Farmhouse kitchens balance rustic style with modern function
For most of us, today's world is a go-go-go, stress-filled and financially unsteady place. So it's no surprise that with all the chaos waiting outside the front door, we'd want the inside of our homes to be a little more calm and welcoming.
It's a desire that's resonating in kitchens across America where, after years of cold stainless steel and brushed nickel, the simple warmth and comfort of the farmhouse style is coming barreling back into favor.
"Farmhouse kitchens follow the sustainable movement, the green movement, the farm-to-table movement," says Jordee Williford, a green-certified project designer for Doublee Design Group in Richmond, Va. "People are going back to simpler times, and for the kitchen, that means a place everything works hard, serves a purpose and is easily accessible."
A farmhouse kitchen isn't all about red-and-white checkered tablecloths and ceramic roosters. It must serve as a work space where cooking takes center stage and the family has space to gather.
Farmhouse kitchens have form, but their backbone is function.
"If you think about a farmhouse kitchen, you think about it being used," says Jonathan Detwiler, architectural designer and partner of Berks Homes Design and Build in Mohnton, Pa. "Everything has a rustic element, a patina that shows it has served a purpose."
Open shelving, a hallmark of farmhouse kitchens, allows dishes and serving pieces to be showcased and easily grabbed for a meal, then stacked back in place at its end. The style was popular in homesteading days because the shelves could easily be constructed from available materials.
Pot racks, often used as design elements to showcase impressive collections of shiny copper cookware, are more practical in the farmhouse kitchen. Reach up, grab what you need, and start cooking dinner.
"A farmhouse kitchen is neat but not pristine," Williford says. "People on farms took a simple approach to life and decorating. They used materials they had on hand, not ones they spent hours picking out of a design book."
In the past, hutches were pulled from other parts of the house to hold lesser-used dinnerware and linens. In today's farmhouse kitchens, vintage hutches and other free-standing cabinetry add character and soften the aesthetic edge of modern materials like tile and appliances.
Other popular salvage items include dinner tables built from re-purposed doors and floorboards or ceiling beams pulled from old barns.
"For our current take, it's about the honesty in the materials and appreciating their history," Detwiler says. "It's mixing old with new."
Everything in the kitchen sink
Hands down, though, the most prominent design element in a farmhouse kitchen is the sink, which is almost always deep, single-bowl and apron-front. Again, it was all about practicality: The deep basin allowed hand-washing of big, heavy-duty pots and the apron let you splash a little water around without fear of soaking cabinet fronts below.
Today's apron sinks have a lot more style than their predecessors. While the traditional plain, white version is still popular, copper, stainless steel and textured versions can add interest and update the overall look.
Other elements of the look might include wrought-iron hardware and other rustic finishes on lighting fixtures -- no sleek stainless drawer pulls here -- and even fireplaces, so long as they are actually useful.
Even if that fireplace looks pretty, if you are only going to light it once a year there might be another, better use for that space. Or, consider turning it into a pizza or brick oven, so you get the benefits of both style and having another place to cook.
Avoid these pitfalls
A word of caution though: There is a fine line between a well-executed farmhouse kitchen and a kitschy farmhouse kitchen.
"Only bring in items you will actually use," Detwiler says.
Old baskets, for example, not only add to the casual, homemade feeling but can actually be used as practical storage. Also, don't mix and match the finishes or the furniture too much, and be sure to keep a focal point in the overall design.
"You have to have a plan," Williford says. "You need to have a cohesive color scheme, and you need to thoughtfully tie together hardware and lighting. This isn't about pulling together everything you can find from a flea market and calling it a farmhouse kitchen."
It might not seem so at first, but elements of the farmhouse style can be easily adapted to almost any design preference. A minimalist would appreciate the clean-lines of the open shelving, for instance, even if the worn floorboard look is off-putting.
The farmhouse style can be modernized with high-end stainless steel appliances, new chairs around a vintage table or mixed metals instead of traditional wrought iron.
Touches of the style can be brought into any home by simply removing the doors from existing upper cabinets and painting the insides to mimic the look of open shelves. Even adding glass fronts to cabinetry can help. Display some old Mason jars or start a collection of vintage cookie cutters.
"Farmhouse style is really about bringing kitchens back as the heart of the home, where people can gather and cook real food," Williford says. "It's about family."