In 2014, Manhattan Beach architect David Watson started getting requests to design and remodel homes in what clients were referring to as "farmhouse modern." It marked a shift from the more typical requests of his South Bay clients to create beach-friendly Hamptons-inspired houses. Two years later, modern farm homes make up about a quarter of the dozen or so projects Watson is currently juggling in Manhattan, Redondo and Hermosa beaches.
"For a lot of people, this style is evocative of Americana, and it appeals to that yearning for simpler times, when things weren't so hurried and busy," Watson says. "This is Americana architectural style in its cleanest, simplest of terms."
It's also becoming one of the most popular, especially in Southern California, where the latest take on country décor is sweeping through remodels, spec homes and even large-scale planned communities.
Many credit the trend's popularity to Chip and Joanna Gaines, the stars of HGTV's "Fixer Upper." Based in Waco, Texas, Chip and Joanna stage major design interventions on soulless tract homes and neglected traditionals, reimagining them into open-plan, wide-planked floor sanctuaries of a kinder, simpler variety. Virtually every home on the show emerges post-facelift with barn doors, apron sinks and shiplap-blessed walls — rough-sawn wood paneling often used in barns.
Goats and chickens need not apply: Egg-filled chicken wire baskets on marble countertops and window pane herb gardens are enough to suffice for this crop of agrarian-lite living.
Here are some of the signature looks:
"I used to get a lot of requests from people saying, 'I want the Pottery Barn look.' Now they say, 'I want a house that looks like it grew up in the neighborhood,'" says Santa Monica-based interior designer Alison Kandler. The designer consistently creates farm-leaning homes for Westsiders in a variety of styles.
"You can do traditional, whimsical, contemporary, all in the farmhouse style. It's incredibly flexible," says Kandler, who likes to use farmhouse staples in unexpected places. "I love to use old screen doors for pantry doors. With that spring on it — it has that feeling of grandma's house. You feel instantly attached."
Pitched roofs & gabled windows
Watson says he designs higher pitched roofs for his farmhouse commissions. "Right there, that it sets it apart," says the architect, who adds that he often punches out gable windows from those steep pitched, metal roofs. "Usually in a farm house, fun and quirky things are happening in those gables, so I try and do that as well."
When Los Angeles interior designer Carla Lane replaced the plain laundry room doors with sliding barn doors in her Valley Glen home, the impact was instant: "My laundry room is outside in my courtyard and they instantly added charm the second they went up. I painted them a bright poppy orange to make them stand out even more," says Lane, who also reimagined the front of her home to look like "a farmhouse in Napa Valley."
At Ontario Ranch, a planned community that will eventually include 47,000 homes, homebuilders have incorporated modern farm décor into many of the single-family dwellings, town homes and condominiums. The community of New Haven, for example, features reclaimed wood walls, optional barn-style closet doors, and upcycled farm tools (tractor gears used as mirror frames in the community's clubhouse, for example), in a blend of rustic and chic. "The farm motif honors the area's legacy, but we made sure that it accompanies the most up-to-date amenities," says Mercedes Meserve, vice president of marketing for Brookfield Residential, which is building several neighborhoods in the area.
Interior decorator Shelby Wood is working with property developers in Venice Beach to create farmhouse-style retreats: "This is the look that appeals to a lot of buyers here, the cold-pressed juice crowd," says Wood, who creates contemporary-meets-country mashups by upcycling pieces like vintage sewing tables and using chicken wire as cabinet doors.