This “Controversial” and Cozy Decor Style Is Joanna Gaines’ Favorite (for a Reason!)

published Jan 30, 2024
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Farmhouse design used to be a rarer sight — or, at least, rare in the sense of reserved for more rural locations. The name “farmhouse design” largely denotes the appearance of its architecture and setting (think: a gabled roof structure with symmetrically placed windows overlooking planted fields that roll on for acres in every direction). Popular culture has often shared glimpses into farmhouse design’s other characteristic structural details, like a wide porch with a swing or an apron front sink in the kitchen, making it so the public has long had a general idea of farmhouse design akin to other styles, like Victorian style and Craftsman.

But then farmhouse design became much more ubiquitous and perhaps even controversial for that widespread popularity. In the last decade or so, thanks to the likes of designers such as Joanna Gaines of Magnolia and HGTV’s Fixer Upper, elements of this cheery-meets-rustic look can be found everywhere from nightly television shows and big-box stores to social media and suburban construction. These days, even if you’re not an interior aficionado, you likely know how to describe “farmhouse design,” given how trendy it’s become and easy it is to riff on with decorative touches. “The appeal of farmhouse design lies in its ability to evoke a sense of comfort, simplicity, and charm,” says Emma Kemper, the principal designer of Emma Beryl Interiors. “The style’s use of natural materials, rustic elements, and a neutral color palette creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere.”

Quick Overview

What Is Farmhouse Design?

Farmhouse design is an aesthetic style defined by its use of neutral colors, simple materials, rustic touches, and comfortable furnishings. Hallmarks of the style include wooden beams, reclaimed wood furniture and flooring, the use of patterns like gingham or plaid, and quality craftsmanship.

Credit: Sarita Relis

The truth is: You no longer have to live in a remote area to see farmhouse design — nor do you have to have experience on a farm to enjoy it. But if you’re curious as to how to incorporate some of this rustic charm into your space and why this aesthetic seems to stick around, uniting citydwellers and small-towners alike, read on to learn everything you need to know about farmhouse design. 

What Is Farmhouse Design?

Historically, farmhouse design took cues from its location and was constructed in the name of practicality. After all, farmers have too much work on their hands to worry about fussy surroundings or fancy finishes, and it made sense to work with what was available: wood for the structure, some stone for a fireplace, and comforting shades of what naturally appeared outside. In this sense, a “farmhouse” look can be described as rustic, thanks to its characteristic wood beams above wood floors, gingham and plaid patterns, clean-lined construction, and humble furniture. “It focuses on simplicity, warmth, and practicality,” Kemper says. “When I think about farmhouse design done right, I think about textural woods, warm neutrals, plank floors, and cozy textiles,” says designer Carly Berlin of Berlin Studio

Traditional Farmhouse Design vs. Modern Farmhouse Design

In the past decade, and again, particularly as a consequence of the immense popularity of Gaines’ interiors, the traditional take on farmhouse design has been modernized by keeping much of the classic raw materials in place but visually softening and streamlining the details. Instead of dark wood with obvious knots, this twist brightens and smooths it. Instead of classic red-and-white gingham, this iteration prefers the pattern in green or beige. And dark stones? They’re painted white, just like any nearby wood.

Credit: Jill Ruzicka

“Modern farmhouse,” as it’s referred to, is all about creating a sense of calm by leaning into what’s familiar. And because of its neutral palette and earthy base, “modern farmhouse” tends to overlap with Scandinavian style, too. You can choose to decorate any room or home in a modern farmhouse style, but the look pops up a lot with kitchens, where you’ll often see open shelving, industrial-look metal lights, apron front sinks, and simple white subway tiles defining the modern farmhouse kitchen look.

Defining the Elements of Farmhouse Style

If the foundation of farmhouse style is all about natural materials, then it’s important to note that its details tend to follow suit. There isn’t a flashiness or overt luxury to farmhouse style — no over-the-top glitz and look-at-me glamor. Farmhouse style is about curling up with ease, so aspects of a home that fall outside of this realm stick out poorly. “I find there to be so much nostalgia and comfort integrated into farmhouse design, which is incredibly appealing to me,” Berlin says. “It has a way of mentally bringing you to the country and providing a sense of calm no matter where you are.”

Credit: Julia Steele

Because wood beams, walls, and floors are used so prominently in farmhouse style, the accompanying decorative details will commonly let that material shine. Clay, another earthen material, often appears in the form of kitchen backsplashes and countertops, and stone or brick is readily used for fireplaces and hearths. Fabrics can be bright yet still read as neutral by sticking to palettes derived from the sky and fields. Lighting typically is cast in simple forms using warm, recognizable metals such as brass or iron. And plants are a routine sight, either potted in corners or arranged across mantels. Given how popular farmhouse design has become, you probably have seen many of these decor details before, but here are some other hallmarks of this humble style.

  • Shiplap paneling
  • Apron kitchen sinks
  • Antique-inspired decor 
  • Exposed wood beams
  • Barn doors
  • Reclaimed wood planks
  • Simple, comfortable furniture silhouettes
  • Neutral colors derived from nature
  • Greenery

How to Get the Farmhouse Design Look at Home

Even without a classic farmhouse to live in, it’s still possible to use the defining principles of farmhouse design to recreate this style in your home. You might be surprised by how much of a visual impact even no-reno touches or mini-makeovers can make.

  • “Opt for a neutral color palette with warm whites, beiges, and muted tones on walls,” Kemper says. 
  • Layer in cozy throws, and use simple linen curtains as window coverings.
  • Try pillows, table linens, or even upholstered furniture in checkered or floral patterns.
  • Choose plain, rustic furniture cast in materials like distressed wood or iron.
  • Invest in a large farmhouse-style dining table to anchor your dining room or eat-in kitchen
  • “Embrace vintage accessories like Mason jars, wooden crates, and antique-inspired decor,” Kemper says. 
  • Consider a barn door feature or shiplap wall paneling in a bedroom, dining room, or powder room.
  • Work open shelving into a kitchen. 

Worried about your farmhouse style home looking like everyone else’s? Designer Kate Marker says you can make your design feel more unique or individual by leaning into a bit more contrast with finishes and searching for one-of-a-kind pieces. “It is a very ubiquitous look, so personalizing it is a key way to make your own home more distinctive,” she says. “Adding stone or brick exterior finishes can be a great way to explore options, and embracing a darker contrasting color on the exterior to break up its usual white would add depth. Lastly, incorporating reclaimed materials in the form of posts, shutters, doors, or beams will lend a more timeless aesthetic.”

Credit: Tamara Gavin

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t do, though, it’s take the interpretation of farmhouse design too literally. “Don’t try too hard, and don’t rush it,” Berlin notes. “Stay far away from cliché signs, cluttered walls, and going overboard on pillows and accessories. Remain authentic and spend time finding old furniture items that you can give a new life to, rather than purchasing ‘old looking’ new items.”

And lastly, don’t lean too heavily on one neutral color or texture, as that will likely create a space that feels uninspired and cold — which is not the feel you’re after! Kemper recommends paying close attention to the different shades at your disposal, and working them into your accessories. “Introduce accent pieces in muted tones like sage green, navy blue, or mustard yellow,” she says. “Mix-and-match furniture styles for a more eclectic feel, combining rustic pieces with modern elements. Additionally, include statement lighting fixtures or artwork to create focal points and break up the neutrality. These touches will add vibrancy and character to the farmhouse design, ensuring it remains visually engaging.”