Rustic is the look of the past — and the future.
By Joyce Standridge I suppose the pleasure of country life lies really in the eternally renewed evidences of the determination to live,” Vita Sackville-West wrote in Country Notes, summing up the never-ending appeal of all things rural, including a style of decor called “Rustic.”
While a blanket definition of that term sometimes encompasses the log-home setting because of its homage to historical influence, homeowners understand that log can frame many different styles. To truly embrace Rustic as a decor is to understand that it is an appreciation for traditional charm found on frontiers, wind-swept prairies, mountain ranges or anywhere people fed hope for a better life.
Often, Country is expressed as a kitschy and slightly cluttered appreciation for the past, while kissing-cousin Rustic is expressed in leaner, cleaner lines. Country happened to our ancestors when they finally achieved a measure of success and stuffed the parlor to prove it to one and all. Rustic reminds us that most often the trailblazers brought little with them but then built much of what they needed from native material and used it until it was worn out. Western embraces creature materials (horns, antlers, etc.) and Native American influence, while Rustic brushes off the rougher edges and incorporates sepia or bleached tones. Shabby Chic often tends to be feminine and sweetly fussy, but Rustic prefers less gender identity. In fact, Rustic is much harder to identify because it overlaps and embraces bits and pieces of other styles to add interest.
Many of our ancestors had little in the way of frill or fancy. Every item they owned had function. In the 21st century, we are blessed to have less-labor-intensive lives, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what preceded us. For example, kerosene lamps, even rusty and not so well loved, speak to the past. Tin buckets holding a bundle of rushes or birch branches, or aged glass panels hung on the wall add charm long after they’ve been retired from their original roles.
Because our forebears did not have access to a wide palette of color finishes, their homes often featured natural wood. (Hello? Logs, anyone?) But sometimes they were able to utilize naturally occurring dyes to add interest. The result was often a monochromatic appearance. As finishes wore with time, age and use, the damaged areas were left unchecked. Today, decorators purposely sand through paint or stain to reveal some of the original material. For those who eschew the monochromatic while keeping a naturally colored background, it can be eye-catching to add splashes of color in bright hues. Dark greens, rich reds and vibrant turquoise are all favorites, as they tie into the naturalness while adding interest.
Rustic is not a look for those who love smoothly finished wood. Early settlers did not have sanders or grinders, or layers of lacquer finish. Rustic means unfinished edges on cabinetry, tables and picture frames. It can also mean bead board, which is more refined. When pushing westward, among the earliest materials ordered from back East was bead board, which still sets homes apart as well as it did over 100 years ago. There are other items that can add to the Rustic finish such as sisal rugs or exposed wood beams, or any number of items rescued from grandmother’s attic. In the end, though, Rustic is another way in which log-home aficionados capture and hold on to the past. Reflective and serene, Rustic is a style that beckons to all who appreciate the rural life.
Rustic decor is to log homes like peanut butter is to jelly. Classic, foolproof couplings. The most quintessential in their respective fields, but certainly not the only. The clean lines, bold colors and minimal fuss of modern decor might not immediately come to mind to pair with the proud tradition of logs, but as you see in this great room, the two come together quite deliciously.