Taking Inventory of the Modern Farmhouse Style: What to Keep and What to Ditch

How to keep the best and eliminate the rest from this latest design craze

Sherry Beck Paprocki
Farmhouse style

If you visit Hobby Lobby or HomeGoods anytime soon, you’ll likely find a host of tin décor. Baskets for carrying eggs (presumably from the nearby chicken coop) or mini milk cans for those who’ve never seen the real thing. The modern farmhouse style has indeed gone full-on commercial in its mass production of kitschy products.

Does this signal the end of the simplicity-based farmhouse trend?

Not so fast, says one local designer. Any trend in architecture and interior design will leave a mark that resonates with the people who love it. Careful integration is key, though.

“I do a lot of mixing time periods and styles, modern and traditional, new and old, but it has to be intentional and well thought out,” explains kitchen designer Eric Small, whose modern home kitchen is based in an actual farmhouse.

“The farmhouse kitchen style, in general, can’t be thrown in anywhere; there has to be intention, the right detail coupled with the right environment,” says Small. “It doesn’t always work to mix and that might be the takeaway.”

Nationally, Joanna Gaines, the former host of a popular DIY show who has plans to launch Magnolia Network this fall, often gets credit for launching this farmhouse craze. Back in 2013 she and her husband, Chip, who own a Waco, Texas remodeling company, started their HGTV brand.

In Central Ohio, though, some components of this trend were evident years before that. Unique industrial lighting fixtures were being created early on by some talented local designers such as Dennis McAvena. Raw wooden floors were on display more than a dozen years ago at the Central Ohio BIA Parade of Homes. Rough-hewn dining room tables and other furnishings were introduced by the former Restoration Hardware (now known as RH) during the Great Recession. The first time we saw the now popular open kitchen shelving was in the Granville home of designers Keith and Monique Keegan, back in 2011.

By the way, the Keegans are a Granville-based creative duo who have designed marketing campaigns, as well as commercial and residential spaces. Most notably among their achievements was American Eagle’s store on Times Square in New York. If you look at pictures under the Enjoy Co. label—that is Monique’s design brand—on Houzz.com you’ll see the AE prototypes that include a lot of open shelving and rough-hewn floors. Those, too, were done before Joanna Gaines became a household name.

Further back in the mid-1990s, if you remember walking into an Abercrombie & Fitch store, you might have been taken in by the store’s fresh design. It was a study in white, gray and black—a still-relevant color palette for which Joanna Gaines gets much credit. A&F’s store design has been replicated globally as it has expanded its brand over the last few decades.

The point of all of this? Simplicity in design has been underway in Central Ohio for a long time. Even Dave Longaberger’s philosophy when he developed his basket company out in Dresden was saturated in stories dripping of the coziness and simplicity of times gone-by.

So, whether it’s a store prototype being built at A&F headquarters out in New Albany or an innovative kitchen design at Small’s farmhouse in Ostrander, there’s real innovation still underway in Central Ohio. After all, this is now a region touted for having more design professionals than any other city outside of New York and Los Angeles.

No matter who gets credit for this latest simplicity trend, we thought it might be time to review some basic design tenants of farmhouse style. Opinions are mixed regarding what will stay, and what will go. Suffice it to say, 10 years from now that wire egg basket—should you be tempted to buy it—will be donated or in storage.

Shiplap

This is being used indoors for a paneled effect or on the exterior of homes. Most recently, we’ve noted some vertical siding that resembles shiplap at M/I Homes’ new Westerville development, Hoover Farms. Custom builders are using it, too.

Industrial lighting

Visit Fortin Iron and you’ll get a taste for what we mean. Industrial fixtures are most often used as statement pieces over kitchen islands.

Edison bulbs

Named for inventor Thomas Edison, strands of Edison lights have become prominent in outdoor patio areas and other landscape designs. Most recently, indoor fixtures are also claiming the Edison bulb in their most updated products.

Rough-hewn floors

This is a trend that probably will not fade anytime soon. You can get the look by sanding down your original hardwood; adding new, appropriately distressed hardwood; or by installing luxury vinyl tiles that have a distressed look.

Black-framed windows

Major window brands are touting the design benefits of black frames—they provide better contrast with lighter home colors, and they may boost your home’s curb appeal. In a trend that works best if your interior or exterior is white, many of Central Ohio’s builders are offering this design option for new homes.

Open shelving

A design trend that doesn’t seem to be evaporating, upper kitchen cabinets are being eliminated in favor of open shelving. Call this an environmentally friendly choice by using less wood, but it’s also a simplistic choice in that you can actually see what you own. (And you won’t buy items similar to those stashed high in your cupboards.) Shelving materials vary, but most often they are made of painted lumber, shiny brass or various versions of iron. Shelves are frequently mounted on a backsplash made of subway or another type of white tile.

Shaker cabinets

The Shakers, a religious sect that arrived in the United States from England in 1774, touted simplistic design in architecture, furniture, music and lifestyle. By far, it’s the most popular cabinet design being used today—and likely will stay relevant in Central Ohio for another 15-20 years.

Apron sinks

The farmhouse sink may have seen the peak. Cast iron sinks rarely go out of style, but the apron sink somehow succeeds in looking overdone in simplified kitchens. Plus, it may have already lived out its 20-year trend cycle.

Reclaimed wooden walls and furnishings

Whether it’s an accent wall in your dining room or a table made of old barn slats, there’s plenty you can do within this design trend especially if you’re living in a home that lacks original woodwork. When tastefully integrated, distressed wood can enhance your space and your appreciation for history—especially if the barn was your own or your grandfather’s.

Barn doors, oversized clocks, blanket ladders and other home décor accents

As with any home accessory trend, carefully choose items that have personal meaning to you. It’s easy to overdo mass produced décor, so exercise some restraint.

When in doubt, heed the advice of the man sitting in the farmhouse. “Homeowners wanted the farmhouse look as the trend and that’s when we can see a look become tired,” says kitchen designer Small, “when it doesn’t quite fit properly and eventually wears itself out.”

This story is from the Fall/Winter 2021-22 issue of Home & Garden.