Three key takeaways:
- Homeowners should decide what elements of the farmhouse design style appeal most and only use those.
- Suggest they should adapt those that fit their way of living, taste and budget rather than copy slavishly.
- Remind them nothing should be used in excess to avoid dating a home to a specific time frame.
When Joanna and Chip Gaines founded lifestyle brand Magnolia 20 years ago, the concept reflected their adopted Texas roots. She was a designer and entrepreneur; he was a contractor and business owner. With modest funds but a strong aesthetic vision, they remodeled old farmhouses to show off the simple white elevations, shiplap walls, vaulted ceilings and wooden beams and floors. To style the homes, the couple used black-framed windows, pale neutral backgrounds and a mix of shabby-chic comfortable furnishings and accessories.
The look—dubbed modern farmhouse—appealed beyond the Texas borders, especially once the couple debuted their HGTV show, “Fixer Upper.” The style transcended the actual farmhouse, finding its way into homes of all architectural styles. Many were drawn to the trend for its homey vibe, so long as it was not overdone, says designer Suzan Wemlinger of Suzan J Designs, Decorating Den Interiors in Milwaukee.
The interior of the farmhouse style—open and airy—worked well, whether in suburban houses or city condos. Before long, Pinterest, Houzz and other social media platforms were buzzing with the farmhouse trend, says designer Kim Armstrong of Kim Armstrong Interior Design, outside Dallas.
Yet, in the hands of some designers and homeowners, farmhouse-inspired paraphernalia clutters and clogs interiors, says Josh Kassing, vice president of design development for Mary Cook Associates, a commercial interior design firm based in Chicago.
Though the style is still going strong on Target’s shelves and remains one of the most popular aesthetics, some wonder: Is the modern farmhouse style overused, on its way out or dead?
Among those who think modern farmhouse gets added to the “timeless” category is designer Rebecca Pogonitz, founder of GoGo Design Group outside Chicago. Since farmhouse embodies design style variations rather than one definitive look, it works well and can be modified over time. She also attributes popularity to its overall lightness, coziness and comfort, achieved through elements like vaulted ceilings and an open floor plan. “Its vibe appeals to young families who seek a sense of serenity in their busy lives, including worry-free, durable furnishings yet stylish living zones for daily life and entertaining,” she says.
Designer Marina Case of The Red Shutters in Hudson, N.Y., concurs. “Many young homeowners want the modern farmhouse look because they see it as a cool vibe that started with an historic pattern and gained an edge,” she says.
How Farmhouse Became ‘Modern Farmhouse’
Designers aren’t the only ones who see the style’s allure. Builders, architects and contractors offer new, more modern versions, which exponentially increase its popularity. The Plan Collection, which offers more than 20,000 affordable house plans, reports that modern farmhouse was the most popular architectural style searched for on its company website and also purchased by its plan buyers last year, says Laurel Vernazza, home design expert for the Scarsdale, N.Y., company.
Online building and contracting firm Welcome Homes was founded in 2020 and focused on new builds of this style. The company knew that many homeowners didn’t want an exact replica of what the Gaineses, in Texas, had introduced, but rather a more transitional iteration, says executive vice president Benjie Burford. “What people like about our designs are the cool farmhouse shapes and volumes—still usually white with black windows, but often now with brown wood exteriors for the more transitional style. Living spaces are still open but combined with a compartmentalized bedroom wing,” Burford says.
The interiors of rooms are also cleaner, typically with white Shaker cabinets or with flat fronts and no handles, quartz or porcelain countertops, luxury vinyl tile flooring or wood floors and a warm palette. Buford also says that many of the original trademark features, like shiplap, checked fabrics and barn doors, are gone. His customers “have moved on,” he says.
A Further Evolved Modern Farmhouse
Lifestyle changes like remote work have altered the trend, says Burford’s colleague, saleswoman Lindsay Rickert. “Many of those who gravitate to it are millennials who want to move into finished spaces, personalize them with what they own or buy, and eventually move on.” Adds Burford, “They don’t stay in a house as long as their parents did, since jobs today allow them to work from almost anywhere.”
