Design Speak: The Farmhouse Effect

Farmhouse, farmhouse, farmhouse…this style is everywhere! It seems like everyone’s talking about it, posting about it, and trying to create it. And it’s not just us thinking so—the 2018 Houzz Kitchen trends study lists Farmhouse as the 3rd most popular style for new kitchens, coming in just behind transitional and contemporary, and it’s a growing style, as well. The NKBA calls Farmhouse “the most popular style in U.S. kitchens” (Kitchen and Bath Design Trends 2018).

So where did farmhouse style come from? Most of the elements we collect under “Farmhouse style” evolved from the practical necessities of farm life. Hand-hewn, sturdy furniture was handed down from generation to generation and the kitchen needed to work as hard as their cooks! 

The style that we call “farmhouse” tries to mimic that simple, inviting feel through weathered elements, practical simplicity, and a classic-yet-comfortable overtone.  Designing in harmony with original architecture means embracing ceiling beams, exposed brick, etc.

And in case you were stuck under a rock for the past five years, ; – ) Farmhouse style really became mainstream with HGTV’s Fixer Upper, featuring dramatic renovations and the rustic chic designs of Joanna Gaines. Farmhouse style in this form is very attractive to homeowners. It has classic, easy-to-love foundations: simple flat panel cabinetry, neutral shades, and warm wood tones. It’s understated but true to its style.

Farmhouse can also be easily combined with other styles to create tailored subsets, Modern Farmhouse, French Farmhouse, Industrial Farmhouse, Euro/Scandinavian Farmhouse (or Euro Rustic)…the list goes on and on! Décor can also be either very simple or very elaborate, which leaves a lot of room for personal taste.

Potter's Mill Flat Panel maple White Icing Classic and Peppered Appaloosa
Rustic beams, wide plank flooring and Peppered Appaloosa give this Transitional style home the warmth of Farmhouse character.

What makes a kitchen “Farmhouse”?

Let’s break down the pieces that come together to create this style.

  • Color palette: Like Transitional, Farmhouse is all about neutrals, especially white and cream, beige, and greys from light to charcoal and more recently we’re seeing black in a non-distressed paint option. White painted, flat panel Shaker-style cabinets are the “classic” Farmhouse cabinetry. However, there’s no reason you can’t add a little twist with off-whites, light greys, and even desaturated colors like Islander and Seagrass work as “nature-minded” options. (Think: of the land!)
  • Rustic, reclaimed/aged-look barn wood or deeper wood tones contrast with crisp painted cabinetry, and wide-plank wood flooring brings in different textures and character. Center islands are a great way to add a rustic element!
  • Medallion_Gold_Trinity_maple_Buckskin Appaloosa_Dining hutch
    A sideboard in Buckskin Appaloosa brings furniture details into play with Prairie mullions, hutch style ends and tapered feet.

    Furniture-look pieces with warm wood stains or traditional cabinet styles are used as accents, as are glass mullions, built-in pantries, and hutches, to complete the look

  • Décor: Complements the neutral palette with an interesting mix of fabrics, metals, light fixtures, and more.
    • Metals: No need to be matchy-matchy! Mixing tones is essential to this style, but it’s best to stick to 2 or 3 to keep the look cohesive. Galvanized metals (for that weathered look) and wrought iron and oiled bronze are also great additions.
    • Integrate pattern through quilts, plaid, florals, and vintage ceramic tiles. This is a great style for encaustic tile; either as the backsplash or for flooring in smaller rooms.

Keeping décor to a minimum keeps the kitchen from becoming too busy. As with Transitional and Contemporary style, less is more. White ironstone crockery, wooden utensils, and greenery in the form of wreaths or simple fresh flower arrangements are popular additions.

