Searching for the Ancestors of ‘Farm House Vintage’

All over internet-land, “farm house vintage” is a hot commodity, predominately of the Joanna Gaines Fixer Upper style imprint. So much so, that emulating the designs on the show has become big business, and the lodestar of home decorators the world over. To be clear, I don’t have any beef with the (presumably) very nice Joanna Gaines, or Fixer Upper or even the “farm house vintage” look. I actually like all of them well enough. But there are some ironies to it all that I feel compelled to point out. If you look, not even very hard, in Facebook groups, on blogs or on Pinterest (or presumably “Insta” which I don’t use, and likely newer social media platforms I’m not young/trendy enough to even know about) you will find people asking the question “how do I make my [insert furniture/accessory] look farm house vintage”?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and remind everyone they they did not look like a finished camera-ready Magnolia Homes showpiece. Sure, the bones of the look can be found in actual farm houses from the turn of the last century and the decades immediately following it – apron front porcelain sinks, subway tile in kitchens or hex tiles in bathrooms (once indoor plumbing finally arrived to the masses). But the crackle or worn wood finishes and the “shabby chic” that everyone so adores was a testament to a working class home – the necessity of making do with what one had, and not necessarily having the cash to hand (or the free time for that matter) to improve it.

I find myself wondering if the vintage farm wives of yore were asking themselves how to make sure the cracking paint finish of their 50 year old kitchen table wouldn’t chip into their children’s dinners. Farm wives (and I speak from the collective experience of being descended from a formidable one only a few generations back) were a proud lot that kept clean, tidy and comforting homes. They were most definitely concerned with keeping a nice house and having nice things. But they weren’t obsessed with it as a hobby or past time in the way that we seem to be in current times. And I would venture to say that most of them wanted to move forward and not back, as we do. They wanted furniture that gleamed, not chipped. They wanted the modern conveniences we take for granted today, like electricity and central heating.

We’ve reached this place as a society where we yearn for a simpler time, myself included. I think part of it is the crisis of choice – we live in a world where too much is never enough, and tomorrow there will be even more. So of course the appeal of a farm house in the valley, with a Hoosier cabinet with chipped white paint and a kitchen table made of barn wood because sawed lumber couldn’t be afforded, holds a lot of appeal. The internet is the other crisis of modern living. It’s a noble thing – connecting people the world over, and at our fingertips no less. But as I’ve mused on before, the connections are often basic, and usually not meaningful in any way that speaks to our souls. They’re superficial, and often times do more harm than good.

I use my Blue Willow china every day – my family eats off it for every meal. I was one of the “early adopters” of collecting milk glass, as a virtue of the fact that it’s what we always had, having grown up in farming communities for most of my life. I have vintage furniture in my house, and we sleep under a hand-stitched  compass star quilt made from  a complimentary selection of blue calicos. So yeah – I’m buying in too. But I do find it interesting that this is the space in which we find ourselves – seeking out the vintage and tumbledown; seeking with deep sincerity and hopeful hearts, a simpler time and pace. I wonder often if there’s a better way for us to find what we’re looking for, but I’m still not sure of the answer.