The beauty of a traditionally Rustic home is simple, timeless, and full of classic frontier charm. It’s hard to find a more quintessentially American style, and Rustic homes are always popular no matter the season. Creating a Rustic home means you’ll always feel close to nature and your roots – if you love cozy, warm, and elegant designs, the Traditional Rustic style might be the one for you!
In my last post, we took a look at one of the style “branches” that’s emerged from the Rustic movement and merged with the Boho style to create the understated and eclectic “Boho Rustic” theme. Today we’re going to dive into the more traditional versions of this evergreen style and explore the many ways you can create a Rustic space of your very own.
Let’s start with the basics.
When The Outdoors Came Back In: Rustic Homes Are A Historical Love Affair Gone “Wild”
While most of my blogs focus on trends and cultural styles as they appear in the United States, specifically, the Rustic style is more international than you might think. Despite its association with the American frontier – Davy Crockett, anyone? – the Rustic style is as much a feature of European and Scandinavian culture as it is America’s.
Rustic design is all about “returning to our roots,” and those roots are largely shared by people from every country and culture across the globe. All of our nations share periods in which outdoor living of some sort was the norm. Pre-electricity and plumbing, most people lived by the land and had an intimate relationship with the wilderness that constituted the boundaries of their world.
The Rustic style is accordingly rich in references to the natural world. This is where commonly seen features like heavy, exposed wood beams and animal-based decor come from. To truly understand the Rustic style in all of its variations, it helps to think of it as an almost “peasant-farmer” theme that pays homage to the simple, charming homes we imagine in the romanticized countryside of past centuries.
Rustic design has been around since we began building homes, but the iterations we see today harken back to the 1920s-40s, when books, films, and popular images of the “frontier” or “lodge” came (back) into vogue. The popularity of Rustic resorts in countries like Switzerland and northern France proved influential for jet-setting architects and their wealthy patrons, and elements of these ski lodges and getaways began making their way across the Atlantic and into homes all over the U.S.
Appreciation for historical homes in the American “Old West” also played a part in the Rustic style’s development. Ranch homes, log cabins, and lakefront bungalows all became sources of inspiration for designers and admirers of the Rustic. In our current era, environmental consciousness has entered into many people’s Rustic preferences, and a sub-style one might call “eco-Rustic” has begun to develop.
Natural Foundations And Frontier Basics: What Makes A Space Truly Rustic?
The core components of a Rustic design are as follows:
- General simplicity, without too many “frills” or extraneous design features;
- An intense focus on the “natural” in every context, from fabrics to furs to hand-crafted furniture;
- An appreciation for the old, the repurposed, and the “rough” as expressed through the space’s decor;
- Reliance on a subtle, understated color palette, usually in the form of browns, deep reds, and shades of beige;
- Inclusion of “creature comforts” like wood-burning fireplaces, natural light, and comfortable furniture.
This isn’t a comprehensive description of the style, but these basics represent the elements that tend to immediately label a space as Rustic rather than any other theme. Expressions of the Rustic will include a great deal of natural or “rough” wood furniture and will avoid overly modern touches like steel or plastics in their decor, for example.
In my experience, the tactile sense plays a major role in Rustic spaces – more so than in any other style I can readily think of. Textures – touch – is a branch of rusticism’s focus on the “basic.” Not basic as in bland or predictable, but rather as simple, inherent, or foundational. Touch is one of our most basic senses in that it is much harder to influence than, say, sight or hearing.
It can also be engaged through other senses, as odd as that sounds. Have you ever looked at something soft, like flannel, and mentally “felt” that softness in your hands and head? This is an underrated element of good decorating that the Rustic style has kept up with quite naturally. I’ll go further into this in the next section, but the concept of using all of your senses to define a Rustic space bears keeping in mind.
So, to create a Rustic home, bring in as much of the natural, the vintage, and the tactile as you can. I am extremely fortunate to live in an area that boasts a plethora of quality antique emporiums where good, old wood furniture and the like are beyond easy to find. More than any other style, building a Rustic theme (on a budget, specifically) will require you to find this kind of retailer and read up on proper identification of the products they sell.
Etsy and other online stores focused on the hand-or-homemade will also play an important role. Unlike the Boho style, in this case that role will be the tendency of these stores to include more niche, natural-material items which have become more and more rare in big-name markets.
