American Farmhouse vs. Modern Farmhouse: What’s the Difference?

October 10, 2019

modern farmhouse

Robert Kirk/iStock

Long before Chip and Joanna Gaines made the modern farmhouse style a chic, big-time fad, there was the original—the classic American farmhouse, a simple style of home design that came about to serve the needs of (you guessed it) farmers and their families.

The American farmhouse style combines practical elements (simple floor plan, white walls) with rustic materials (wood floors, hand-hewn beams, and wrought-iron hardware). And you’ll see this style throughout the U.S., with regional variations. For example, you might spot a Dutch door or two in a New England farmhouse, or wraparound porches on homes in the Deep South.

Here’s more on this timeless American home, including its history and ways to incorporate the style in your own abode.

Origins of American farmhouse style

What is American farmhouse style?

Photo by Connor Mill-Built Homes 

American Colonists built the oldest farmhouses in the early 18th century, often using raw logs (log cabin style) or some combination of rough-hewn logs or native stone. Many farmhouses began as very modest structures, perhaps two rooms wide and one room deep—just enough space to house a young farm family. As their needs grew and the farm became prosperous, the family could expand the house.

In the mid-19th century, railroads transported manufactured materials, offering farmers brick, milled lumber, and quarried stone. With these improvements, many farmhouses began to sport elements of other styles, including Greek columns instead of plain porch supports or stained glass and jigsaw-cut trim to give a Gothic flair.

Key features of an American farmhouse

What is American farmhouse style?

Photo by Donald Lococo Architects

An American farmhouse is simply built, with local wood or stone and the following typical features:

  • Rectangular floor plan, sometimes in a T shape
  • One and a half or two stories
  • White or light-colored exterior
  • Side gable end roofs
  • Dormer windows
  • Large, welcoming porches
  • Formal rooms in front, separated by walls and doors from family rooms in back
  • Dominant fireplaces
  • Thick walls
  • Few, small windows

American farmhouse vs. modern farmhouse: What’s the difference?

What is American farmhouse style?

Photo by Donald Lococo Architects

Today, there’s a growing interest in reviving old homes as well as taking cues from the American farmhouse style, whether in terms of fabrics, color palettes, accessories, or furniture.

“I would define this look as ‘casual country’ with a touch of industrial, like wall-mounted kitchen faucets,” notes Jamie Gold, a home designer and author of “New Kitchen Ideas That Work.”

This new take on American farmhouse is a lot like the modern farmhouse look you may know and love from “Fixer Upper.” Although they may look similar, modern farmhouse has a more open floor plan, larger windows, and other contemporary elements that have risen in popularity today. Yet the look may still maintain rustic elements like barn doors and wraparound porches.

American farmhouse ideas to try in your home

What is American farmhouse style?

Photo by Hendricks Churchill

Want to make the American farmhouse your own? For bedrooms, focus on simple furniture lines (Shaker designs are ideal), a lace or hand-stitched coverlet, and a quiet paint palette.

Gold notes that floral and gingham fabrics are also typical in these rooms, as is painted furniture.

As for artwork in an American farmhouse, framed needlework, hand-painted signs, pastoral paintings, and animal portraits fit in well, notes Stephanie Plymale, president and CEO of Heritage School of Interior Design.

Add soft goods in natural materials

What is American farmhouse style?

Photo by Dreamy Whites 

Bare windows and plank floors are typical in an American farmhouse, but for added comfort and design try oval braided rugs, eyelet drapes, and gathered sheer panels knotted in the center, recommends Plymale.

“Linen, burlap, and flour or grain sack cottons are also traditionally seen in this type of home,” she adds.

Seek out antiques and retro pieces

What is American farmhouse style?

Photo by Hammer & Hand

An apron-front or farmhouse sink and retro appliances in the kitchen, as well as a pedestal sink and claw-foot tub in the bathroom, are also hallmarks of American farmhouse style, says Gold.

Accessories might include a wrought-iron chandelier in a dining space, Mason jars and wire baskets for storage, and slipcovers on couches.

Take the American farmhouse style outside

What is American farmhouse style?

Photo by Sheldon Pennoyer Architects 

A lack of modern air conditioning meant many evenings were spent on the farmhouse porch, which for this style of home was often large and wraparound.

“These functional spots allow for outdoor storage and transitional space for kicking off muddy boots and relaxing on a rocker,” says Plymale.

Keep kitsch at bay

What is American farmhouse style?

Photo by Splash Kitchens & Baths LLC

Bear in mind that American farmhouse style can veer into Americana overload, especially if you run amok with a red, white, and blue color scheme, wooden crates, distressed milk pails, and stars and striped fabrics in every room (stick to a single metal star).

“Honor your home’s architecture and save your kitsch for easily changed-out accessories,” suggests Gold.

Updated from an earlier version by Steven Marsh.

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