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The barn look: Creating a rustic feel in your contemporary home

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 12:49 p.m. CDT
Locati Architects built this new-construction home to look like a farm with a barn and outbuildings slowly added over time.

Locati Architects built this home to look like a farm with the barn and outbuildings slowly added over time.

You may not find a wraparound porch or stalls with hay, but newly constructed homes and remodeled properties around the country are getting the barn treatment.

“Everyone wants something like going home to grandma,” explained Christopher Travis, an architect and designer specializing in restoration projects and high-end remodels in rural communities. “The inspiration at the heart of it are things that remind them of their own experience or a period in history.”

In the early 1900s, American barns were purchased as kits from companies such as Sears Roebuck. Travis says crosshatch doors and other classic barn features were added because they were easy and cheap at the time, but now you have to make them from scratch.

As a result, today’s barn-home style is less about building an exact replica than embodying the rustic look and feel.

“It’s a flavor of rustic architecture,” Travis said. “People are drawn to it not because of aesthetics but because it’s comforting — it speaks of a time when things were simpler.”

Modern amenities, rustic accessories

To create the look in your home, designer Anita Oates says you don’t have to have make your space old fashioned. In fact, she says it’s crucial to first design for your lifestyle.

Upscale rustic kitchen by interior designer Anita Oates of Otrada LLC.

A sliding barn door, barn-wood table and antique chandeliers give this contemporary kitchen a rustic feel without being dated. Designed by Anita Oates of Otrada LLC.

“Don’t have so many rules — it limits the creative process,” she said. “And, it all depends on how you choose to live. Do you have sit-down dinners or just grab breakfast and go?”

Once you’ve determined how you are going to use your space, don’t be afraid to bring in stainless steel appliances or other modern amenities. Just hide outlets, cords and remotes, if possible.

Christopher Davis shows how you can achieve the look and save money by mixing and matching dining room chairs.

Christopher Travis shows how you can achieve the look and save money by mixing and matching dining room chairs.

Then try to be unconventional with the surrounding furniture and accessories. Consider bringing in a few antiques to create that lived-in feel.

“There are so many different ways to bring in six to 10 dining room chairs,” Oates said. ” Personally, I would put folding chairs under a barn-wood table.”

Interior designer Dotty Hopkins designed this kitchen in her riverfront home in Napa, CA.

Interior designer and real estate agent Dotty Hopkins designed her kitchen with vintage-inspired, modern fixtures and appliances.

Travis suggests using an apron sink and curtains instead of cabinet doors. Here are a few other barn-inspired elements you could use to balance a contemporary space:

  • Crosshatched or barn doors
  • Riding boots
  • Embroidered initials
  • Wheelbarrow side table
  • Wheat or crop centerpieces
  • Burlap or canvas

Natural woods & metals

From barn-wood coffee tables to industrial light fixtures, barn-style furniture shows off two key materials: natural wood and metal. And, it’s not just the furniture; these materials can also be woven into the architecture of your space.

The key, Travis says, is to select items that are believable.

“You never see sheetrock in a farmhouse or barn-style building,” he said. “It’s always a plank wall. It has an emotional connection for people because that’s what they had in actual barns.”

Jordan Design Studios beautifully combines elements from different time periods for an eclectic look.

Jordan Design Studios combines plank walls and vintage accessories for a historic barn look.

To give a new guest cabin a historic look and feel, Locati Architects‘ Greg Dennee experimented with industrial, reclaimed metal.

Locati Architects uses industrial metal on the walls of this bedroom to play up the rustic vibe.

Locati Architects uses industrial metal on the walls of this bedroom to embody an old farm outbuilding.

“Our main strategy was to eliminate drywall because it didn’t exist 100 years ago,” he explained. “Nothing gives it away because it’s metal from end to end.”

Recycled materials in small doses

While authenticity is key, designers advise taking a less-is-more approach with bringing in recycled barn materials. Not only are they expensive, but they can also lose their appeal if used in abundance.

Tall windows weren't commonly found in barns, but by adding overhead beams, Locati Architects made the space architecturally believable.

Tall windows weren’t commonly found in barns, but by adding overhead beams, Locati Architects made this space architecturally believable.

Dennee recently designed a barn-style home with large windows to show off the view of a nearby mountain range.

“The homeowners needed tall windows, but they were not historically accurate,” he said. “We had to find the right balance there, so I used recycled timber trusses to keep the scale manageable and believable but also create a large open space the homeowners wanted.”

Locati Architects mixed materials in this man cave, creating a light space with architectural interest.

Locati Architects purposely mixed materials in this man cave, creating a light space with architectural interest.

In a game room redesign, Dennee used barn-wood planking, tin countertops and backsplash, and a white wall to keep the room from feeling too heavy.

“You would never find white drywall in a barn, but we wanted it to feel light and bright,” he said. “Also, it doesn’t compete with other things in the room.”

The overall goal, according to Travis, is to avoid anything that connotes a completely contemporary or manufactured building.

“You want it to look like someone bought old antiques at an antique show,” he said. “Pick the pieces that are really special and speak to you emotionally, and have your designer build them into your space.”

Related:

Catherine Sherman, a real estate writer for Zillow Blog, covers real estate news, industry trends and home design. Read more of her work here.

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