Years ago, my father restored an old farmhouse to its former glory here in Maine. With layers of wallpaper peeling off its horsehair plaster walls, the home was a fixer upper. But my father and stepmother were determined to resurrect its simple country charm. From the process, I gathered many vintage farmhouse decorating ideas, some of which could be applied to any home.
In essence, farmhouse style expresses country living at its finest. The aesthetic is typically simple and clean, homey and cozy. And it often harkens back to another time through antiques or items that are styled to appear old.
As with any interior design style, the end results will vary greatly depending on the tastes of the designer. So if you aren’t keen on vintage milk pails or idyllic country paintings, don’t worry. There are many other ways to embrace farmhouse style. Here are just a few ideas:
If looking for ‘old,’ stick to antiques
Why buy new stuff that has been scuffed up and styled to appear old? Just buy actual “old stuff.” Antiques. They’re all over the place, and I think they have more character than replicas. And often — though not always — they’re cheaper.
Here in Maine, we have many antique stores, which makes shopping for old furniture and decor easy. Some other places where I find interesting vintage items include estate sales and auctions, pawn shops, thrift stores and garage sales.
Bring the barn indoors
There’s nothing that screams “farm” quite like old barn equipment. I’m not suggesting that you haul hay bales inside, but there are smaller items — such as milk pails and horse tack — that can invoke images of a barnyard without taking up too much space or making a mess.
Recently, while perusing a local antique store, I found several examples of this, including a stool made out of an old, metal tractor seat and a candelabra constructed out of horseshoes. Other examples include refurbished barn light fixtures, old pitchforks and saws (simply hung on a wall) or a collage of old tools displayed in a shadow box. Just keep in mind that some of these tools-turned-decor may not be suitable if you have young children running around the house.
Embrace cast iron
Back in the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, many toys and figurines were made in cast iron because the material was cheap and could be formed into nearly any shape with molds. This material is also durable, which means that many of these items are still around and in perfect condition. In fact, cast iron toys and figurines from that timeframe are so abundant that they’re usually inexpensive.
I was introduced to this type of antique when my father showed me an old cast iron coin bank he’d purchased to display on a shelf in his home. Outfitted with springs and hinges, the toy actually tosses coins into a slot at the press of a button.
Now that these cast iron toys are on my radar, I notice them a lot in antique stores. Cast iron piggy banks (that are actually shaped like pigs) are common, but so are a few other farm animals. To me, they scream “vintage farmhouse decor.” Cows, horses and dogs are common, as are people conducting common chores. There are even cast iron toy tractors and barns. And the other day, I found a miniature cast iron wood stove. So if you don’t have room for the real thing, that’s always an option.
Be choosy with glass
Displaying vintage glassware, whether its old canning jars or milk jugs or soda bottles, is a great way to embrace farmhouse style decor — but it can also turn into clutter in short order. To avoid this, be picky about what glass containers you purchase. Save your money for something special — maybe a jug from a local creamery or an old medicine bottle that has a fascinating history.
Also, see if you can make use of these containers by using them to organize visually interesting items, such as spools of thread or buttons or marbles. Taller containers, such as milk jugs, can be used to hold wildflowers or utensils. It’s always nice when decor can also serve a practical purpose.
Buy a basket or two
Old baskets are the perfect example of farmhouse decor that can have a practical purpose, and that purpose is simple: to store and carry things. Depending on their size and condition, baskets can be used to hold fruit on your kitchen counter, carry fresh produce from the garden or hold toys and nicknacks.
But a word of caution: Baskets are another one of those items that are so abundant and inexpensive that it’s easy to go overboard. So be choosy. Select a basket that fits your space and aesthetic just right.
One of my favorite types of baskets are old picnic baskets, which really drums up idyllic thoughts of country living. In addition, picnic baskets have a solid lid that hides whatever it contains. It’s a great place to store things you don’t want on display but need close at hand such as phone chargers and other electronic odds and ends.
Display interesting kitchen items
When it comes to country living, the kitchen is the center of a home. It’s where the fruits of a family’s labor are celebrated and preserved — or prepared and consumed. And this importance is evident in the many antique kitchen items available today, from hand-crank apple corers to beautiful wooden butter molds.
These antique kitchen items can add a lot to your farmhouse vibe, but it’s important to think about how you’re going to display them. Unless you intend to use these items, there’s no point in stowing them away in a cupboard where they’ll never be seen.
One option is to mount kitchen wares on your wall. Some items lend themselves to this more than others. For example, I recently came across an old corn bread pan in which the cavities were shaped like ears of corn. That rectangular item would look great on the wall in place of framed art.
Other items, such as hand-crank tools and old rolling pins, can be a bit more of a challenge to display in a neat fashion. Using a shadow box is one option. Hanging them on a board with spaced pegs or hooks is another. It just may take a little creativity — and perhaps a do-it-yourself project — to show off these old items.
Frame some country art
Wall art is an easy way to express a farmhouse style while also expressing your own unique tastes because there are so many options. Framed artwork that expresses country living could be old photographs, paintings, prints, advertisements or even embroidery.
My father keeps an old photograph of his house and adjoining barn framed on the wall. But farmhouse style art doesn’t need to be quite that blatant. At a local antique store, I recently found a small, framed illustration of strawberries in a jar that I thought would be a perfect addition to a farmhouse-style gallery wall.
I also came across a print of “American Homestead – Autumn,” a piece that was originally produced as a lithograph by New York printmaking firm Currier and Ives in the mid- to late 1800s. The peaceful scene is of a family picking fruit outside a country home surrounded by rolling hills. Framed in a wooden serving tray, this piece would be an interesting addition to any farmhouse style home.
Keep in mind that within any interior design style, there’s plenty of room to express your own personal style. So only purchase or create decor that brings you joy. Farmhouse style is all about creating a comfortable, relaxing space. Have fun with it.