Country meets contemporary decor


By Kim Cook

Browse through old Country-oriented shelter magazines and you’ll see a lot of what designers used to call “duck and basket” decor: calico-print-filled rooms, Colonial furnishings, walls stenciled with flowers and ducks.

It was a homey, well-loved style.

Now a new generation of home decorators and stylemakers is updating the look. Country Living magazine fills pages with bright colors, crisp graphic prints, tag-sale side tables and smart mid-century sofas. There are still great baskets, but nowadays the duck’s more likely to be part of a hip new wallpaper.

Call it Modern Country or Farmhouse Chic — it’s sparer and less cluttered than the old Country, but no less welcoming. It honors Country’s homespun roots without sending us too literally back to the past.

Well-worn, often utilitarian elements from the farm house, barn and small-town store blend with contemporary furnishings and finishes, making it all look fresh and interesting.

Becky Cunningham, a home decorator near Shreveport, La., fell in love with vintage stuff during her first visit to a flea market in Canton, Texas. That’s where she found an old cowboy’s bathtub that now holds extra blankets in her bedroom.

The room’s transformation, which includes snowy white paint, a chandelier and luxurious white bed linens, is chronicled on her blog, Buckets and Burlap. An unusual focal point is a gray, weather-beaten headboard.

“We used 100-year-old lumber taken from an old shack on my husband’s aunt’s farm,” said Cunningham.

Redoing a bathroom in Ojai, Calif., Kelley Davis-Motschenbacher used a timeworn pine table as a vanity, but dropped in a sleek modern washbowl and tap. She fronted a new closet with a scraped-up vintage door, embellishing it with a cast-iron bird knocker. Glossy white subway tiles and marble flooring blend with harvest baskets and vintage artwork to make a luxurious yet homey bathroom that was mostly sourced from garage sales, Home Depot and the Internet.

Rie Sterling of Apex, N.C., is another Modern Country blogger.

“One of the things I love about this style is how unpretentious it is,” she said. She added: “There’s a certain restfulness about it that appeals to so many, and it’s refreshingly attainable.”

Garage sales, flea markets and online sites are good sources for Country items, but you can also find newly made pieces that evoke the vibe.

Dustin Glasscoe’s furniture studio, Vermont Farm Table, is filled with bar stools, benches, dining tables and bookcases made of reclaimed pine. The patina of the wood, coupled with Glasscoe’s craftsmanship, makes for furniture that’s warm and approachable.

“We’re really celebrating the true character and qualities of the wood,” he said.

Urbanites may not have ready access to vintage goods, but the look’s easy to replicate with stuff from stores — Wisteria’s iron cabinet bins and World Market’s woven reed baskets make great storage; IKEA’s got flat-woven, striped cotton rugs; Pottery Barn has antique glass pickling jars, wooden dough bowls and grain-sack throw pillows.

Sandy Chilewich’s Faux Bois placemats have a digital image of a real wood plank printed on Plynyl.

Schoolhouse Electric recreates early 20th century light fixtures and iron bedsteads.

Repurposing is the watchword here: Put bath items in jars; magazines, towels or toys in tubs or wooden crates; and turn that great jam cupboard into a compact home office. Add modern touches like Lucite chairs, a tailored pendant fixture, a lacquered Parsons table, or an accent wall painted in a bold hue.

If you’re looking for additional inspiration, check out It’s a kind of home-design-centric Pinterest, where homeowners and professionals post photographs, articles and advice; you’ll find great examples of Modern Country style here, as well as design help.

Sourcebook: Becky Cunningham blogs about her farmhouse remodel; Rie Sterling’s decorating blog; Kelley Davis-Motschenbacher’s design site; March issue honors Modern Country’s new trendsetters; Chilewich Faux Bois placemat, $12; early 20th century lighting; iron cabinet bins $79; Meagan baskets, $34.99-$39.99; tables from about $1,530 and up; pickling jars, $139-179; dough bowls, $199-249; grain-sack pillow covers, $89.50; — AP