Beyond Wagon Wheels and Calico: Country Chic

August 25, 2011

Bright paint on the walls and furniture plus hip gingham curtains brings a country room into the modern world. It's one of many trad-gone-rad spaces in Annie Selke's new book, "Fresh American Spaces" ($45, Clarkson Potter).

Chances are, your grandmother’s or mother’s decor style was a little bit (or a lot) country. And you might consider yourself a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. So there’s no way anything from their living rooms would ever wind up in yours, is there?

Take a seat at the farmhouse table, because country is in again. “With the economy lately, people are paring back,” says Amy Rutherford, owner of Red Barn Mercantile in Old Town Alexandria (113 S. Columbus St.; 703-838-0355). “They’re looking at their roots, when times were simpler.”

But don’t break out the 1980s-era calico prints, oversized plaid couches and lacy curtains just yet. This is Country 2.0, which melds everything from cottage to vintage to industrial influences with Americana looks of the past. That might mean a Shaker-style chair painted bright pink, embroidery details that skew more mod than fussy or pieces with real rural roots.

“People are intermixing in a high-end way really rustic, cruddy things that would have been in a barn years ago,” says Lesli DeVito, whose blog is My Old Country House. “People want stuff that has some history, because so much of what we have is new.”

To pull off the look, you don’t need to turn your pad into the Little House on the Prairie. In fact, a country piece can make a big impact in a contemporary room.
“Even with stark, modern places, people like something warm,” says Rutherford. “Find something that speaks to you, that’s old, interesting and may have once had a purpose that’s opposite of what you intend to do now, and find a place for it.” Think old wooden fruit crates used as storage bins or feed sacks turned into table runners.

“The days of ‘I’m going to go home to my purely contemporary or purely traditional home’ are moving toward ‘I’m going to a house that makes me feel good and is a reflection of who I am,’” says Laura Daily, vice president of merchandising for Ballard Designs.


Bright colors, rustic industrial antiques and new takes on old crafts shake up trad decor.

Today’s country is all about reimagining old standards. “There are traditional elements in the pieces I do, whether it’s a ticking stripe in a rug or a ruffle on a duvet,” says Annie Selke, founder of bedding line Pine Cone Hill and Dash & Albert Rug Company and author of the new book “Fresh American Spaces” ($45, Clarkson Potter). “It’s about interpreting them for their current use. Eyelet embroidery can look hokey, or if you take it down to its purest form, it can be very contemporary.”

“I don’t think we’re reclaiming all of country, just things that are designed well or have stood the test of time,” says Ben Homola, co-owner of new Takoma Park shop Trohv (232 Carroll St. NW; 202-829-2941), which itself was built out using reclaimed barn wood. “When I see these things being incorporated into new products, I’m reminded how beautiful industrial things can be and old American designs were.”

Crafters have also helped give the style a sense of the here-and-now. “People are doing country techniques but in a modern, playful way,” says Dawn Alley, a Capitol Hill resident behind the crafting blog Idle Hands. “There’s been a big trend toward incorporating text into embroidery. I did a sampler of the ‘Friday Night Lights’ mantra ‘Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.’ It’s fun and cheeky.”

If you do raid Granny’s attic, sometimes all it takes is a coat of paint to bring a country chair or chest into the 21st century. “When you highlight an object in a bright color, all its provenance goes away. You appreciate the object,” says Selke, whose products blend preppy with romantic with classic with vintage. “It doesn’t matter which era it’s from if it’s a cool shape.”

“There aren’t any rules now,” says Old Town Alexandria interior designer Barbara Franceski. “It’s about expression. Incorporating things that look like they’ve withstood the test of time gives a room a past, and that brings comfort.”
After all, even a rock ‘n’ roller needs to snuggle up with a quilt now and then.

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Kristen Page-Kirby · August 25, 2011