The modern farmhouse look is relevant to all areas of interior design. Whether you’re living in the city, country or suburbs, there’s little (read: no) chance that you missed the surge of contemporary rustic style. The humble aesthetic's trademarks (like white shiplap walls and wide plank floors) swept across the United States in less than a quick decade – even in places where proper farmhouses were nowhere to be found.
The clean and countrified look became popular, in part, because it’s well within reach. It's known for inexpensive materials and “weathered” furniture that’s far from precious (even better if it was pre-scuffed from a local flea market). And while the aesthetic's rise benefited from timing (more on that below), it struck a nostalgic chord with its local audience.
“I do think farmhouses are a major part of the American vernacular, and that history makes them immediately familiar and relatable to a lot of homeowners,” says New York designer Robert Stilin, who modelled his own home after a barn about two decades ago. “There’s also a humbleness and simplicity in the design of farmhouses that really lends itself to comfortable, easy living. I imagine a lot of homeowners find themselves especially attracted to that as well.”
And while the modern farmhouse style has waned lately, it remains an important influence on relaxed, contemporary interiors. Here’s everything you need to know.
Modern farmhouse in interior design explained
What is modern farmhouse style?
A contemporary spin on country style with traces of minimalist design (think spare rooms and white paint on walls), modern farmhouse blends rustic decor and nods to the “shabby chic” era but with cleaner lines. The aesthetic is a relaxed and low-fuss approach to interior design, with palpable warmth.
“I think the attractive and also important thing about farmhouse style is that it possesses a sense of authenticity – meaning to me, that the materials and vibe has to resonate as true,” says Alabama architect Jeffrey Dungan (opens in new tab).
Certainly, you could characterize the modern farmhouse aesthetic as a notedly humble approach to design; the look spotlights the honest materials of simpler times, and champions DIY updates modest homeowners can accomplish with their own hands.
Where did the modern farmhouse look come from?
While the style nods to early American farmhouses, which were spare for practical reasons, modern farmhouse became one of the biggest interior design trends within the past decade.
“I think the modern farmhouse style started because people were actually fixing up old farmhouses with modern materials and then it started to resonate with other homeowners because it has the warmth and charm of vintage features and the livability of modern amenities,” says designer Leanne Ford (opens in new tab), one of the movement’s early stars.
Any history of modern farmhouse’s rise would be remiss to leave out Chip and Joanna Gaines, who rose in fame after the 2008 housing crash. As HGTV stars, they mainstreamed the humble modern farmhouse style by way of their show, ‘Fixer Upper,’ which debuted in 2013. The affable duo popularized an unmistakable and easy-to-execute formula - like the addition of shiplap walls - that became ubiquitous throughout modern home renovations in the United States.
Does that mean that the entire aesthetic was souped up on cable TV? Not necessarily. The bedrock of the movement still finds roots in places where farmhouses really are part of the landscape.
"The modern farmhouse and modern barn trend emerged about ten years ago - though we didn’t necessarily see it as a trend at that time,” says interior designer Michael Del Piero (opens in new tab), noting the style’s strong presence in regions with a history with agriculture. “We find that our clients in the Hamptons have embraced the aesthetic, as barns and farmhouses are plentiful here and an updated version seems fitting. The open, light-filled spaces are a wonderful backdrop for mixing modern elements with more classical pieces, and the generally neutral tones allow us to layer textures and styles.”
What does a modern farmhouse space look like?
Modern farmhouse interiors are awash in white walls, wide-plank floors, and reclaimed materials. In architecture, you don’t need an actual farmhouse to inhabit this trend – but if you’re starting from scratch, there are some key elements to the design.
If you had to pick one of the most popular fixtures of modern farmhouse style, it’s the ever-so-timeless farmhouse sink, a staple of rustic kitchen ideas. “When it comes to the latest kitchen trends, there's no doubt that the farmhouse, or apron sink, is one of the most popular choices for the modern farmhouse aesthetic,” says Lauren Williams of Washington DC’s MV Architects (opens in new tab).
You’ll also find an emphasis on repurposed spaces, like the mudroom, somewhat of a luxury for homeowners who don’t necessarily work the fields. “I think farmhouse style mudroom entries are popular not only because they are charming, but because they are functional,” says Sondra Zabroske, an architect at DC's design-build firm Four Brothers (opens in new tab). “Although it’s been a recent trend to strive to be minimalist, as Americans we tend to have a lot of stuff, and if you don’t create a home for your things, you’ll end up with a pile of coats on your kitchen table.”
And yet minimalist ideas are certainly a feature in modern farmhouse interiors, often with open layouts, neutral (if not white) color schemes, spare (but not too spare) rooms, and a mix of new and old furniture.
WHAT'S NEW IN MODERN FARMHOUSE STYLE?
Of course, the modern farmhouse aesthetic that was popularized on television was bound to have hurdles – the sheer popularity has recently received pushback, with many figures within the industry claiming the movement is out of style. Still, the aesthetic's core elements continue to resonate and adapt. There is now a rise in farmhouse bedrooms as a way to create a relaxed environment to aid sleep.
"It’s become a phenomenon, though, and we’re seeing changes to the style," says interior designer Michael Del Piero. "The materials have evolved (less shiplap, perhaps) and the style itself feels much broader."
You'll find that farmhouse-inspired interiors today embrace a touch more color, often updating the signature white shiplap walls with a bold shade, or pulling together farmhouse living rooms with upmarket furniture.
“I think that the evolution of the ‘farmhouse style’ has developed primarily through the process of modernization: the introduction of more refined details, newer materials, and contemporary comforts,” says Robert Stilin (opens in new tab). “Of course, in a modern farmhouse, all of these sophisticated touchstones are interacting with an architectural vernacular that enjoys a very storied past. So it’s really a play between the old and the new that has helped the Modern Farmhouse style mature into what it is now.”
Keith Flanagan is a New York based journalist specialising in design, food and travel. He has been an editor at Time Out New York, and has written for such publications as Architectural Digest, Conde Nast Traveller, Food 52 and USA Today. He regularly contributes to Livingetc, reporting on design trends and offering insight from the biggest names in the US. His intelligent approach to interiors also sees him as an expert in explaining the different disciplines in design.
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