Home & Garden

Modern farmhouse decor: comfort, simplicity and lived-in character

The cornerstone of modern farmhouse design is to focus on the kitchen and its connected living and dining areas.
The cornerstone of modern farmhouse design is to focus on the kitchen and its connected living and dining areas. Molly Winn Photography

You don’t need an attached acreage to enjoy the honest design of farm living. While the mauve ruffles and dusty blue “duck-in-bonnet” motifs of the 1980s country craze are out, today’s true farmhouse details also can be at home in suburbia or a city loft.

The modern take on classic country design creates a homey feel no matter where you live, says Joanna Gaines, co-owner with husband Chip Gaines of their Waco, Texas-based Magnolia Homes, and co-star of HGTV’s Fixer Upper.

“People are so busy in their lives, they crave simplicity and calm when they come home at the end of a frantic day,” she says. “Chip and I see the value in taking something old and making it new again, whether we’re repurposing or restoring it.”

Modern farmhouse design begins with solid craftsmanship, whether it requires rehabbing an old house or just bringing a bit of “old soul” into a newly constructed home. “The details in older homes are perfectly imperfect,” Chip says. “These homes are meant to be lived in and have a character about them that only time can give.”

OPEN SPACES

Removing interior walls to achieve an open floor plan is often the first step toward creating a modern farmhouse aesthetic. “You want the energy to flow in a home,” Joanna says. “A lot of walled-off rooms really affects the functionality of a space — and not in a good way.”

Chip and Joanna bought their family’s 1895 Victorian-era farmhouse, located on 40 acres outside of Waco, in 2012. The Gaineses reconfigured the walls within the original 1,800-square-foot home to highlight the kitchen as the workhorse of their house.

The cornerstone of modern farmhouse design is to focus on the kitchen and its connected living and dining areas, but Chip warns against being too eager to “take down those walls.”

“As much as we promote DIY projects, removing walls requires a reputable professional,” he says. “A respected contractor will know whether a wall is load-bearing before removing it, because the last thing you want is to compromise the structural integrity of your home.”

LIGHT, BRIGHT, WHITE

After achieving an open floor plan, Joanna builds on a clean color palette by painting walls white or a neutral color. “Interest is created in a home by using natural materials,” she says. “I love painting the walls’ wood paneling or shiplap white and then layering wood, stone, metal and pops of color on top of that blank canvas.”

White ceilings with stained wooden beams, open shelving cabinetry and wide-plank wood flooring are all at home in a modern farmhouse. Bright and airy interiors invite natural light into a space through windows. A bright tip is to install vintage light fixtures — whether it’s over the kitchen table or the bathroom tub — to illuminate and accentuate this simple, yet sophisticated style.

The Gaines’ farmhouse was originally a two-bedroom home with an unfinished attic. After its renovation, the home’s square-footage doubled by finishing the upstairs with a family room, guest bedroom and craft room. A master bedroom was added onto the house, and Joanna incorporated old doors and fixtures while using salvaged molding and trim pieces to preserve the architectural integrity and interest in the home.

But Chip cautions against having the interior of the house too monochromatic. “An operating room is also light, bright and white, but we’re not going for a sterile environment,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to incorporate rustic touches or distressed finishes into your home, because that’s what gives it character and warmth.”

While the design foundation of the farmhouse is neutral tones, Joanna likes to accessorize with the colorful dishes she displays or textiles she uses. A simple needlepoint sampler, colorful antique quilt or rustic folk art piece can personalize the space and add to a farm fresh vibe.

BRING THE OUTSIDE IN

The overall modern farmhouse style can be viewed as uncluttered and contemporary. But by incorporating natural elements into an otherwise austere atmosphere — such as a wooden butcher-block countertop, metal basketry and stone fireplace — a warm, intimate farmhouse feeling can be achieved.

The Gaineses look to nature for design inspiration. If possible, keep windows bare or use light and airy window treatments so outdoor views are unobstructed. French doors can replace windows that lead to an outside deck, patio or porch.

“Use what you have and only have what you use” is the modern farmhouse mantra. Farmhouses were historically constructed without waste, so reclaimed wood can be used to build a kitchen island, or an old dresser can be converted into a freestanding bathroom vanity.

“It’s the tiny details that add charm and personality to a home,” Joanna says. “And don’t forget the flowers — whether you pick them up at a grocery store or just pick them from the garden outside your home.”

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