Roughly a decade ago, the term “modern farmhouse” would perhaps have referred to an actual farmhouse with modern accents, but today the design style represents décor elements that add up both country and industrial tastes. According to Google, the phrase was nearly nonexistent from 2004, when the search engine began tracking, to 2015, with a sharp climb beginning in 2016. Curbed’s Laura Fenton explores the origin of the style and how it took over in the design sphere.

Before there was “modern farmhouse,” there was “shabby chic.” Founded in 1989 by Rachel Ashwell, Shabby Chic started out as a shop in Santa Monica filled with vintage furniture, a sea of white slipcovers, and accents of floral chintz. While the shabby chic look was more feminine than modern farmhouse, the two share several traits, including distressed woods, a whitewashed palette, and vintage everything.

Shabby chic’s rise corresponded to the beginning of a recession in the late 1980s. Writing in the New York Times, Penelope Green explained how the look spoke to the country’s economic outlook at the time: “Ms. Ashwell intuitively positioned herself in opposition to the buttoned-up decorating styles associated with the financial excesses of the 1980s and the subsequent recession, which was soon to be in full bloom.”

Green’s observation about the timing of shabby chic’s rise could just as easily be applied to the rise of modern farmhouse following the crash of 2008. This time, instead of being a reaction to ’80s excess, the trend was a response to the flipper mentality of pre-crash America, which saw home renovation as a guaranteed gold mine. The look of the modern farmhouse style harkened back to a simpler, humbler ambition of homeownership. Plus, the style itself was cheap and DIY-able: You could paint things white and nail up shiplap yourself.

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