7 Tricks to Master the Modern Farmhouse Look Without Having to Remodel

By Panchali Sau and Chad Faglier

They really don’t build them like they used to.

Farmhouse-style older homes, not to mention literal farmhouses built before the advent of modern heating and cooling technology, bear little resemblance structurally or aesthetically to contemporary homes. 

That’s the point, actually: Farmhouses and farmhouse-style homes are so sought-after precisely because they’re so quirky, charming, and out of the contemporary norm. Buyers who won’t settle for something ordinary willingly pay a premium for homes that — let’s face it — may not be in the best shape.

Then again, the supply of true farmhouses is smaller than the pool of homeowners seeking farmhouse ambiance. No matter how bold your rustic dreams, you may never have occasion to embark on a multi-year, six-figure remodeling project that transforms a vintage homestead into a modern oasis. 

Instead, you’ll settle for a non-invasive refresh that delivers a rustic yet modern look at a fraction of the all-in cost. Your media will be upholstery, fixtures, furnishings, paint, and adornments, many of them found or repurposed — not beams or posts or girders.

Your budget may be happy about that, but will your aesthetic?

Yes — if you can pull it off. Follow these seven steps to master the modern farmhouse look without the expensive remodel.

1. Opt for Bleached Wood, Rather Than Paint

Resist the urge to repaint in ostensibly “natural” or earthy tones. A rustic paint job is still a paint job.

Wherever possible, replace or augment painted surfaces with bleached wood or light natural wood, like maple. Dark natural woods impart a counterproductive “mountain home” vibe, so avoid them this side of Asheville. Reclaimed wood is ideal, as its provenance will be obvious. Sanding is unnecessary; the rougher the cut, the better.

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2. Accent With Rustic Antique Furniture

“Antique” is a bit of a catch-all. You’re looking for antique, utilitarian styles of the sort your five-times-great-grandparents entertained in, the heavy, ornate stuff prized by the robber barons who owned their mill.

“If no suitable true antiques are available, opt for budget-friendly factory alternatives; the selection grows every year.” — Panchali Sau and Chad Faglier

 And there’s no need to go overboard. A few well-placed small tables and stools will go a long way: bedside tables in the guest room, a writing desk in the great room, a coffee table in the sunroom. Indulge an antique centerpiece, such as a slab-hewn dining room table, only if context suits.

3. Prioritize Clean-Line Upholstery

Again, less is more. Favor low-slung couches and chairs with parallel lines and squarish forms over flamboyant pieces that scream, “Look, don’t sit!” Your house is made to be enjoyed, not gawked at.

4. Add Gauge Metal Furnishings

Gauge metal in a farmhouse? Absolutely. The idea here is to contrast the home’s warmer wood tones and understated whites with throwback industrials. The contrast works best in bedrooms, where black metal bed frames coexist easily amid bare floorboards and paneled walls. Avoid chrome; it’s too jarring. Take bonus points for true heirloom or newer artisan works.

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5. Add Low-Key Subway Tile

“Subways didn’t exist back then,” you protest. True enough. Neither did subway tile. No matter. For whatever reason, subway tile is an excellent farmhouse kitchen accent, especially in understated black-and-white patterning. It’s also inexpensive and easy enough for detail-oriented homeowners to DIY.

6. Combine Industrial Pendants and Vintage Bulbs

Electric lighting didn’t exist “back then,” either, but that shouldn’t stop you from adding industrial-style pendants in strategic locations throughout your home’s common areas. Opt for black, champagne, or white pendants with vintage bulbs. Avoid LEDs or CFLs: make up the difference with a solar water heater or energy-efficient windows.

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7. Splash Color With Portable Floor Coverings

Lest your rustic modern farmhouse grow monotonous in its color scheme, add strategic doses of pigment below ankle level. Don’t overdo it with pastels or tropical tones; this isn’t Miami. Woven rugs and mats with simple floral patterns and bright tones will do the trick in entryways, cooking areas, and sitting rooms.

Worth a Second Look?

Even if you’re not planning to gut your modern farmhouse-to-be, you can’t risk taking your pending project lightly. You’ve got too much riding on your home’s new look.

Let’s face it: You’re also busy, and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably not a professional designer. There’s no shame in sharing some of the responsibility for your big farmhouse refresh with a true pro — someone who knows the finer points of rustic modern style. Laying a second (or third) pair of eyes on your project could spare you a great deal of grief.

Or perhaps you really are confident in your ability to see this one through. If that’s the case, more power to you. If not, you know who to call.

Bio: Panchali Sau is CFO and Chad Faglier is CEO of Canopy, a firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina, that invests in the city’s urban real estate market. Their growing company specializes in risk-adjusted returns through urban infill housing and adaptive reuse retail centers.