How To Do 'Country Style' With A Contemporary Edge

There is an appeal to ‘Country Style’ homes that is hard to resist. Even the most hardcore minimalists out there will soften at the sight of a well-worn leather armchair, or the patina of an old wooden table top. BUT there’s a fine line between contemporary country style, and the clichéd stereotypes of yesteryear !

Here, Lauren Li shows us how to take a less rustic, and more refined approach to country-inspired interiors.

Lauren Li

The incredible country kitchen at Wombat Barn in Daylesford. Photo – Eve Wilson. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Lauren Li
28th of January 2020

The ‘country’ look is familiar, warm and above all, it’s comfortable. After all, regional and rural homes are often spaces that invite us to slow down, embrace a change of pace, and reconnect with what’s really important.

But country style needn’t be old fashioned. Today, we’re embracing a cool, clean, more refined version of country living. We’ve pulled together an edit of carefully curated spaces, designed for contemporary rural life. They are bright and inviting, often with an element of the unexpected.

I’m inclined to think that the current popularity of contemporary country interiors represents a craving for familiarity and authenticity. There’s a real emphasis on ‘honest’ materials, such as solid timber surfaces and real stone benchtops, and evidence of time-honoured craftsmanship. Imperfections are totally okay in these spaces – in fact, they’re to be embraced.

EVERYTHING is on display in the home of Kara Rosenlund and Timothy O in Brisbane! Photo – Eve Wilson. Styling – Lucy Feagins.

By keeping the kitchen all white, the gorgeous objects collected by vintage queen Lynda Gardener are the hero. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

An open shelf made of marble elevates humble kitchen objects in the Palm Beach Home by Alexander and Co. Photo – Felix Forest.

This isn’t a ‘display kitchen’ – it’s a kitchen to cook up a storm in. Treasured vintage kitchen pieces and handmade ceramics are on display, giving this space soul and personality. Photo – Beth Kirby.

Kitchens On Show

Unlike minimalist contemporary kitchens that aim to hide everything ‘kitcheney’ behind cupboard doors, country kitchens are about having everything on show. At the same time, the contemporary country kitchen is a little more refined than traditional ‘Hamptons’ style.

These kitchens are designed to be used and loved. Here, the very ‘things’ a kitchen needs to be functional are displayed. We see open shelves with functional ceramic pieces on show, and under bench storage open, with pots and pans within easy reach.

Even the appliances are often on show, rather than integrated, with large free-standing ovens taking centre stage, often with an equally large feature rangehood.

Amazing texture in Emma Lane’s home, with rendered walls, buttery leather chairs and a divine fluffy rug! Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Natural textures combine for a harmonious room; shearing upholstered armchairs sit on a vintage silk rug with wood floors and an antique wood buffet. Project by Amber Interiors. Photo– Tessa Neustadt.

The rough, rustic timber in this kitchen is balanced with elegant marble and fresh white walls. Byron Bay Abode, The Lodge. Photo – Jessie Prince.

Beautiful contemporary textures, with a hint of rustic glam in the kitchen at The Barn at Ross Farm. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Texture, Naturally

In the contemporary country home, finishes are designed to develop a beautifully worn patina over time; think soft buttery leathers, characterful dining table tops and hand-scraped timber floors. These finishes tell stories, they have history and are beautiful just as they are. We’re not looking for that ‘fresh out of the box’ feel, instead, we want an ‘already lived-in’ look.

Look for ways to combine texture, rather than applying colour; a vintage silk rug laid over tumbled limestone; a plump linen sofa with a chunky undyed wool blanket.

They key to pulling off this modern country look, as opposed to an overstuffed country style, is balancing rustic finishes with clean, crisp details. So – blending rustic timber with sleek marble in the kitchen, or offsetting textured surfaces with white walls.

Whatever you do, aim for comfort. A space should never feel so perfect and precious that you can’t make yourself comfortable.

