Forty-five minutes northwest of Washington in the tiny town of Round Hill, Va., is a hilly plot of land with a duck pond, an old grain silo and a 300-year-old farmhouse. It was exactly what Beth and Randy Russell, of McLean, were looking for: close enough to the city for convenient getaways, remote enough to unplug with the kids and old enough to need a serious facelift. They bought the property in 2014 and hired Charleston, S.C., interior designer Cortney Bishop to bring it up to date.
“It’s like a watercolor, so peaceful and pure,” said Bishop, who relied on a palette of stone, metal, wood and lots of black paint to turn the relic into a posh escape. “You feel like you’re stepping back in time.”
It’s easy to see the appeal of farmhouse living, with its fresh air, open pastures and recreational nature. But it also can be isolating, pricey and high-maintenance, meaning its rustic aesthetic has been largely reserved for folks in horse country — until now. In recent years, city dwellers who appreciate the style’s basic tenets have begun incorporating the look into their homes, with handcrafted furniture, historic collectibles and charming, nature-inspired decor. Bishop thinks it’s the next lifestyle craze.
“It’s already taken over the furniture markets and the restaurant industry,” she said, pointing to the recent explosion of farm-to-table restaurants filled with Mason jars, communal wooden tables and watering cans filled with fresh flowers. “Everyone is taking cues from farmhouse.”
Darryl Carter, a D.C. designer who renovated an 1840s farmhouse in The Plains, Va., and who is known for his ability to bridge modern and classical design, says pulling off the look takes an eye for continuity and a willingness to embrace imperfections.
“I always follow the architecture,” he said, referring to flaws that often come with old buildings, such as “sloping floors” and “parged walls above fireplaces with smoke stains from years of use.” He encountered several inconsistencies during his own renovation. The original floors were wide planks of caramel-colored pine, while the floors in the additions were thin, garden-variety oak. “I navigated the two species and colors by painting them white with exterior porch paint,” he said.
Heirlooms are key and often dictate the rest of a farmhouse’s interior. The look of Carter’s cottage was informed by a large, white, 19th-century barn door with a silhouette of a pony. And Bishop struck gold when builders called her attention to a 2,000-pound gravestone that was found on the grounds by the previous owner and, due to its size, never moved. Bishop says the previous owner believed it was headed to Mount Vernon, presumably decades ago, as a replacement headstone for Capt. John Washington (George’s great-uncle). Historians from Mount Vernon weren’t able to verify the theory, but the piece — now mounted over a living room mantel — still packs serious visual punch. “It tells the story of the property’s past,” Bishop says.
But don’t get carried away. One of the biggest mistakes people make with farmhouse interiors is overdecorating, and it’s the quickest way to make a room look dated. Keep patterns small and colors neutral so that the important collectibles, such as a grandmother’s quilt or a family portrait, stand out. And resist the urge to change things up from room to room. There’s nothing wrong with painting every bathroom the same color. If you’re itching for something to pop, try playing with textures or putting a piece of modern art in a sparse room.
“The color is there in the green hills, the blue pond, the red barn. If you’re in the suburbs, it’s in a tree outside an important window. Don’t distract from it,” Bishop advised. “Don’t feel like every room needs to have its own personality.”
Carter agrees. “Avoid anything thematic. Many people are tempted to clutter up spaces with prints and patterns. If that suits your sensibility, great, but the way to create calm in a space is to avoid visual chaos. These structures are usually beautiful on their own.”
●Carter recommends neutral velvets, patchwork rugs and big barn-style doors lathered with paint.
●If you’re doing more of a renovation than a redecoration, shiplap wood boards are a staple of modern farmhouse style, Bishop says. “I like to space my eight-inch shiplap a quarter-inch apart for a super-modern feel.” Farmhouse sinks are also a given. (Bishop likes Shaws Original sinks.)
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Chat Thursday at 11 a.m. Designer Cortney Novogratz, co-host of HGTV’s “Home by Novogratz” and co-author of the book of the same name (both with husband Robert), joins staff writer Jura Koncius for our weekly online Q&A on decorating and household advice.