authors Kim Berndtson | January 6, 2018
The farmhouse kitchen seems to be everywhere these days. Design shows on TV flaunt its ubiquitous appeal, as do design websites on the internet and even design magazines. If kitchen designers were to look at their own internet sites and social media postings, they would likely be showcasing at least a kitchen or two that exemplify the farmhouse style.
Designers cite an array of reasons for its current allure, with comfort often topping the list.
“People find they can relate and connect to it,” says Bonnie Bagley Catlin, CID, Signature Designs Kitchen Bath, in Carlsbad, CA. “It’s comfortable and cozy. It doesn’t seem stuffy…everything is also a little more casual. I think the world is so busy, and we are so technologically driven, that people are looking for a connection to a time when they were comfortable, maybe a remembrance of their grandmother’s home.”
Taylor Billings, designer, WS Design, in Perrysburg, OH, agrees. “In a lot of homes we’re designing, especially in new construction, the kitchen is the center of the home,” she says, noting a departure from the more formal dining room in favor of an eat-in kitchen or an open dining room adjacent to the kitchen. “A farmhouse kitchen is comfortable and casual. It isn’t overdone. It invites people in to enjoy a glass of wine or beer. It’s easy to be in, and it’s easy to entertain in.”
Jennifer Zarkos Conrad, CKBD, adds that her clients seem to gravitate toward its timeless appeal, noting that in her market, they often refer to this style as ‘mountain contemporary.’ “These kitchens will look good 10, or even 20 years down the road,” says the owner/designer of Five Star Kitchen & Bath, in Ketchum, ID, who adds that upwards of 85% of her current kitchen projects fall into this design category. “I don’t think people will feel like their kitchens are dated because of the simple, clean design with sophisticated details.”
Bagley Catlin relates that it’s an attainable design style as well and can fit a range of budgets. “Some budgets are smaller than others, but there are still elements you can choose to achieve the look,” she says. “If budgets are higher, there are options available, too, such as expensive tile. Depending on the scale of the quality of materials, you can achieve the farmhouse look at any price point.”
Clients also seem to appreciate its flexible design quality that allows for personalization of the space as well as material/product choices that can make it more modern or more traditional, adds Billings, who also appreciates that modern farmhouse design is distinctively American. “It is special because it is something that is unique to the United States,” she says. “It isn’t a design style that we’re trying to catch up to, such as a super modern European kitchen. People like farmhouse design because it’s nostalgic. It’s unique to us, and now we’re modernizing and updating it. We might incorporate some European influences, but for the most part, it’s uniquely ours.”
MAKING IT MODERN
While a traditional farmhouse-style kitchen might be reminiscent of the past, designers are updating its look with a more modern appeal – both aesthetically and functionally – with sleeker materials, cleaner lines and a focus on flow.
“More traditional farmhouse styling has a lot more mouldings and a lot more layering of details on top of each other,” says Bagley Catlin. “In modern farmhouse design, we are using cleaner materials, and accessories and details have cleaner lines.”
Lauren Davenport Imber, Davenport Designs, in Atlanta, relates that her clients gravitate toward a more minimalistic look with the purposeful design that a modern kitchen offers. Merging it with the charm of a traditional farmhouse showcases the best of both.
“People want the character of a farmhouse kitchen with its quaint details,” Davenport explains. “It’s very grounding, offering a connection with nature and the land. A modern farmhouse kitchen exudes that same charm, but it also offers a fresh, new look that incorporates clean and airy designs of modern, uncluttered kitchens. Countertops are clear, and what is left out on the counter is used every day and is very purposeful. Combining the two completely different styles – modern with farmhouse – and rolling them into one, allows for a fun and current design. If done correctly, it strikes a beautiful balance.”
Today’s modern farmhouse kitchens also have a greater focus on flow, adds Mike Dauria, Gilley Kitchen + Bath, in West Hartford, CT. “When you look at more traditional farmhouses, there seems to be less thought put into how someone used the space,” he says. “Functions were allowed for, but that was basically it. In this design style – and really in all kitchens we design – we focus more on how things flow, such as making sure a trash receptacle is next to the sink and dishwasher so you can perform routine functions like scraping and rinsing a plate, then putting it into the dishwasher, all without having to move. We’ll also include thoughtful pullouts for spices, utensils, etc.”
Every design style has its own unique combination of materials and products that define its appearance and characterize its expression. ‘Modern farmhouse’ is no different. At its heart are several elements designers identify as critical, beginning with the quintessential farm-style sink.
“A large, single-bowl basin sink is very essential to the modern farmhouse look,” says Davenport.
Billings agrees. “First and foremost, a modern farmhouse kitchen needs a big, single-basin, porcelain apron-front sink,” she says. “It’s a must.”
Bagley Catlin notes that concrete sinks with apron fronts have been making some inroads, “but a white farmhouse sink – fireclay if the budget allows – is still classic. That doesn’t seem to be changing.”
Modern farmhouses are also distinguished by their cabinetry, typically a Shaker style, often with inset drawers and doors. However, if the budget allows, Bagley Catlin encourages clients to think beyond basic shakers, which she indicates can sometimes be a bit ‘builder grade.’ “I encourage clients to invest in something unique and special,” she says, noting a recent project that included inset doors with wide rails and stiles, and applied moulding to dress up the cabinets.
