Defining Farmhouse Style
While farmhouse style is hard to define, it’s easy to enjoy.
“Farmhouse style means something different to everyone,” said Julie Dodson, owner of Dodson Interiors in Houston. “To me, it’s a relaxed, easy way of living that brings people together.”
While it has surged in popularity, popping up on city streets as well as rural farm-to-market roads, the style is an enduring American classic.
“The canvas offered by farmhouse style is timeless,” Dodson, whose family owns a farmhouse in Burton, said. “It is about warmth and connection. When a home is designed well, in a way that a family can live comfortably, it is enduring.”
The comfortable, lived in feel is achieved by mixing and matching pieces of different styles, eras and origins, which translates into a personal expression of taste.
“Farmhouse style allows people to be themselves—and to express themselves,” Dodson said. “It’s a livable style that encourages people to surround themselves with things they love.”
And the style is inherently charming, especially when it is applied to vintage farmhouses and cottages.
“I love new construction, but there is something innately charming about vintage farmhouses and farm cottages,” Dodson said. “They bring back an earlier time when families accommodated more people in less space, so they lived more intimately. Those small homes reinforced connection.”
The interior designer put her interpretation of the timeless style on display as the Round Top Idea Cottage, a 620-square foot circa 1920s farm cottage that was moved to The Compound in Round Top from Warrenton. Dodson, along with Mark Massy, owner of The Compound, and Kathy Johnston, antiques production director of The Compound, tag-teamed the project designed to showcase the shopping opportunities of the bi-annual Round Top Antiques Show while benefiting local animal shelters.
“I’m passionate about Round Top, rescue animals and strong design,” Dodson said. “The Idea Cottage was a way for me to bring my passions into a single focus—hopefully giving people ideas while giving back to the community.”
Oh, Hell No!
Massey, who developed Round Top’s Henkel Square and Rummel Square as well as The Compound, found the cottage and invited Dodson to take a look.
“My first reaction was, ‘Oh, hell no!’” Dodson said laughing at the memory. “The cottage was abandoned and dilapidated. Animals had taken up residence. The porch was falling off, and I wasn’t even sure we could go inside or that I wanted to.”
She managed to go inside, and initially the interior brought little comfort.
“There was filthy, shaggy yellow-green carpet everywhere,” Dodson said. “When I was finally able to look past the dirt and neglect, I saw good bones and potential.”
A deal was struck. The cottage was transplanted. And Dodson began working with Lewis Tindall, owner of Tindall General Contractors based in La Grange, to restore the little home. They had four months before opening day.
Because the team knew the cottage eventually would be sold and moved off-site where the new owners would likely add some additional square footage, they opted to remove the downstairs bathroom and reconfigure that space into a kitchenette sans plumbing to simplify transport. They also chose to close off access to the second story, which was an unfinished space, and converted that entry into a pantry. They ripped up the “scary” carpet to reveal wood floors that only needed to be patched instead of replaced.
“We put our efforts into renewing, restoring and reinvigorating,” Dodson said.
While farmhouse style is a classic, it is also popular enough to border on trendy. As is her trademark, Dodson’s design choices were driven by the space not the trends.
“In my opinion, the goal, whether you are a professional designer or homeowner, is creating a place where a family can live for years,” Dodson said. “Trends come and go, but good design lasts. It is possible to have a home that is fresh and on-point without being trendy.”
According to Dodson, the best way to achieve a current but classic look is by mixing it up. She considers her personal style transitional, which is a seamless blending of different styles. In the Idea Cottage, modern met rustic softened by hints of plushness and elegance.
“For me as a designer, it’s fun to juxtapose modern art against rustic wooden furniture and blend in beautiful white-on-white linen embroidered curtains,” Dodson said. “For the residents and their guests, it’s fun to discover the unexpected.”
Walls were painted either a cool white or a light blue-gray with green undertones. Ceilings were treated with white paint to create airiness or outfitted with salvaged wood and beams lightly with gray-blue-brown deck stain for a contrast that picked up the unfinished floor’s tones and textures. Green from kitchen glassware, backsplash tile and plants, pink showcased in a lone pillow, artwork and a screen door, and aquamarine in a metal chairs, pillows and architectural remnants popped in the serene space.
“I like to introduce color through the accents and accessories,” Dodson said. “It’s an easy way to enliven a space without the color becoming overwhelming.”
When it comes to accessories, Dodson restrains herself.
“I go with the theory ‘less is more,’ but that’s just me,” Dodson said. “For some people, ‘more is more’—and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a matter of personal taste. I lean toward clean instead of cluttered.”
Her transitional style was evident throughout the home. In the living room, Dodson paired a straight-lined sofa covered in linen (the only piece in the house not sourced in Round Top) and large-scale modern art with an imperfect, rusty-hinged desk. A brass and crystal chandelier and gilded mirror bring a little shine while dark metal arm chairs resembling the willow chairs on the front porch deliver the outdoors inside.
The breakfast room featured an expected farmhouse table paired with unexpected aquamarine chairs for color and whimsy. A crystal chandelier illuminated the space. The breakfast room bench, which converts to a bed, was her favorite Round Top find.
“It came from a time when everything had to do double-duty to make the most of the space and of people’s budgets,” Dodson said. “We don’t live like that anymore, but it prompted me to wonder about life then—and the people who lived it.”
The bedroom was anchored by a worn metal bed bedecked in touchable linen topped off with a velvet-like throw. A mid-century style armchair was placed next to a wrought iron floor lamp and wooden milking stool. An aquamarine bell jar light fixture highlighted by stenciled scrolls that also graced the ceilings perimeter served as a charming focal point.
In the kitchenette, which Dodson identified as her favorite design solution, the small space made a big impact. Green-gray geometric tile donated by Walker Zanger was a central eye-catching focus while open shelving served as storage and display.
“The space needed to stay open, so I opted for open shelving,” Dodson said. “Cabinets would have dominated the space.”
The simple white marble counter didn’t intrude, and the curtains used in lieu of doors added texture and softness.
“People often ask me how to mix and match elements for a signature style,” Dodson said. “There’s no secret formula other than trial and error. Your eye improves over time.
“My best advice? Don’t be afraid to take a risk. The big visual rewards in design, like so many things in life, result from the biggest risks. When it all works, the outcome is unexpectedly cool and classic.”
Ticket sales from the Idea Cottage tour raised more than $10,000.
The Idea Cottage sold quickly. It was moved from The Compound to serve as a getaway near Round Top. In the tradition of farmhouses throughout the ages, the new owners are putting their own stamp on it. The old cottage that was given new life once again will surround family, friends and guests with personalized comfort and welcoming warmth.
The success of the initial Idea Cottage has inspired the creators to collaborate again. While it’s too early to announce the details, Dodson said plans are in the works for another design-driven fundraising project sometime in the near future.
“I can’t tell you what it is yet, but I can tell you it will be very different than what we did before,” Dodson said. “Stay tuned—just stay tuned to be inspired by the possibilities of Round Top.”
by Lorie A. Woodward
photos by Natalie Lacy Lange, Natalie Lacy Lange Photography