in the right place, at the right time, that the modern farmhouse trend was, in the midst of a recession, an inevitable outcome of a nation "returning to simplicity, a refreshing vibe to the early 2000s very modern glam and contemporary feel." In describing the current, ever-steady interest in the style (2020 and beyond), he describes modern farmhouse's magnetism as one that "pulls you back toward simplicity, giving a feeling of home and comfort."
Danny echoes our sentiments. With the look's minimalistic philosophy (think rough, "beat-up" floors and wood panels, barn fixtures and a 'little-to-no-color' palette), the style is almost a romanticization of peasantry. (In fashion, peasant-chic is also a grassroots style and a sort of love letter to simplicity.) And the psychology is there: a struggling economy affects the way people make interior design choices.
A Return to Simplicity . . . Amidst the Quarantine of 2020
Speaking of hard times, there's a new consideration to be made when talking about the "big picture”: Post-pandemic America. What has the pandemic meant for consumerism as it relates to interior design — and more specifically, modern farmhouse?
Shelby Greene, a Living Spaces designer based in La Mirada, believes that the quarantine of 2020 shifted the way consumers viewed their homes dramatically. "Suddenly and more than ever before, we had to enjoy home, so to speak; To literally stop and smell the roses. For all the hardship, uncertainty and anxiety that came with the pandemic, home became respite." She predicts modern farmhouse and all it represents isn't going anywhere, despite, or, more accurately, because of the pandemic. (Based on Shelby's own observations with clients and retail trends, "modern farmhouse decor and style inquiries are as popular as ever." In terms of hard data, she's right.)
To delve even deeper, it’s worth considering other cultural phenomena that show similar rising trends among millennials and Gen Xers (in the current landscape, the two biggest market demographics for furniture retail). In particular, the practice of meditation. What was, some five years ago, to be widely considered an ancient Indian ritual so far removed from contemporary America is now a trending commodity. Meditation retreats seem to be popping up everywhere, resonating especially with individuals immersed in a tech-driven world.
The Old and the New
An “old” idea that doesn’t have a place in contemporary times – doesn’t that sound familiar? While farmhouse may not go as far back as meditation, the similarities, for the purpose of comparison, are easy. Neither has anything to do with technology. Neither existed for profit, or popularity, or leisure. Both, in their own cultural realms, were considered necessities – a normal staple in a slower, technology-less world.
And yet, both are “back.” Suddenly, it’s cool to spend a weekend atop a remote mountain in utter silence – just as it’s cool to wash your hands over a galvanized trough tub.
Of course, meditation is just one arm of a societal movement – encompassing spirituality, yoga, mindfulness and wellness. Like modern farmhouse, each has its own modern spin. Each, through one channel or another, has been revived from yesteryear, and its popularity is witness to an increasing disenchantment with today’s fast-paced society.
Just as meditation is one arm of a societal movement, modern farmhouse is one arm of a decorative one. Minimalism, tiny house living and even mid-century modern each saw wild demand over the past decade – and each is, in a polite, pretty way, counterculture. They move away from materialism, paring down to the basics, and, in the case of mid-century modernism, provide a living snapshot of the ‘glory days.’
What better reason is there, really, for decor, interior design and arts? With designs that bring joy to everyday life, that serve as reminders to smile a little more, and in so doing, help us to become better versions of ourselves, escapism is a good thing. (While escapism is a good thing, it’s not the only thing. Interior design, farmhouse or otherwise, is also about living in the present. It’s about practicing the habit of mindfulness – a habit that is created at home, encouraged and dispelled by the things we choose to surround ourselves with.)
If modern farmhouse is the antithesis of city life, and if city life is the embodiment of social life, then modern farmhouse, it can be said, is antisocial (in a sense). Using landscape as metaphor, it's vast farmland. It chooses pastures over streets, barns over apartment buildings, the occasional ranch hand over bustling crowds. And its popularity is proof that people are looking for quietude — whether within themselves or, at the least, in their decor.
For better or for worse, it's nostalgia. A yearning for a slower pace of living, a purging of materialism. At its heart, modern farmhouse isn’t just a decorative milk jug here and there. It’s a way of life. ▪