What Is Farmhouse Architecture?

Classic White Farmhouse in Rural Area


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When it comes to contemporary home trends, farmhouse style is a huge buzz word. But you may be surprised to learn that the roots of farmhouse architecture have humble beginnings in the modest rural houses built by American pioneers throughout the 1700s and 1800s. 

Building codes did not exist before the late 1800s and were typically created to address the shoddy construction happening in major cities. So there were no set rules for constructing or defining the look of early farmhouses, which were usually single floor and rectangular dwelling, made of local materials ranging from wood, stone, and mudbricks depending on the abode's location. Because architects and trained builders were luxuries the average American pioneer could not afford, early farmhouses were built by unskilled laborers: the families and workers who later lived in them. As these farm communities grew, locals would often pitch in to construct these homes.

Fun Fact

Apron front sinks and beadboard backsplashes, both hallmarks of contemporary farmhouse style, were not a thing during colonial times in the United States. The interiors of these early homes were Spartan and served a sole function: to provide much-needed shelter for the families and workers who tended the surrounding

How Farmhouse Architecture Evolved

The iconic farmhouse we are familiar with today that features clapboard, exterior siding, a semi-enclosed front porch, and two floors became a standardized look thanks to the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog which used to sell kits for these "modern" homes in the early 1900s. Amazingly, future homeowners could mail order all the pieces they needed for a basic farmhouse. The simple beauty of these homes stands up today. 

The structures were based on the classic colonial farmhouse's rectangular design and were often two-stories tall. Even better, they could easily be added on to with wings out the side or rear of the home to accommodate new family members or the next generation of families. Large long porches that beautifully connected the outdoors to the indoors was a standard feature that provided the residents with a place to relax in the shade. The original exterior colors for these houses were relatively limited and premixed in a choice of white, light green, pale yellow, light blue, and a few dark colors, notably red.

Key Characteristics of the Classic Farmhouse

Here are a few rules of thumb for identifying an authentic farmhouse.

  • Location: Genuine farmhouses were constructed in rural areas to suit the agricultural lifestyle. While many kit homes were constructed from wood, old-timey farmhouses from colonial times could be found in a wide range of materials depending upon the region. For example, in Texas, early farmhouses were made of limestone.
  • Porches: They had two primary functions. During the summer, they provided a place to cool off. And all year round they functioned as mudrooms providing a place to kick off dirty work boots before heading inside.
  • Exterior siding: Farmhouses constructed from wood are usually covered with clapboards, which are horizontal wooden boards that often overlap to keep out wind and moisture.
  • Fireplaces: Particularly in homes built in the northeast, large fireplaces were indeed the heart of all colonial houses because it was the only source of heat for warmth and cooking. Farmhouses constructed in the early 1900s typically had sizable fireplaces too.
  • Layout: Many older homes have a similar floor plan. The first floor features an ample cooking space in the back on the house, a formal living area in the front of the house, and bedrooms on the second floor. Unlike many modern homes that feature staircases in the front foyer, stairs were are often located near the kitchen.

Similar Styles to Farmhouse Architecture

There are regional variants. Down south the ranch house, which is ubiquitous to the cattle ranches in the area, often has a similar rustic vibe created for informal living. However, the classic ranch has a much wider layout and a lower profile.

The craftsman style home we arguably believe is the urban cousin of the classic farmhouse. It has a little more spit and polish, but just like its country cousin, it makes a warm and inviting first impression thanks to its classic and covered front porch supported by beautifully tapered columns.