Everything you need to know about rustic design

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courtesy of Nicole Franzen

“Rustic” is used to describe everything from farmhouse decor to Tuscan-style grounds, so what does that really mean? Do you need to live in a legitimate log cabin to be considered rustic, or can one word apply so generously to so many different design styles? It’s definitely the latter, but there are several components you need to get something to be precisely rustic. Here is what is going on.


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Rustic is an encompassing term for many different design styles.

The term rustic is quite wide, but many different design styles can actually fall into it. In its most basic definition, rustic describes a natural, rough, distressed, and relaxed design, so there are many styles – each radically different from one another – that can be rustic. Some include Tuscany, the coast, the chalet, or what you might traditionally think of as a rustic lodge.

“Side tables, side chairs and logs are my must-haves for a rustic touch.”

It emphasizes the natural.

One of the defining characteristics of a rustic home, whether cottage or coastal, is the use of natural materials. This means a lot of wood and stone (both in furniture and on ceilings / walls), and fabrics like burlap and canvas. “Rustic design, at its core, is the use of organic elements in their most natural state,” says interior designer Katie Hodges. The design is simple, natural and gives off an earthy feel. Raw materials are also common, so rather than finding a sleek, shiny burl wood, you’ll find more reclaimed and unfinished woods and stones.

Bedroom, Furniture, Interior design, Deer antlers, Dining room, Wall, Table, Branch, Horn, Wallpaper,

Guillaume Abranowicz

Modern is totally off.

Like, totally totally off. You won’t find modern furniture or flashy geometric lighting (obvi), but you will also find a lack of modern materials, such as metal, plastic or man-made fibers. Again, naturalness is the key.

Contemporary rustic, however, is experiencing a moment right now, where earthy elements of rustic style are combined with clean-lined modern design for a fresh, light and grounded aesthetic. Rustic decor on its own tends to be heavier, darker, and less sparse, so the fusion of the two styles produces something light and open, but still very natural. Think of the Cullens’ house in dusk and you are there. “Side tables, side chairs, and logs are my must-haves for a touch of rustic without going all the way in that design direction,” Hodges said.

mid century leather sling chair

Nelson hancock

Rustic furniture is handmade.

In keeping with the natural theme, the rustic furniture is handmade. It’s generally simple in design and shape, letting the materials stand out instead. The furniture is generally oversized (minimalism is not the word here) and is designed to be comfortable, easy and comfortable. Heavy wood furniture, made from raw logs, planks and stone are common.

The color scheme is, as you would expect, natural.

But are you really surprised? The color palette swings strongly towards neutral, but there is room for boldness, as long as it stays in earthy tones. Greens, browns, and grays are common and promote warmth, so they don’t look too cold and stark.



It gets a little gritty.

Rustic furniture and fabrics have a bit of roughness. The design is never perfect, as it is largely made from raw wood and stone, so it feels a bit undone. A variety of shapes, textures and colors from natural materials ensures that the pieces are unique and not cookie-cutter. You want to feel like your materials have been a bit rough from the elements, so you’ll often find reclaimed lumber or driftwood. As for textiles, you will never find anything shiny, but rather more raw fabrics like jute or animal skins.

Bedroom, Furniture, Living room, Fireplace, Interior design, Property, Foyer, Building, Wall, House,

Courtesy of Erin Gates Design

See more at Erin Gates Design.

The rustic design is warm and inviting.

Much like with the warm color palette, the design seeks to create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. An oversized fireplace will often be the centerpiece of a living room, and while everything is a bit raw, the warm colors, texture in the form of baskets or woven rugs, and natural textiles make it especially warm.

But you don’t have to be completely rustic to get that warm vibe. “The best designs are those with an element of surprise,” says Hodges. “Rustic elements can be incorporated into any design style, as long as they are calculated and well measured.”


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