How To Balance Refined + Rustic With 'Modern Farmhouse' Style

After observing ‘The Block’ this year, we couldn’t help but wonder how we’d approach the required ‘country’ aesthetic.

We also felt compelled to demonstrate that ‘country style’ doesn’t have to mean tartan wallpaper and rose-gold kitchens, nor an overwhelming vintage-meets-dramatic black accents vibe.

So, we asked our resident interior design expert Lauren Li to dissect this topic for us – and boy, has she delivered! Here, Lauren shares her secrets to nailing ‘modern farmhouse style’; where natural textures meet refined, pared back styling, with all the right details to create a comfortable yet contemporary country look.

Lauren Li

The serene home of Anastasia Elias and family epitomises ‘modern farmhouse style’. In this space, an antique timber chair adds vintage character, and an element of the unexpected. The combination of the turned wood of the chair and the fine black steel of the lamp is what it’s all about. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The serene home of Anastasia Elias and family epitomises ‘modern farmhouse style’ – pieces made by hand give a room soul and atmosphere. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Sometimes in a lovely but otherwise conventional kitchen we need a statement artwork to take the space to the next level – this sublime hand sculpture does that and more. Photo – the home of Anastasia Elias and family shot by Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

The Sydney home of Fiona Bateman and family utilises a quiet combination of materials that add visual and textural interest: marble, brick, timber and ceramic tiles are layered together beautifully. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Styling – Tess Thyregod

Lauren Li
20th of December 2022

The allure of country living and all that it represents has never been stronger. Is it the slowed down rhythm of life, feeling in touch with nature, witnessing a pronounced changing of the seasons, cosy evenings by the fire, or sitting around the dining table just talking with friends and family? I think the appeal is all of that, and more.

But, how can we achieve that warm, comforting look of a country home, yet make it elevated – and do we even need to actually be in the country to get all of those feels?

The new rural look is laid-back, timeless and yet just a little eclectic – it’s ok that the dining chairs are all different – actually, I prefer it. The spaces weren’t created in one weekend with matchy-matchy pieces from one store, rather the rooms have evolved over time. When the furniture looks to be handed-down and collected, there’s a feeling that the space has always been there, and that puts us instantly at ease. Visitors will never want to leave – you’ve been warned!

A neutral colour palette feels soothing and makes these spaces easy to live in. This is not the place for a lot of bright colours, bold patterns and spaces that challenge us. But don’t mistake this laid-back look for being boring! There are a few key points to consider that really bring this look to life; considered details, layers of texture – and always including something old!

Now, I don’t live in the country, nor do I have a country house (I wish!) but I think that we can all achieve a warm, eclectic, personal home like this – no matter where you are.

A kitchen needs to be a practical space for food preparation, but who said that our eyes shouldn’t also be nourished by enjoying artwork everyday. An open shelf in this kitchen by Kelsey Leigh Design Company provides opportunities to change the space with personal objects. Photo by Emily Hart, styled Amanda Dalayton, built by McGregor Homes.

This kitchen balances the rustic country aesthetic with a clean modern edge. It’s worth noting that scale and proportion have been addressed with the ceiling beams and lighting balancing the height of the space. Photo by Emily Hart, styled Amanda Dalayton, built by McGregor Homes.

There is something charming and instantly comforting when a space doesn’t strive for perfection, rather it embraces creativity and personality. Leanne Ford uses white in a way that is anything but bland and here she has painted a collection of different chairs in white paint so that they mingle together effortlessly around the kitchen table. Design by Leanne Ford, photo by Amy Neunsinger.

The bedroom in this space by Natalie Walton is layered with linen, wool and timber. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Look to the past, but make it ‘now’ 

The ‘new rural’ aesthetic looks back to the past with a hint of nostalgia, but with a fresh take. We’re not looks to create a faux ‘old worldy’ look, instead we are mixing in old pieces with the new.

We are looking for pieces that have a story to tell, their surface shows that they have been used and loved for many years. They add soul to a space through their worn patina. It could be a milking stool that is smoothed from years of use or a vintage rug that shows the passing on time through a distressed finish. They hold stories and time and add so much atmosphere to a room.

Tips for adding ‘something old’:

An urn that has been sitting in a garden with a few signs of weather and moss is a perfect piece to bring inside and use to hold some sculptural branches or an indoor tree.

You might want to start a collection of antique objects – perhaps it could be vintage ceramics, or aged Italian stovetop espresso makers!