Farmhouse collage final

  • Materials and accents: Wood plank walls, especially shiplap and beadboard
Medallion_Gold_Devonshire FP maple Chai Latte_Farmouse style_Shiplap boot bench
Ship-lapped accent areas are the perfect fit for Farmhouse style. Shown in Devonshire Flat panel maple, Chai Latte Classic paint.
Planked walls surround a similar color of white painted cabinetry creating a subtle Farmhouse feel. Hamptons collection by Stikwood
  • Open shelving: Bookcase cabinets, contrasting wood/finishes for floating shelves and open shelving with metal brackets – all add their own nuance of character
Oslo knotty alder Buckskin Appaloosa (Inset)
Add rustic accents with floating shelves in knotty alder, Buckskin Appaloosa
  • Barn-style sliding doors
  • X-patterned accents
  • Apron sinks in solid colors or quartz

What’s NOT really Farmhouse

Something I’ve noticed while browsing this design style is that Transitional kitchens are being mislabeled as Farmhouse kitchens. It appears that if the kitchen includes white cabinetry or an X panel here or there, it is being called out as Farmhouse style. But it’s more about adding mixed metals, light industrial elements, and rustic woods that makes a white kitchen a Farmhouse kitchen. Shaker-style flat panel doors are also not “Farmhouse” on their own—Shaker cabinets are a historic, classic style that can be utilized in a number of different design styles.

But, if what your client wants is that genuine Farmhouse effect, I’ve compiled a list of styles and finishes that outline their options–including more than just Potter’s Mill in White Icing! 🙂

On Trend White Paints: Sea Salt, White Icing, Divinity

Twist: Irish Crème, Chai Latte, Macchiato, Frappe, Earl Grey, Carriage Black Classic &  the Coastal Collection colors

Design-Craft_Loxley FP maple Frappe with Greystone_Farmhouse Transitional

True Shaker doors: Park Place, Potter’s Mill, Mission & Craftsman

Farmhouse doors with flair: Loxley, Devonshire, Brookhill, Dana Pointe, Hudson Falls and Madison (all with flat center panels) – or for a more casual approach add a beaded center panel as an accent style on the island or sink area. 

Including contrasting materials and textures alongside painted finishes evokes the look of Farmhouse style.


Door collage 1
Including contrasting materials and textures in subtle accents moves a sophisticated Transitional style to a casual Farmhouse Transitional style. Shown above: Catania in Oil Rubbed Bronze, Devonshire Flat Panel maple in Frappe Classic and Hudson Falls quartersawn oak in Cottage White Sheer. Decorative hardware by Amerock

Farmhouse style woods: Knotty Alder, Hickory, Oak, Quartersawn oak and Rustic Maple

Door collage 3
Classic Black paint on quartersawn oak combines texture and crisp paint into one striking look; shown here on Platinum’s Amesbury door style. Left: Yukon Hickory in Tumbleweed stain, Top right: Sonoma Flat Panel rustic maple in Champagne with Burnt Sienna Glaze and Highlight, Bottom right: Glenwood rustic maple in Sandalwood stain. Decorative hardware by Amerock

Farmhouse-flavor finishes: The Appaloosa and Stoney Brooke Collections, Peppercorn, Cappuccino, and trending traditional wood stains like Tumbleweed, Sandalwood, Chestnut, Ginger Snap, Eagle Rock and Smoke. 


Twist: Adding distressed upgrades to painted or stained finishes will give the appearance of an heirloom piece, which of course adds to the Farmhouse effect! 

Door collage 4

CupThe greatest thing to me about Farmhouse style are the liberties a designer can take. I can choose to add simple accents or go “full hog” and plank-barn door-rustic beam-chicken wire my design…til the cows come home. (Sorry I just can’t help myself 🙂 ) But it really depends on the way your client feels about creating their own unique Farmhouse style! I personally prefer the lighter side of Farmhouse style, with a dash of dark metal, a pinch of weaved textiles and a just a hint of rustic. As always, I’d love to hear about your Farmhouse favorites! Share your ideas in the comments below!


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