The wonderfully eclectic home of stylist Lynda Gardener. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Lynda ‘Queen of Vintage’ Gardener always hits the mark without looking too fussy. This space is layered with Armadillo rugs and a sofa piled with cushions. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Who wouldn’t love to rummage through the vintage ‘out-takes’ of Lynda Gardeners collection? This artwork is perfection on this dado height painted wall, combined with the Major Minor bedlinen. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

The home of Melissa Harris nails the ‘contemporary country’ look (in Melbourne’s Eastern suburbs!). Green Pendant lights by Freedom, recycled elm timber table from Provincial Home Living, leather chairs from West Elm, and vintage chair with linen seat from Hunted Antiques. Vintage church pew from Violets with Patina stall at The Vintage Shed. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Vintage Is Key

Incorporating antique pieces instantly gives a space soul, and is key to contemporary country style. We’re looking for a rustic console table at the entry, a sweet side table with turned legs, or a dining table that bears the marks of many dinners past. We’re looking at simple shaker-style or farmhouse pieces that can be picked up from antique dealers, or if you’re lucky enough, an op shop. The odd mid-century piece works well to tighten up the look, but steer clear of anything post-1970s. Look for worn leather armchairs, armoires and milking stools, and avoid chrome, acrylics and bright colours.

I can hardly think of another person that incorporates vintage pieces into interiors better than Lynda Gardener. This isn’t a passing trend, rather, vintage style is at the core of Lynda’s design aesthetic, and remains as relevant as ever.

A contemporary wall lamp elevates an otherwise pared back space at The Dairy on Ross Farm. Photo – Eve Wilson.

What a way to make an entrance! This house in Malibu by Amber Lewis is exactly why she leads the way with this look. It has the elements we know true to ‘country style’; the hand-scraped wood floors, vintage floor rug and antique pieces, but when combined with the Lindsey Adelman light, this space takes on a whole new feeling. Project by Amber Interiors. Photo– Tessa Neustadt.

An innovative way to incorporate modern lighting. Photo – Jessie Prince.

The mountain house in LA designed by Emily Henderson (in collaboration with the loyal readers of her blog) aimed for ‘rustic-modern-Scandinavian-contemporary-minimalist-kitchen.’ vibes, in her words. The striking light fitting by Katy Skelton does a lot of the heavy lifting here! Photo – Sara Ligorria-Tramp.

These simple pendant lights add to the clean lines in this kitchen by Adelaide-based Enoki Design. Photo – Jenah Piwanski.

Lighting Is Lit

Another major factor in creating a cool modern country style (and avoiding out-dated ‘grandma’ vibes), is lighting. Lighting needs to be contemporary to elevate this look, and tighten up the room.

Choose lighting that presents a contemporary contrast to the textured materials and vintage furniture in your space. It’s best to avoid traditional, ‘old world’ style lighting. Look for the unexpected; metallic fittings give an elegant feel to a room, and an asymmetrical form makes the space feel dynamic.

Living area featuring sofa from Scout House, chairs, stool and rugs from markets and auctions, rope light from the Netherlands. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

This loft bedroom is the definition of contemporary comfort. I just want to lie on that bed and roll off onto that lush rug! Project by Emily Henderson. Photo – courtesy of Emily Henderson.

This has got to be the dreamiest, cosiest bedroom EVER! Jersey Ice Cream Co has created a room that is humble and at the same time luxurious. Photo – Nicole Franzen.

A Word on Comfort

Creating true comfort in our homes seems obvious, but comfort can be overlooked, as there are so many other requirements we’re considering.

When creating a contemporary country look, comfort is at the core. Bring it on, with plush sofas and banquette seating, fluffy or textured rugs underfoot, *extra* cushions wherever you can squish them, and, in the bedroom, a grand (perhaps four-poster!?) bed!

Not only do we want to feel comfortable, we also want comfort on the eye. That’s why these spaces are harmonious, the colours are natural and tonal, not contrasty or jarring – everything just makes sense.

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