Painting the kitchen in a dark colour may seem risky to some, however it is incredibly rewarding, as the space feels moody and full of character. Paint the walls and cabinets the same colour creates uniformity, and makes it feel cosy yet streamlined. Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Olga Lewis

Cosy banquette seating, a sunny window, and plush cushions gives all of those country feels, but it could be anywhere! Photo – Marnie Hawson. Styling – Olga Lewis

The kitchen, floors, ceiling and walls are blank white canvas that is layered with warm wood tones. Don’t be afraid to mix different wood types together as all of those natural colours sit together easily. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

A country house invites the outdoors, in. Don’t forget to ‘decorate’ outdoor spaces with a comfortable armchair and table at the ready. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Lighting is key to adding a clean contemporary edge against rustic wood and earthy tones. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

It’s all in the details

In these spaces, we want to avoid bold features that grab our attention the minute we walk into a room – instead opting smaller details that wait to be discovered. The weighty quality of a brass door handle, a silk braided lighting cord, or a thoughtful arrangement of objects on the kitchen bench. Spaces are quieter yet layered and personal.

Tips for adding thoughtful details:

Kitchens are not only functional spaces simply for preparing food, they should also be decorated. Small still life or landscape paintings can sit on the bench or atop a shelf as a way to enjoy artwork into all areas of the home.

Arrange your favourite ceramics on open shelves, they could be pieces found in a charity shop or made by a local ceramicist. They don’t have to all match, however keep the colour palette restrained. Seek out white, creams, tan and rustic glazes that mingle together well.

No surface should be left un-styled – however we need to know where to hold back too. It’s not always about showing off your entire collection (insert vintage portraits, ceramics, books, urns etc) rather it’s displaying the right thing. A kitchen bench may need one simply stunning vessel filled with foliage, but it’s finding that vessel in the right shape and size. Keep rotating your pieces that are stored in a cupboard depending on your mood and the seasons.

In a neutral space, styling is key. An open shelf in the home of Natalie Walton provides an opportunity to layer a collection of ceramics, artwork and some branches for freshness. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

This interior belonging to Natalie Walton is layered in neutrals, with an over-scaled light that makes the dining corner memorable and impactful. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

Of course, every country house needs a fireplace. Flanked with a comfortable armchair with a lamp overhead makes this the perfect space to settle in with a book. Photo – the home of  Natalie Walton shot by Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

A lounge room in a country house needs to be an inviting space and this is no exception. Plump sofas and a grand fireplace make this a space that guest will never leave. Photo – Amy Bartlam of a Utah home designed by Oregon-based studio Light and Dwell

Embrace layers of texture

Although this new rural look doesn’t include a lot of colour, it is far from dull – because texture is the main element here. Visual interest and variety is achieved through the layering of contrasting textures.

There’s a pleasing contrast created from the roughness of a stone wall against a smooth timber floor, or knotty wooden  ceiling beams against a fresh white ceiling. These contrasts are so important to creating a neutral space that feels both pared back, and warm and welcoming. The character and so-called imperfections of these textural materials make a space come to life. Bonus points if these natural materials are sourced from local quarries or reclaimed timber yards, as they speak directly to your surroundings.

We also want to see evidence of things made by human hands. A mottled glaze of a Moroccan zellige tile with its slightly distressed edge is immensely pleasing on the eye.

Tips for choosing materials: 

Current trends and contemporary materials can work in these spaces – as long as there’s a textural element. A Venetian plaster wall finish or concrete benchtop may feel very modern, however their ‘imperfect’ finish will ensure they sit well in the overall context of the space.

Don’t be afraid to combine contrasting floor finishes to create visual interest – as well as suiting the practicalities of a space. For instance, you may choose a brick floor for the entry and transition to wood in the living spaces.

Creating a layered rural look can’t happen in one weekend. Instead pieces are gathered from near and far. Artwork and sweet side tables come together in a collected look, rather than a matching ‘showroom’ look. Photo – Amy Bartlam of a Utah home designed by Oregon-based studio Light and Dwell

Mixing materials creates a sophisticated layered look. This kitchen by Handelsmann and Khaw. Photo by Felix Forest.

We talk about bringing the outdoors in, but what about the indoors out? This garden includes an outdoor bath, how sublime! Photo – Marnie Hawson.

A shower over a bath never looked so good, thanks to a beautifully draped linen curtain – seen here in the home of Natalie Walton. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

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