Farmhouse style is one of the most enduring trends in interior design history.
Little did the hardworking farm families of 19th-century Europe, and then America, imagine that their simple way of keeping house would light the 21st century on fire. From this perennially popular style, with its cozy, layered look, now comes a refreshing modern spin: Yes, modern farmhouse style has arrived.
At first, modern farmhouse may seem like an oxymoron. After all, isn’t it the old-fashioned charm, antiques, and distressed surfaces that make us fall in love with the look? Yes, but like any other enduring design style, such as minimalist or mid-century modern, farmhouse is maturing and changing, taking in new elements while setting aside the tired and overdone.
Modern farmhouse is calming and welcoming. It lets you create a place where you can put your feet up on the furniture, have a glass of sweet tea, and visit with a friend.
Creating a modern farmhouse
Real farmhouse style was not so much a style as a way of life. Chores, raising children, and dealing with a lot of mud and dirt made keeping house all about clean, simple, neutral, and washable.
Jenn Choate, who runs a hobby farm with her husband, Josh, in southern Illinois, knows that this still holds true today. “We love the country life and everything it evokes,” she says. “Slow living, DIY, homemade recipes, gardening, and cozy décor.”
A popular décor influencer on Instagram with nearly 150,000 followers, Choate sees modern farmhouse as a movement that distills down the elements of a farmhouse, making them connect and harmonize in a more restrained way.
“The modern farmhouse is a fresh, clean look,” she explains. “It’s a neutral, natural color palette mixed with touches of vintage salvaged pieces.” As a mother of five, Choate must incorporate heavy doses of practicality and durability in her room designs. “I love antiques, but they should feel worn and loved, not like they belong in a museum,” she adds.
The new era of farmhouse
Modernizing farmhouse design gathers all the comforts of traditional farmhouse into a cohesive aesthetic. Carefully selected accessories, bright and clean with neutral tones, establish the base. “It’s cozy and inviting, less cluttered than other forms of country design,” Choate says. Her approach is to juxtapose old and new, color and neutral, with interesting textures woven throughout.
The modern farmhouse is about using natural, neutral colors — white, cream, gray, green, brown — to create a calming background, and then build on this with elements that evoke both a historic family farm and well-appointed modern home. Modern farmhouse selects the best from both worlds, creating a whole new aesthetic that is both soothing and stimulating.
The elements of modern farmhouse style include:
1. Natural materials
Wood still dominates the modern farmhouse decor. The best kind looks like it was just salvaged from an old barn — timeworn but sturdy, with its natural patina enhanced by a neutral stain or light whitewash. From siding to flooring to furniture, real wood conveys a time when homes were hewn by hand and no synthetic materials were available. It endures the test of time. Other natural materials to consider are metal (tin, copper, iron), marble, soapstone, and granite.
2. Emphasis on colors found in nature
Humans gravitate unconsciously to the soft, harmonious hues found in the outdoors. While vivid and pleasing, they are never domineering. Modern farmhouse decor uses color as a secondary element to enhance the wood and provide dimension. Too much neutral without a colorful note can feel flat and dull. You will have fun playing with neutrals, too: Choate suggests layering cream with dark gray or walnut with faded denim to make your rooms come alive.
The most significant difference between farmhouse and modern farmhouse is restraint. “The older I get, the more I appreciate the simpler things in life,” Choate says. “Modern farmhouse style reflects that.” Simplify by removing clusters of objects from counters and overcrowded mantels. Layer more in soft spaces like bedrooms and less in the kitchen, bath, and entryway. If you evaluate each piece of furniture, art, or decorative object based on personal meaning, then you avoid over-decorating simply because something matches.
4. Hints of industrial design
While industrial is antithetical to nature, its design aesthetic is one of practicality. Iron, glass, and wood combine to create pieces that will stand the test of time, and even harmonize with other modern styles. Bold and strong, industrial touches will help add a modern look to your farmhouse style home.
Creating the look, room by room
Let’s take a quick walk through Choate’s home to learn more about her own personal take on modern farmhouse style.
An entryway in the modern farmhouse is very important for the welcoming message it sends. This is where a personalized greeting, on a welcome mat or pretty wood signage, tells guests how much their visit is appreciated. Choate suggests hanging a piece of vintage wood adorned with newer-style metal hangers to display readily accessible items, such as linen bags and aprons, or even a plant or basket.
The living room
Choate’s home, which has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens’ “Farmhouse Christmas” issue and Country Sampler, is a study in the artful blend of modern farmhouse decor. The living room has plenty of lovely and interesting objects to look at, all of them exhibiting a harmony of color and texture. “In our living room, we paired a new more modern white slipcovered couch with a homemade pine coffee table,” she says. “We cozy up the space with lots of pillows.”
In earlier eras, a white kitchen with white cabinets and white tile indicated cleanliness and sanitation. In the modern farmhouse, a light-colored kitchen continues as an inviting space, with key accents, like bold industrial pendant lighting and dish towels, in solid soft colors or a country print, such as ticking. Painted cabinets with natural wood contrast in flooring, counters, and artwork (such as signage) make a warm partnership. Choate’s renovated country kitchen features white-painted cabinets that are lightly distressed. The farmhouse sink is cleverly framed with antique porch rails. Her butcher-block island and countertops are stained with a deep, rich brown instead of the usual blonde stain, giving it a slightly more sophisticated look.
The master bedroom
Choate and her husband love antiques, and their home is enhanced with tables, hutches, and even architectural salvage from another time. Neutral background colors prevail here, and that’s intentional. “The neutral pallet allows the antiques to come alive,” she explains. Antique dressers and nightstands in the bedroom are framed with a handmade ruffled bedcover made with painter’s canvas. For the headboard, Josh cleverly fitted boards together at a diagonal, and stained them different shades of brown.
“Modern farmhouse is calming and welcoming,” Choate says. “It lets you create a place where you can put your feet up on the furniture, have a glass of sweet tea, and visit with a friend.”
Modern farmhouse decor in 5 easy steps
We asked Choate what the five most important steps are for achieving a beautiful modern farmhouse. Here is what she recommends.
- A neutral palette – Choate prefers off-white, green, and brown. The green is mostly picked up with indoor plants and vases of flowers.
- Soft, cozy, modern, base furniture, such as couches and chairs – Here is where you want generous proportions and washable fabrics. Slipcovers are a great choice.
- Homemade or antique pine tables and hutches – Try to have one or two special pieces in each room.
- Breezy linens – Think ticking stripes or soft-colored waffle dish towels.
- Plants and greenery – “I always bring nature inside by adding fresh greenery to every space,” Choate says.