Farmhouse Rules

Heartland hand-me-downs offer trendy
décor in the contemporary home

By Teresa Nicodemus

The comfort of down-on-the-farm living is expanding beyond the boundaries of farmhouses in rural America. It is now an interior design movement that’s increasing in popularity among homeowners in all spheres from suburbanites to city dwellers.

Brian Haggard, an interior designer and owner of Windsor House Interiors in Southport, says the true farmhouse motif in interior design stands for a cozy and relaxed feel, a lived-in and much-loved location that has a homey glow. To create the look, traditional furniture is used with the added flair of antique furniture or antique implements from around the farm or from the farm kitchen, including displaying old wood paddles, using an antique colander as a lampshade, incorporating chicken wire into cabinetry doors, hanging 1930s or ’40s prints, and using old linens for draperies. A genuine farmhouse design theme features a soft, unruffled appearance, Haggard says. 

Rustic farmhouse design themes are centered on the austere, creating a starker, less fussy atmosphere, Haggard says. Implements from the shed or barn are used in a rustic farmhouse look. Almost any rusted or metal item from the farm can be used for décor: rusted gears, pulleys, chains and galvanized metal pails.  Pails can be transformed into lights and hung from a pulley system, or an old box spring can be bolted to the wall with early 1900s photos or other ephemera paper clipped to the springs with old-fashioned wooden clothespins.

Haggard seeks local retailers to create his rustic rooms. “When I truly want to recreate the farmhouse look in my designs, my favorite local haunts to collect items are The Marshmallow Monkey and Salvage Sisters in Franklin,” he says. 

The rustic aesthetic, explains The Marshmallow Monkey co-owner Nicole Nicoloff, is a juxtaposition of the old and new. “Farmhouse décor is a re-creation of the heartland, including bringing the outdoors indoors by decorating with natural elements and items you would see on the farm,” Nicoloff says. “(It features) design details that exemplify simple living, like a display of artichokes in a bowl or a farm table made from reclaimed barn wood.”

Nicoloff has witnessed firsthand the emergence of farm to home trends in décor through the growth of her business. Four years ago, she and her husband, Brandon, took over her parents’ wholesale business as a supplier of goods for interior designers, as well as Nicole’s mother’s floral design business. The couple started working from their garage and found that, to keep up with demand within that four-year period, they had to expand their retail space twice, finally settling into 3,400 square feet of retail space in Franklin’s town square in the old Richard Bennett Furniture store.

They dubbed the retail store The Marshmallow Monkey and filled the space with an interesting and eclectic mix of fixer-upper items, reclaimed vintage relics and antique furniture they have brought back to life. “All of our retail items have a very funky, vintage European, farmhouse modern vibe, with a sprinkle of industrial, French country, or shabby chic,” Nicoloff says. “People will often mix various décor styles with the farmhouse look and generalize it as farmhouse décor.”

Mix and match

Julie Stewart, owner of Salvage Sisters Antique Market in Franklin, has had a booming business in farmhouse décor items and antiques since 2009 when she and 10 other vendors formed Salvage Sisters. The market has burgeoned to 29 vendors selling a plethora of farmhouse-trendy items, including repurposed furniture, painted furniture, dishware, items straight from the farm and more. “The trend I notice among our customers is that nobody wants to purchase anything that matches. The beauty of the farmhouse look is that nothing needs to match. No one wants a full dining room set or bedroom set or even a dishware set. They enjoy a unique assortment of items for their homes,” Stewart says.

To get the right look, you want to nail it down to the finest points. Farmhouse savvy interior design is often achieved in the details, says Jo Levine, owner of Exclusive Interior Design in Indianapolis. “Right down to the finials on lamps,” Levine says. You can find finials, or the ornaments that top lampshades, in the shape of pigs or cows, a subtle nod to the farmhouse theme. Large Mason jars and old glass milk jugs can make unique lamp stands, and colorful vintage, braided rugs can add splashes of color. “It’s often the little details that make a difference,” she says.

Farm fresh ideas

Some rustic rooms bear design elements transplanted directly from farms. Shiplap is best explained as the wooden board used commonly as exterior siding in the construction of residences, barns, sheds and outbuildings. You’ll see these horizontal, rough-sawn wood planks on the walls of older farmhouses; some homeowners can chip away the drywall to reveal the wood. The slats create a warm paneling effect on the walls, Nicoloff says.

If you don’t want to expose existing shiplap, you can recreate the look with new or salvaged planks, often available for purchase at any hardware store or antique market. “It’s so trendy now that builders are buying the wood planks and recreating shiplap walls in new construction,” Nicoloff says. “Painting the slats white adds an old world, farmhouse charm to any room.”

Rustic looks also call for incorporated metallic touches, the rustier the better, says Stewart. The texture and color of rusted metal add a farmhouse flair to décor. Consider adding a metallic, yet weathered, texture to walls with galvanized sheets of metal from an old barn roof. Or, adds Levine, repurpose an old lightning rod into a curtain rod for a farmhouse twist. In urban farmhouse design themes, integrating industrial and reclaimed materials like piping and reclaimed barn wood for shelving units and furniture frames is common, explains Stewart. Farm-found objects like an old iron basket turned upside down and converted into a light fixture above a farm table are a popular way to blend metallic influences into décor. 

Barn doors and burlap can add even more texture. “People are migrating to smaller houses and the quaint, simplistic décor of a farmer’s home, yet large barn and stall doors are making a resurgence in popularity as homeowners strive for authentic looks,” Nicoloff says.

Space-saving features are worth a second look in a smaller home, and often, adds Stewart, replacing a traditional hinged door with an old barn door within the home involves adding a track so that the door can slide open along it rather than swing open. The use of burlap and feed sacks adds a farmhouse flavor to interior design as well. “Burlap has versatile uses from pillow covers and window coverings to furniture upholstery,” Stewart says.