From the first “folk” houses built of mud, grass, stone, or logs in the 1700s to today’s modern and stylish version, the farmhouse remains one of the most picturesque and charming portraits of Americana. While more practical than ornate, farmhouse home plans don't sacrifice the elegant beauty that comes from modern designs.
Inspired by traditional countryside homes, farmhouse house plans have visual appeal and evoke a feeling of hearth and home, tranquility, and peace that make them popular and timeless. And with the rustic look being a hot trend on the architectural landscape, a growing number of home buyers are building, restoring, upgrading, and preserving farmhouses.
Features of the Farmhouse
The term “Farmhouse” speaks more to the home’s functionality than its form, as the original farmhouses were built to match the large scenic plots of land on which their owners lived. Constructed out of necessity in the beginning, they were fashioned to be sturdy, straightforward, and purposeful. Today, farmhouse plans – with their comfortable, inviting, elegant modern designs – are the perfect choice for anyone building on a large lot or open space, allowing the home to become the true focal point of the property.
The farmhouse plan can be a one- or two-story structure with simple, vertical lines and a gable roof. Bedrooms are generally on the second floor, although some farmhouses may have master suites on the first floor.
• The signature feature of the farmhouse is the wide covered porch that usually wraps around the entire house or just extends from the front door to one or both sides and somethimes turning a corner – marking the transition from the outdoors to the indoors. During the early days of the farmhouse, porches were more than a place to sit and admire the scenery, relax after dinner, and socialize; they were a space used to kick off the dirt from a day’s work in the fields before entering into the sanctuary of the home. Today’s porch remains a center of outdoor entertaining and family activities and can be elaborate and luxurious or simple and homey – depending on a person’s taste and style.
• Another key characteristic is the clear division in the floor plan between formal and informal areas. When you walk through the front door of a farmhouse, you enter into a space perfect for entertaining guests or greeting a family member. The kitchen, bedrooms, and staircase are typically located at the back of the house.
• Large, spacious kitchens were a must for the first farmhouses in the U.S. The “heart of the home,” the kitchen, is still the place where the family gathers for meals, special occasions, and conversations. Today’s farmhouse usually comes with an expansive cooking area and equally roomy countertops – ideal for preparing a hearty and delightful meal that warms everyone at any time of the year.
• Wood frame construction and – usually – wood siding are traditional. Vinyl siding has become more popular, however.
• Fireplaces, then and now also provide warmth and comfort.
• Both a traditional and modern farmhouse can include a parlor and a family sitting room.
• Dormers on the second floor to allow natural light to fill the space.
Trends/Evolution in Farmhouse Plans
During the early days of life on the prairie, farmhouses were just that: houses built on farms where those who tilled the land lived in close proximity to their jobs. The first houses were “do-it-yourself” creations, born out of necessity and hard work. They were simple, comforting, and full of the warmth and love of family life.
With prosperity came changes in the basic farmhouse structure. The new generation could now afford architects and builders; and house plans were available from the local lumber or general store. The farmhouse rustic style gave way to “four squares” with full-blown second stories and to Federal and Victorian designs.
The farmhouse changed over the centuries. Farmers moved out of rural areas; their descendants pursued other industries and began living in more urban areas. But the idea of farmhouse living remained with them.
When they built new homes, they carried most of the features of the old homesteads that still managed to evoke warmth, security, safety, comfort, and the spirit of family life.
And on to the 21st century, the farmhouse has marched, looking better than ever.
Popularity of the Farmhouse
Much like the ranch house style that has made a huge comeback, the farmhouse is now a very much sought after design. It has come a long way from its really humble beginnings: from the prairie sod to the now luxurious homes that are being built and renovated across the country.
From the Midwest to the Northeast, architects and designers are reconstructing and modernizing existing farm homes – or putting their original touches and stylish versions to the farmhouse. Several “coffee table” classics have been written about “these wood and brick essays on America’s evolution.”
Really, what can be more American than the farmhouse? If beauty in its simplicity defines the ranch house, then classic American ingenuity and creativity epitomize the farmhouse. It was a result of the pioneering spirit of the early settlers who left their homelands and their home states to move West and create new frontiers. They built their homes from materials that were available to them – and over time improved and added to these dwellings. These were safe havens from the harsh weather, warm, comforting, and relaxing for their families and other generations to come.
History of the Farmhouse
In the 1830s, there was an abundance of prairie land in the upper Midwest as a result of treaties with Native Americans of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. In addition, the Homestead Act of 1862 made land available to farmers. German, Scandinavian, and Irish immigrants as well as residents of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana traveled westward. These settlers farmed their small properties; grew wheat, vegetables, and corn; and built their own homes.
The very first homes began as cellar houses dug six to seven feet into the earth. But soon the pine forests in the Midwest provided lumber for better homes. Typically, these homes were two rectangles joined in an L or T shape with the living room, bedroom, and kitchen on the ground level. A narrow staircase would lead to the bedrooms upstairs.
The porch – the dominant feature of farmhouse plans – was originally designed as transitional area, much like the modern-day mudroom, where workers left their muddy boots before going into the clean living and eating spaces. It also served a more utilitarian purpose – storage space for the harvest. Eventually it became the place for the family to relax, enjoy time with each other, and entertain.
One of the first farmhouses was built in Minnesota by Oliver Hudson Kelley, a native of Boston who moved to St. Paul in 1849 and learned farming by reading books. His “frame barn” was completed in 1865.
The farmhouse at the Oliver Kelley Farm in Sherburne County, MN, was built in 1865. Kelley moved from Boston to St. Paul and learned to be a farmer (courtesy MNopedia.org).
The Balloon Frame Home
The homes became larger and better as families became more prosperous. However, not everyone could afford the expensive timber. Enter Chicago carpenter Augustine Taylor, whose balloon frame idea reduced housing costs by avoiding the use of heavy beams and posts. Taylor introduced 2x4s, 2x8s, and 2x10s that were nailed together to form joists and rafters.
His balloon construction idea caught on, and the resulting buildings were described as light, flexible, and tough. And when inexpensive nails were introduced in the 1880s, families found it less complicated to build and add to the functional homes.
A sketch of a farmhouse plan shows the diagram of a Balloon Frame construction (courtesy PBS.org).
So look around you and see if your neighbor’s home has that familiar inviting porch, the gable roof, and overall simple lines of the first farmhouses. You may be looking at an American classic!