DIY projects are also vital to a Rustic space, though they aren’t completely unavoidable if you are truly put off by making your own furniture or decor. The use of materials such as recycled wood palettes, macrame, foraged stone, and live plants can add a great deal of depth and quality to a Rustic space without costing you a dime (or at least not much more than a dime).
When entering a Rustic space you ought to feel a bit like you’ve stepped into another time. I’ll be a bit spiritual about it, as the home is spiritual in a very tangible way, if you ask me.
When I walk into a well-designed Rustic home, I get a wash of both nostalgia and familiarity tinged with the pleasure of entering a place that is “different” from my day-to-day world. Time seems to grow slower and more relaxed in these spaces, and I immediately begin to feel more “real,” more in tune with my senses and basic humanity.
Perhaps you don’t have such a philosophical bent when it comes to design (and this is not a judgement of mine, because I think that’s perfectly fine and possibly a far more relaxing way to be!), but I hope that engaging with these basic principles – natural, simple, and sensory – you will at least feel a spark of that old-school pleasure that a Rustic space can bring. You can skip the next section if you want to keep things out of the more ethereal realm, but I can’t resist going a bit deeper into the Mindful Aestheticism I hold so dear!
A Note On Inherent Holisticism: Rustic Spaces Are “By Nature” Sensory
Here is where my perspectives on style may get a bit unconventional, but if you’ve kept up with my other blogs at all you’ll know that I take a very holistic view of style and aesthetics – so, if you want to understand my way of viewing rusticism or any other design theme, think of it as a process that seeks to engage all five senses through and with one another.
This is why the Rustic style is probably my favorite foundational theme of all time. When you engage with simplicity and combine it with a reliance on the natural (read: nature-based), you inevitably end up with a holistic space. The tactile – the feel and texture of leather, of soft cotton, of hewn wood – melts into the olfactory – the aroma of that leather, the scent of fresh wood, the fragrance of natural cotton.
You cannot enter into a Rustic space without engaging with it. That’s the beauty of this style, and it can be achieved on any budget if you are creative and inspired to work with your foundations.
In short, entering your space ought to be a spiritual, engaging experience, and the Rustic style tends to create this effect without conscious intent on the designer’s part. As a society we’ve become so detached from the values of “rough” or natural beauty and our primal senses, it’s often a shock to the system to suddenly become reacquainted with either.
Pursuing that kind of shock is, to me, a core principle of Mindful Aestheticism (the personal philosophy that defines this blog and its ideal lifestyle). It is a connection that can occur in numerous areas of your life, but the home – the place where you come to rest and be in the deepest sense – is perhaps the most influential.
In Conclusion, And A Few Brief Notes On Other Rustic Styles
Hopefully by now you have a strong and personalized concept of what a Rustic space is and is not, and if the style resonates with you, I hope you have a few ideas that will bring it into your home. Whether you forage your decor from the great outdoors all around you (even if it’s merely a 1/4 acre backyard) or you purchase it from a small antique store in some sleepy rural town, the most important part of developing a Rustic space is to make it fully and wholly your own.
Before I leave you today, I want to mention that while this post focuses on the very basic Rustic style, there are iterations of it that are equally valid and far less “Western” than the lodge-y, cabin-esque image I may have promoted here.
A few other Rustic styles are worth mentioning, including:
- Bungalow Rustic – or “jungle” Rustic (think bamboo and thatch instead of hewn wood and flannel);
- Desert Rustic (often tied to older homes in places like Arizona or Utah, with an emphasis on sandstone and minimalism);
- Victorian Rustic (similar to Traditional Rustic, but frankly more “bougie” and focused on ornate decor elements);
- Eco-Rustic (which emphasizes the use of modern solutions to things like artificial waste, water usage, and conservation along with its appreciation for basic Rustic values);
- and Oriental Rustic (a catch-all term I find problematic in some ways, but which generally refers to the traditional, nature-based styles of Japanese, Indian, Arab, or even Eastern European cultures).
These variations on Rusticism share a focus on the natural, the sensory, and the simple, but bring in the elements of their own founding cultures and environments. Don’t be afraid to play around with these styles and combine elements of several different Traditional Rustic themes in your home!
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the Rustic style, and I look forward to the next blog, where I’ll be discussing Modern Art Deco and its many variations!