Modern Farmhouse Architecture

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The modern farmhouse is a very popular style of domestic architecture in the United States. In this lesson, we'll explore this style and examine its most defining characteristics.

The Modern Farmhouse

Not everything is originally designed strictly in terms of style. Sometimes, we focus on function more than aesthetics. For much of American history, the nation was primarily agricultural, with families living on small farms where they grew enough for themselves, and maybe a little extra for the markets. In this context, the strict rules of design were not so important. Houses were built quickly, efficiently, and with practical needs in mind.

In many parts of America today, the aesthetic of these old, practical farmhouses is becoming popular once again. This had led to the emergence of what we call the modern farmhouse style, defined by homes that seek to combine the feel of the utility-focused farmhouse with the needs of modern comfort. It's a style based on something that was never meant to be a style. However, if there's anything we know about design, it's that inspiration can come from anywhere.

Modern farmhouse

The Farmhouse Design

Before we get into the modern design, let's go over the traditional farmhouse really quick. Farmhouses were never a unified style or aesthetic, but instead were focused on quick, efficient, and sturdy construction. They tended to rely on light, cheap materials like wood, treated simply for protection from the elements by being whitewashed. Seeing as how these houses originally existed for people who grew their own food, they were designed for large families who conducted most of the lives in the home. In other words, it needed to have space for socializing, cooking, eating, crafts, and other chores that at times could include sewing, butter-making, etc.

Characteristics of the Modern Farmhouse

Now, the modern farmhouse is not defined simply by utility the way that old farmhouses were, but they do seek to capture that homey, family-centered and folksy aesthetic. There are five defining characteristics used to do this. Let's start on the outside, and work our way in.

Large Covered Porch

From the outside, one of the most obvious traits of the modern farmhouse is the large, covered porch. Most homes have a porch, but modern farmhouses are defined by it. The porch may often wrap around most or all of the house, and is wide enough to accommodate rocking chairs, tables, and porch swings. Many modern farmhouses are still built in rural areas, where views are worth taking time to enjoy in the company of family or friends.

Modern farmhouse with large covered porch that encourages outside socializing

The large porch also reminds us that modern farmhouses tend to require a bit of space to build. Seeing as how they were originally meant for wide-open farms, they are not conservative in the amount of space they take up. So, a large porch does not mean a smaller amount of living space.

Large Openings

The next characteristic of the modern farmhouse is the use of oversized fenestration. Windows and doors, collectively what we call the fenestration of a structure, are generally very large and plentiful. This allows for practical and aesthetic linking of interior and exterior spaces. People inside can see and talk to people outside, and vise-versa. Again, there is an expectation that large numbers of people will be sharing these spaces, and that they will want to be able to appreciate the surrounding views from anywhere in the house. The layout of rooms inside it also defined by livability, spaciousness and natural lighting, accentuated by the oversized doors and windows.

Modern farmhouses have abundant doors and windows


As we move from the exterior to the interior, we'll probably notice an abundance of woodwork. Modern farmhouses, like their predecessors, not only rely on wood-frame construction but accentuate it. Hardwood floors, exposed wood beams in the ceiling, and wood accents are often left uncovered so that the material becomes an integral part of the design.

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