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How Did Farmhouse Style Become a Trend?

by Heather Warthen
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When someone says “modern farmhouse,” I instantly think of Chip and Joanna Gaines – the hosts of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” the brains behind the extensive Magnolia company, and the king and queen of Waco, Texas. Well, that last one may not be technically true, but they’ve practically transformed the unglamorous town into a shiplap-filled tourist destination. While the charming duo have become synonymous with the modern farmhouse style since their show first aired in 2013, the style has actually been around since the late 1990s. Even before that, designers mimicked the look and feel of early American farm homes to get the “classic farmhouse” style and one Santa Monica-based designer founded its femine counterpart, “shabby chic.” Let’s take a look at how the classic style has received a modern revamp throughout the years.

Classic Farmhouse Style

According to an article by Living Spaces, the classic farmhouse style mirrors the look and feel of farm homes of early settlers. The furniture and décor options were nowhere near as abundant as they are now, leaving them to rely on readily available wood and their surroundings. Wood wall panels, exposed beams and wide-plank floors were often seen in early farm homes.

The simple décor and sturdy furniture has stayed throughout the years. Additional forms of wood are now utilized, like butcher blocks for countertops. Porcelain apron sinks, more often called “farmhouse sinks” due to their popularity, add a clean look and practicality to kitchens. As another ode to the original farm homes, vintage furniture and accessories are used – bonus points if they have imperfections and weathered finishes. Traditional fabrics, in prints like floral and paisley, are used to spruce up windows or second-hand furniture.

Shabby Chic Style

The shabby chic style was created in 1989 by Rachel Ashwell, according to Curbed. Much like the items she sold in her Santa Monica furniture store, her style incorporated white slipcovers and floral accents with the classic farmhouse style’s vintage furniture and distressed woods. Not only was shabby chic said to be the more femine version of the farmhouse style, but it was considered another nod to the simpler times. Ashwell formed her signature style at the beginning of the recession in the late 1980s, offering a fresh change from the buttoned-up decorating styles associated with the financial excess of the decade. 

Modern Farmhouse Style

Turns out, the modern farmhouse style had similar origins to shabby chic. Designer Danny Ben Hsu believes that the nation welcomed the simplicity after the very modern glam and contemporary design style of the early 2000s. Like the rise of shabby chic, the modern farmhouse trend followed a recession. Psychology Today confirms that economic and psychic turmoil welcome the rustic chic trend. The style graced the pages of home magazines and design books of decorators in the late 1990s. 

The style is a mixture of sleek clean lines and cozy country aesthetic, according to the Barn & Willow blog. Wood is still heavily used, yet so are other natural textures and materials, like cotton, wicker and natural stone. White and cream are still the colors of choice, but pops of color can be used if paired with neutrals. More often than not, though, a variation in texture is preferred. Vintage furniture and accessories are still prized, and you’ll even be able to slide with “vintage-inspired” pieces. In fact, newer and less rustic elements, like stainless steel and mid-century modern-style furniture, are welcomed. Industrial-style metal objects elevate the style and prevent too strong of an Arts-and-Crafts vibe.

“Modern Farmhouse” as a Phrase and Empire

Interestingly, the phrase “modern farmhouse” wasn’t actually used until a New York Times article used it to describe the work of Jersey Ice Cream Co. in 2016. The firm was known in the early 2010s for home makeovers that incorporated reclaimed wood, antique finds and farmhouse sinks. Following the NYT article, “modern farmhouse” was increasingly searched for on Google. This also corresponded with the rise of social media and the demise of the magazine industry to show interior design. Modern farmhouse style popped up all over Instagram and Pinterest – sites where users could idealize the simpler and tradition-oriented life that the style represented.

The mid-2000s brought about the rise of home improvement shows, particularly those that flipped homes for profit, like HGTV’s “Bought & Sold” and A&E’s “Flip This House.” These shows instilled a DIY spirit into American viewers, paving the way for the Gaines’ highly rated 

“Fixer Upper,” Magnolia company and the modern farmhouse style that characterizes their brand. The style has taken over the design industry, with book and magazine publishers, furniture manufacturers, and retailers all following suit. If you’ve renovated your home in the past few years, there’s a good chance that modern farmhouse style was your design inspiration.

Article by Megan Kong, REX Homes

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