The rustic design that is popular today originated in the last part of the 19th Century and hit it’s stride over the next twenty years. It started in the “Great Camps” of the Adirondacks and spread to the American West with the railroads. Great Camp style and Western High Mountain style are our favorites and of course we have developed our own take on them, as you would suspect. Any or all of the following categories may help create the balance you desire in your rustic décor.
Hickory Sapling: Sturdy and functional, this style is the gold standard of contemporary rustic design. Originating from Indiana in the late 1800s, this furniture quickly caught hold and began being shipped throughout the United States from the Adirondacks to the Rocky Mountains. Original pieces are still found in many of the Adirondack great camps and Western lodges. Hickory’s deeply furrowed bark gives it added depth and character, and the wood’s superior strength allows the furniture to have a relatively small scale, facilitating its use in rather sophisticated designs. These pieces, although rustic, can be very refined.
Art and Crafts: Practical, utilitarian designs dominate this style, and the movement’s timing, concept and availability made it a natural for early retreats. Although large Arts and Crafts pieces weigh enough to visually anchor a room, the most popular pieces are probably small quarter-sawn oak tables and Morris chairs. The square and precise lines of this furniture highlight the naturally imperfect lines of nature seen in its more rustic counterparts. The more Arts and Crafts pieces you employ, the less rustic your décor.
Applied Bark and Mosaic Twig: This style is achieved by covering a case good with sheets of bark that then become the backdrop for decorative split twigs. The bark is usually birch, and its depth of color, -white, silver, gray and pink, all reminiscent of clouds-is truly outstanding. Always made by artisans, these pieces are used as focal points to accentuate the beauty of nature. It is almost impossible to look at these pieces and not think about the craftsmanship and vision involved in their manufacture. These furnishings are very sophisticated and at the same time, very rustic.
Wicker: Light, sturdy and durable, this furniture style has always been associated with relaxation. Traditionally found on the porch or as “pull-up” chairs in a relaxed interior, this category provides a pleasing texture and a softness that is very symbiotic with its more substantial counterparts. Wicker also provides an opportunity to introduce color, usually needed in traditional rustic settings, but too much can undermine a retreat’s feeling of permanence and tone down the décor’s rustic quality.
Primary-Residence Discards: These special pieces are essential for a lived-in feel but should be used sparingly to avoid and attic-like effect. They should be informal in style, finish and purpose. Examples of good selections include worn upholstery, casual case goods, worn hooked rugs and utilitarian stools, benches and chairs. Natural-colored leathers on upholstery are very desirable, and tartan fabrics, because of their hunting heritage, also blend nicely. “Tea-stained” fabrics and the floral textiles popular in the 1940s are also great.
Combining pieces from these furniture groups creates a very relaxed and inviting setting, and the stylistic interplay of these groups is historically accurate to the hunting and fishing camps that were so prevalent during the early part of the last century. There are also a few major accessories worth mentioning, such a Native American-style trade blankets. Used primarily during fall and winter, these add a look and feel that enhance the synergy of a rustic furniture mix. Family photographs in rustic frames help create the family shrine that most retreats become, and these pictures tell the history of special times that have been shared over the years with family and friends. Hunting, fishing, boating, camping and canoeing memorabilia can be used to complete the look.