Few things are more identifiable to the American soul than the farmhouse. At a time when more Americans are living in cities than ever before -- and possibly because of that -- the aesthetic beauty and the overall concept of the American farmhouse still resonates deeply within the nation’s consciousness.
With Farmhouse Revival, authors and photographers Steve Gross and Susan Daley tap into our connection with these places, highlighting 20 restored farmsteads from Saddlebow Farm in Vermont’s Green Mountains, to Sylvester Manor on New York’s Shelter Island (which will be featured in our upcoming Spring issue of Preservation).
No two houses are alike. With no set rules on what constitutes a farmhouse beyond its location and purpose, these abodes run the gamut of architectural styles from Georgian manors to Colonial homesteads (sometimes within a single structure) while their interiors range from the most basic and cozy to the near-luxurious. Beyond keeping things interesting, the variety demonstrates that these farmhouses -- seldom designed by architects -- reflect not only the time period in which they were built, but also the community that surrounded them.
But Farmhouse Revival isn’t bogged down by stagnant images of the past. Instead, it highlights the special attributes each house has obtained to fit the needs of each successive owner, the philosophy behind its restoration, and what new purpose each serves or old usage it symbolizes as time marches forward. There is also a focus on how the new and the old coexist and compliment one another, striking the balance between historic and modern; true to history and yet still livable.
The owners themselves, both old and new, are important to each farmstead’s story as we learn of how each found their way to their house, or how sometimes the house found its way to them. But more than just the dwellings themselves, Gross and Daley manage to cover all elements of the farmstead, including old gambrel-roofed barns, chicken coops, smoke houses, and windmills that continue to serve their old purposes in efforts like sheep farming, or have been repurposed as design studios or community dining spaces.
No detail escapes the notice of the authors. The focus on personal elements like the pewter mug collections, hand-woven rugs, Moroccan pottery, and old woodworking tools adds another element to the story of these places, making the book less an exploration of architecture, and more the story of the American farmer through the ages -- a discussion about who he was, who he is, and the values and aesthetics that transcend time and progress.
Gross and Daley balance the physical details of these intricate places with the story of their humanity, weaving a light but engaging tale of how each came to be and the satisfaction their restoration and maintenance has given their owners. Though the photos are expertly taken, each house maintains its genuine lived-in quality. Nothing feels staged or contrived.
But above all, the greatest joy is just looking at the beautiful time-worn places and appreciating the way those that came before led a happy and fulfilling life of simplicity and utility within their walls.
If you’re a city dweller, Farmhouse Revival may just leave you with angst for the country, and a more simplistic life in your own farmhouse. For once you have read this book, you will realize that in many ways, it is the farmhouse that helps to restore us, and not the other way around.
Title: Farmhouse Revival
Publisher: Abrams Books
Release: April, 9, 2013