Broker-owner Stafford H. Manion of Gladys Manion Real Estate concurs that in his suburban St. Louis market, the style is popular, but he’s not sure that the exterior look will endure.
Others already see that changing, with the palette becoming darker—extending sometimes to all-black exteriors and some black rooms inside. The trick is to keep choices vibrant—and as exciting as when they emerged—and avoid having the result become homogeneous and “even soulless,” says designer Jacob Laws, CEO and principal of his eponymous firm, which operated out of St. Louis and Charleston, S.C. “It’s important not to let it become formulaic,” he says.
Some think more iterations of the farmhouse style will manifest. Architect John Potter, a partner at Morgante Wilson Architects outside Chicago, says one client recently asked the firm to design a Scandinavian-style farmhouse. While similar on the exterior to the modern farmhouse for its clean lines, the interior, he says, would probably look far warmer—more “hygge”-level coziness and comfort, with perhaps 1970s and ’80s Scandinavian-style furnishings.
Designer Case, with The Red Shutters, also sees more color in all designs, including camel in sectional sofas, and a return to English country patterns and small prints.
Designer Lisa Peck, of LiLu Interiors in Minneapolis, expects more traditional designs with a fresh edge, which translates to more color but still in subdued earthy hues, plus more refined woods including burl, and fewer open layouts or at least one separate “away” room for quiet, she says.
And The Plan Collection cites the rise of the “barndominium,” a combination of a house and a barn or stable. The company says it’s more about a modern barn architectural style, which may have more storage space or a larger garage, though emphasis is on the living space.
Keeping the Trend Alive
Modern farmhouse might be here to stay, but one fact is certain: It will continue to evolve. Use these tricks to keep the trend current.
Add some color. Kassing suggests a warmer palette on the interior, with some muted pops of color. On the exterior, a mix rather than anything stark will also add a warmer curb appeal, such as some half-brick or half-wood walls in a combination of white, brown and black, according to The Plan Collection’s Vernazza.
Limit excessive repetition. Designer Kim Armstrong says that those who still want to use shiplap should do so but in a different way—maybe running it vertically rather than horizontally, or going partway up a wall and adding wallpaper. Or it can be used more sparingly rather than everywhere, says Pogonitz. As Wemlinger points out, too much of anything loses its impact.
Eliminate what doesn’t translate well. Designer Rande Leaman, of Rande Leaman Interior Design in Los Angeles, puts barn doors in this category. “I think they are something that we will look back on and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, that was from 2019, 2020, and what were we thinking?” she says.
Instead, homeowners should consider the elements of the trend that appeal to them the most, or use new variations for a more personal style and eliminate the rest, says Kassing. Combining materials for cabinets like painted and stained works, as well as adding a touch of matte black metal says Nancy Jacobson of Kitchen Design Partners in Chicago’s suburbs.
Think variety and preserve what works. Wemlinger recommends mixing in some abstract art, a geometric patterned rug, or a 1960s accent chair. The key is not to have too much of any one style or color. She adds, “Don’t strip out all that’s special and interesting if it’s an older farmhouse, since certain features add character.”
Varying where one purchases furniture or choosing different styes is a good measure. “A collected and curated look is the most desirable and will not date your home through the decades. Selecting items both new and old adds a sense of history and charm, and you can bring in elements of the latest trends with this approach,” Armstrong says.
Introduce some classic cachet. Other touches that add personality to the modern farmhouse style are the clean lines of floating shelves, built-in bookcases within large wall niches, matte metal finishes, wide plank wood floors in lighter tones with a slightly rustic appearance, and charming ceiling beams that can hide mechanical components, says Debi Ash, director of design and project development at Creative Contracting in the metro Cincinnati area.
At the end of the day, the goal is for homeowners to have a home for their family rather than for resale, Kassing says.