Although its origins date back centuries, the farmhouse style is one of the most persistent trends when it comes to contemporary architecture and interior design. Modern, revival and restored farmhouses offer the best of all worlds; they are simple and clean, yet warm and welcoming; they can incorporate bright color and patterns, or remain neutral and serene; home furnishings include a mix of modern and antiques; and, they’re all about blending spacious indoor living with an outdoor lifestyle. All these characteristics make it no surprise the style is reverberating in the interior design world. Here, we break down the farmhouse style with help from Dering Hall designers and architects who let us know how they achieve this adored style in a modern context, while still respecting its history and traditions.
History of the Farmhouse
Although known as a “style” in contemporary interior design and architecture today, the traditional farmhouse originated far from aesthetic purposes. Instead, these homes formed strictly out of utility. An agricultural-heavy America made up of small, rural farms needed structures that were practical and efficient, could be quickly constructed, and were made up of affordable and accessible materials, such as wood.
Modern farmhouses pick up on the clean, simple aesthetic of traditional, utility-focused farmhouses and particular characteristics, but have enhanced comfort and the needs associated with contemporary living. “The modern farmhouse style is based on using historical or traditional forms but in a more pared down and elemental way,” says Jennifer Huestis of Huestis Tucker Architects, LLC.
Modern Farmhouse Architecture
“Simple shapes and simple details are key,” says Huestis. “For the exterior, we use elements such as steeply pitched gable roofs, dormers, and porches to invoke that farmhouse feel. We keep the details simple and unfussy. We use flat trim for the casings and flat fascia boards instead of elaborate crown moldings; square columns rather than turned. For the roofs, we like to use standing seam metal roofs to evoke the old fashioned country feel. A simple palette of white with black accents also adds to the farmhouse feel.”
Fusing Traditional with Modern
Whether it’s updating a pre-existing farmhouse or building a new-construction modern farmhouse, it’s important to have the design stay in tune with modernity, without resorting to overly suburban design trends and home furnishings. “In achieving a chic farmhouse decor, a constant challenge was to keep the new construction from looking suburban,” says Elizabeth Drake. “Our design vision or mantra was our have a lens for furnishings considered ‘modern farmhouse’— it filtered the look from getting cutesy and kept it fresh.” For this kitchen and breakfast room with bright green gingham wallpaper and custom yellow cabinetry, Drake strikes a perfect balance of an ode to the authentic rural farmhouse design without going overly kitsch. When it comes to seating, the Windsor Chair epitomizes the farmhouse style.
Color Palette & Patterns
“The farm palette was so fun to develop. It included sunny yellows, like an egg yolk, green like the plantings, red from the barns and the multi-color of flower gardens. Keeping the patterns, stripes, checks, organic florals and furnishings simple, but not plain,” says Drake. “We looked for the essence of all things farm — organic, wild growing floral patterns. Farm animals appear on a couple of chic wallpapers. Constantly filtering for hand-hewn furnishings and finishes, particularly the wide-planked wood flooring and textured slate floors. Keeping a keen eye to veto furnishings that might look too processed or manufactured. Layering in the passing of time through a few simple vintage and antique chairs, tables, and accessories.”
Kitchen as the Center of the Home
When it comes to the farmhouse style, the kitchen is one of, if not the, most important rooms in the home and presents the perfect opportunity to integrate important farmhouse decor traditions— such as a farmhouse sink, light walls or cabinetry paired with dark wood floors, large farmhouse tables. The farmhouse sink (also called apron front sink) truly operates as the focal point for a farmhouse kitchen and often sits in front of the largest kitchen windows allowing for a flood of natural light, as well as a peek at the outside landscape. The sink’s design originates from the historic need to hold large amounts of water that were often carried in with buckets; but today, the large basin provides comfortable space to wash bigger pots and pans, and its drop-down feature allows for easier accessibility.
Not only are the details of the kitchen important to establishing a farmhouse style, but the size of the kitchen is a significant consideration. For traditional farmhouses, the kitchen was used as a gathering place, and an important location in the home to prepare food and goods. In this new Tennessee-style farmhouse kitchen by Tim Barber Ltd., maximizing the spatial capabilities of the kitchen were a priority. “The clients are from Tennessee and wanted to raise their active family in a home with Southern sensibilities,” says Barber. “The kitchen is the heart of their home, and they were very excited when we suggested a farm table instead of a kitchen island. They frequently gather around the table to make meals and cookies, do homework and art projects, and hold family pow-wows. The spacious kitchen also has an old-school style CornuFé range by La Cornue, ample storage, and views of the yard and pool while the children play.”
Capitalize on its Character
Because the farmhouse style is rooted in history, it’s important to infuse the home with related connotations, and this can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as materials, antiques, artwork, accessories and more. Of all the styles of contemporary homes, a successful farmhouse interior or exterior relies on its ability to achieve authenticity, whether highlighting it or recreating it. “Be reverent to the age and character while thoughtfully considering the practical needs of daily life,” ” says Ashli Mizell. Respect the local vernacular; it should feel like it has always been there even if refreshed. Also, embrace the quirkiness and imperfections of the home.”
For a traditional Pennsylvania Farmhouse within an equestrian borough, Mizell respects both the home’s context and character through horse artwork and accessories, and a mix of eclectic furnishings, without sacrificing modern comforts. “Materials include leather, suede, cashmere, and — refined but not too precious to enjoy liberally. There is no need to sacrifice cozy for elegant,” says Mizell. “When authentic to the owners, add bohemian and equestrian touches for a fresh and eclectic mix.”
Respect its History
“Our goal is to create a farmhouse that suggests an evolution — a house with additions, changing details, and even changes in materials,” says Rafe Churchill from Hendricks Churchill. “All of our traditional houses are thoroughly researched. Without considering the historical precedent, the context would be lost. Our most successful farmhouse projects are those responding not only to the clients’ lifestyle but also addresses its place in the landscape. We try to use a mix of vintage and new when sourcing hardware and lighting. When carefully considered, the two can share details helping bridge the old and new.”
Adoption of Mudrooms
While the traditional farmhouse didn’t have a what we define as “mudrooms” — which didn’t rise to prominence until the 1980’s — modern farmhouses have adopted this room as part of the overall style as it fits the needs of contemporary life while seamlessly blending into the traditional style.
“The mudroom is a nexus between the kitchen, the garage, and the front and rear yards,” says Barber. “Vented cabinets and cubbies catch school bags, shoes, and toys as the children and dog scamper inside. Kid and pet-friendly tile mosaic floors and a Dutch door help contain messes and maintain fresh and clean interiors.” He adds: “We received one of the best compliments ever from an owner: ‘We can host colleagues from work or friends from high school, and both groups are comfortable in this home.’” That, in essence, is why the farmhouse style is a wish-list amongst many contemporary homeowners: its ability to sustain guests, gatherings, and large families, while still being comfortable and homey.
Surveying the Landscape
Just like the farmhouse architectural structure itself, porches also emerged for utilitarian purposes, serving as a space to abandon dirty shoes and boots, a dry place to store firewood throughout the year, and ultimately, to survey the land before them — to keep an eye on livestock, watch for visitors and more. The traditional porch was like the modern-day mudroom, which means contemporary farmhouse porches are all about leisurely outdoor living, fit with dining tables, chairs to relax and read, and ample lighting making it an extension of the home’s interior.