Colorwise, cabinets are frequently the same color as the wall, creating an overall monochromatic design scheme, notes Davenport.
Conrad adds that off-white is common, although gray tones are becoming popular as well. “I think it adds to the clean, contemporary mountain look,” she says.
Billings relates that some clients are modernizing cabinets by adding color, as highlighted in a recent project that showcased cabinetry painted a vibrant shade of blue. “Back in the day, cabinetry may have been painted a dusty white, or it might have been raw oak cabinets, or whatever wood was found on the property,” she says. “Now clients are using color to modernize the design style by painting it a fun, bright hue.”
Bagley Catlin and Davenport add that cabinet hardware is also an integral part of the design, with the latter designer indicating that larger, straightforward hardware modernizes the design. “Hardware is more rustic with elements of iron,” says Bagley Catlin, noting that it might also be darker and slightly ‘beaten up’ in appearance.
Upper cabinets are often reduced in number, or eliminated altogether, in favor of floating shelves.
“Wall cabinets are a bit of a faux pas in farmhouse design,” says Billings. “If wall cabinets are included, we’ll use a mesh or glass front to keep the design as open and airy as possible.”
Davenport agrees. “Minimal upper cabinets allow for an open, airy feel…like what you would find in more contemporary kitchens,” she says. “Exposed shelving is another clean and simple element…very much in the farmhouse style.”
Open shelves are also popular with clients of Billings and Dauria, the latter of whom recently helped a client showcase their cookbook collection on a kitchen sideboard that seems reminiscent of an early American design, he notes.
“Kitchens at the turn of the century would have hutch pieces that were set in the kitchen,” adds Billings. “Shelves, including suspended shelves, can modernize that look.”
Oftentimes shelves, especially floating shelves, are crafted from wood, which brings in natural elements that are so often adored in farmhouse kitchens.
“That touch of ‘natural’ is important,” says Billings. “Whether it’s wood, stone or even brick, natural elements are essential.”
Davenport frequently incorporates natural elements via wood in architectural details, such as shiplap or paneling on ceilings and walls that is painted or stained, or via ventilation hoods that can stand alone or take center stage with a simple metal design or wood design accented by artwork or fragment pieces.
Bagley Catlin also sees more clients adding wood accents to ventilation hoods. “We’ve been seeing painted hoods for quite a while,” she says. “But now I’m seeing them mixed with wood. It’s really quite interesting. I think it personalizes the hood and brings in the rustic farmhouse element while making it a bit more casual.”
Bagley Catlin adds that showcasing the grain in woods, used in accents or in cabinetry, has become more prevalent in modern farmhouse design. “My clients are asking for more natural woods…in any way they can get them,” she says. “It may be oak that has been whitewashed so it feels natural and organic, almost reclaimed…or, in the case of one client, a cherry island that has been acid treated to raise the grain. Clients are looking for more grain. I’m currently working with three clients right now who are asking for more grain.”
Dauria is incorporating reclaimed wood, as well as other natural materials such as brick, into many of his modern farmhouse designs. Reclaimed wood has been used as accents such as tables, ceiling beams and even sliding barn doors that, in one particular project, conceal the homeowner’s computer, “illustrating the very definition of using a traditional look to obscure a very modern function,” he says. Reclaimed brick was also used to sheath an entire gabled wall in that same kitchen project. “Combining the new with the old softens up a simple, brand new kitchen,” he says, drawing attention to the concept of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle.’
Locally sourcing materials, such as reclaimed wood and brick, is key to farmhouse design, Dauria notes, adding that he also likes to utilize local artisans to craft countertops or hand paint and glaze cabinetry for a special touch. “For us, using local craftsmen and local products – sourcing elements from the community – are intrinsic to the whole concept of farmhouse design,” he says.
Conrad’s clients are also looking for ways to mix and match the old with the new, as well as looking for ways to bring the outside in. For her clients, that can mean rock, hand-hewn beams, even some marbles used for countertops as well as on walls. “We’ve also been incorporating barn woods with old paint on them,” she says. “Bringing in colors through reclaimed wood is a nice detail. We’re also incorporating antique doors for pantries as a way to bring in the old with the new. I think that’s an important concept for this type of design.”
Other essential elements include softer finishes, such as honed materials and non-glossy surfaces…anything that isn’t shiny. Textiles are more likely to be wool or fabrics with a nubby texture – “something that isn’t so pristine,” says Bagley Catlin. “They’re naturally woven, like your grandmother could have made them, or like they could have been found in the attic. People are looking for things that look hand done. They want a natural, more organic look…one that gives them a connection to the earth.”
Dauria often incorporates built-in seating, giving a nod to a more casual seating arrangement. “It can be considered as both an element used in traditional design as well as a nod toward modern reality, where entertaining is no longer formal,” he says. “These days, everyone is jammed into the kitchen while the cook is preparing food. Providing a thoughtful place for guests to sit with a glass of wine and participate in the conversation or the cooking process without getting in the way of the cook has become a critical element in a lot of our designs.”
For Billings, providing for an abundant amount of natural light has become integral to her designs. “I love lots of windows in a modern farmhouse kitchen,” she says. “A traditional design would have a few windows, but modern design expands on that. It would be rare to see just one 36″ window above the sink. Instead, having a much larger window, or multiple windows, is a great way to modernize the design.” ▪