[Book Review] Farmhouse Revival and the Rural Aesthetic

Posted on: March 29th, 2013 by David Weible 5 Comments

Farmhouse Revival cover. Credit: Steve Gross and Susan Daley, Farmhouse Revival, Abrams © 2013

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.

Farmhouse Revival. Credit: Steve Gross and Susan Daley, Farmhouse Revival, Abrams © 2013

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.

Farmhouse Revival. Credit: Steve Gross and Susan Daley, Farmhouse Revival, Abrams © 2013

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.

Farmhouse Revival. Credit: Steve Gross and Susan Daley, Farmhouse Revival, Abrams © 2013

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
Price: $40
Release: April, 9, 2013

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

David Weible

David Weible

David Weible is a content specialist for the National Trust, previously with Preservation magazine. He came to D.C. from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

Architecture, Preservation Magazine

5 Responses

  1. Dennis Cass

    March 31, 2013

    While no two are exactly alike, there are similarities I’ve observed in farmhouses in upstate New York. It was common for farmhouses to have two front doors – one leading to the dining room, the other to the parlor, sometimes referred to as the ‘coffin door’. There was always a small bedroom on the first floor, usually off the parlor (for invalids? or guests? or childbirth?)It was also common to find a wide landing at the top of the stairs, large enough for a bed, but not an actual bedroom (again, for guests?) These peculiar but consistent architectural features give an insight into 19th century life.

  2. Mary Lou Nahas

    April 1, 2013

    Beautiful places; beautiful photos

  3. Annette Stewart

    April 3, 2013

    We own a 4 generation farm and house. House was built in early 1900’s, first house burnt in a fire. Farm was first deeded around 1835. We added an addition (great room and attached garage) to have more room. We incorporated the style to blend with the old. Is this still called preservation? It’s not really restored, like the original but the upstairs is still “original”. How do you balance this?

  4. Sondra Singhurse

    April 18, 2013

    We also have a 5th generation farm. The original 1845 house was given to a young couple to move nearby and restore. My father built a 1934 Craftsman house for “his fiancee” (we still have the “blue” blueprints) the summer before they married. He also has built all of the buildings located today on his great-grandfather’s 1840’s land-grant grain farm. My brother was murdered in 1993; otherwise, he would have had this farm residential complex while farming. We had Dad’s 1935 original gambrel barn restored; the house is still today in excellent condition–better quality and construction than new houses today. We are considering someday in the future this as a gift to the NTHP since grandchildren do not want the house. Do more books–farm life is genuine living; pretension is impossible on a farm.

  5. Jean McKee

    April 18, 2013

    Looks like an interesting book. I live in the house and on a now small farm that has been in my family since 1732/3 — 7 generations and 9 generations in the town in CT. In WWII it was difficult to get farm help, so a local farmer was recruited to work the farm and we have continued that ever since. Just struggle with the deer invasion as the population in the town increases and the deer have no place to go. The added adventure is having many “long lost cousins” turn up each year searching their ancestors.