Monday, January 25, 2010

A Closer Look: Randy Florke's Farmhouse Style



In my last post about rainy day reading, I used two images from the New York City apartment home of Randy Florke. You may recognize his name from his contributions to Country Living magazine. In addition to being a designer, Florke is also an author, real estate broker and home designer/builder/renovator. I'm not at all surprised that I inadvertently featured two of his spaces because I have always been drawn to his farmhouse-in-the-city aesthetic. These first several photos are from the apartment he shares with his partner and their three children. While not your typical farmhouse by location, this home exudes the kind of casual, put your feet up living one would expect from an old-fashioned country home but with a modern sensibility and even luxurious use of fabrics and accessories. Look closely and you'll see that this home is as welcoming and family-friendly as it is beautifully put together.


The photo above is from a feature in Country Living magazine published a few years ago. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it looks completely different now—most designers don't leave things alone for long—but these rooms have the timeless appeal that Florke brings to all of his work. No unfortunate, dated trends are apparent. Classical elements and antiques mix freely with thrifted and reclaimed utilitarian objects and furnishings. Florke does tend to use fresh, new fabrics; mixing and matching patterns with abandon. There is always an underlying harmony though, as in this living/dining room dominated by glowing yellow gold. The creamy painted walls and crisp white woodwork provide a soothing, orderly backdrop for the other colors and patterns used throughout the space.

In the detail at the top of this post, you see the tray on one of the living room's tufted, checked ottomans, above. On it, Florke has gathered a collection of silver tea and coffee pots, left charmingly tarnished, and filled them with flowers and berries. That's just one of the ways in which he creates his own brand of farmhouse style—by using fine and classical elements in a casual manner. In his home, silver serveware, gilt-framed artwork and silk drapes live side by side with cotton tickings, chippy paint finishes and folk art. One more word about those twin ottomans : two smaller ottomans instead of one large was a very smart choice. The designer has achieved the look and function of a large surface but with much greater flexibility for this modest space. For a party or larger than usual gathering, those two ottomans can be pulled apart and repositioned as extra seating while a single large ottoman would be difficult to reposition.


Custom bookcases with the look of built-ins flank the living room fireplace. Above, in the unit to the right of the fireplace, a collection of rustic, painted stools is displayed in a way that lends a sense of importance and value. Raised in Iowa, Florke brings a Midwestern sensibility and appreciation of simple things to his decor choices. The beadboard cabinets with backs painted a sunny yellow are as homey as can be and yet the arrangement of objects within them is quite sophisticated. Country dressed up for the city.


In this modest-sized apartment, the dining and living areas share the same space. You can just see the dining table and chairs in the whole room photo two pics up. 19th century Swedish chairs surround a nothing special oak table that's been dressed in a floor length cloth—proof that a clever disguise can dramatically improve the appearance of a less than perfect piece. The large painting on the wall, left unframed, says Florke, so it wouldn't seem "too important", is a much better choice for this space than a collection of smaller items or artwork. Having a single item to focus on, especially one that is so beautifully calming with its soft colors that flow right into the room, expands the space and is a more contemporary touch that situates the room firmly in this century.


Another contemporary detail : the sleek swing-arm lamps that flank the mantel. Leaving the mantel itself free from the clutter of more objects was also an important choice. The scroll work on the fire screen, topiaries in what look to be concrete garden urns, and single large painting are all the decoration this area needs. It's a nice break that allows the eyes to rest between the two bookcases brimming with shapes and colors.


In this corner of the living room—see the colorful stools of the bookcase arrangement reflected in the mirror?—a rustic chest does triple-duty as an end table, bar and long term storage space. (Quadruple duty if you count the space-saving ipod dock and speaker system that's so small it wouldn't have to live here full time)


On the wall opposite the other set of bookcases and near the dining area, is a large French mirror that serves to expand the space and light in the room. If you look closely at the photo above and the three that preceded it, you'll see an element that repeats throughout this space. The amber glass tableware, barware and junk-store lamp add a warm glow to the room that was very intentional. Textiles too add to the warmth. From the vintage patterns on the area rugs to the more subdued stripes and checks on the furniture and windows, all of Florke's choices for this space add a familiarity and homey quality that I'm sure make both occupants and visitors feel instantly at home.


In the master bedroom, the dominate color scheme changes from warm yellows to a mix of soft grey-greens. This room feels much cooler and quieter than the main living space. Patterns are subtle mixes of green and cream. Decorative objects are kept to a minimum—except where they can be contained within bookcases and what appears to be an antique sideboard and hutch to the left of the bed. Again, the fireplace mantel is left bare while a single large mirror fills the wall space above. It appears also as if the designer has used the very same swing arm lamp in this room as those seen in the living room. Such continuity in decorative elements throughout the rooms of a small home give the viewer a sense of expanded space, just as repeated color schemes and architectural elements and hardware will do. A patternless seagrass rug brings a sense of simplicity and calm to this room that likely also serves as a daytime getaway for busy parents.


In this tiny bedroom shared by young sisters, below, decorations are again kept to a minimum but the space doesn't feel spare at all. Tight upholstery lends a clean, contemporary feel to the gingham-checked beds that must feel like snug little cocoons. I wish there was more to see here. Fitting all the belongings of two little girls into what appears to be a very tight space was, I'm sure, quite a challenge even for this very accomplished designer.


Only one photo of the kitchen appeared in the article too—a tight shot of the sink area, below. Even still, there's an awful lot of that country-in-the-city look going on. Two-tone, beadboard-faced cabinetry is a look straight from the heartland. Countrified accessories like the chalkboard, canister and spice mills look right at home next to the clean lines of the glass fruit bowl. Items like the clock and box of wheatgrass on the windowsill could go either way—country or modern—while the glass tile backsplash and solid surface countertop bring on the contemporary in both function and appearance. Add in that great view of the adjacent building and you know you're a long way from the farm.


Step into this bathroom though, close the door behind you, and you just might forget where you are. The industrial storage cart does bring an edge to this otherwise country-inspired space, but nothing about this room says modern day New York City. The apartment is in a building built in 1928. I wonder how many authentic elements remain in this little space—or if the clever designer simply remodeled with authenticity in mind.


Wearing his realtor/broker hat, Randy Florke is the owner of The Rural Connection, a company that specializes in locating homes for city buyers who want to spend their weekends in the country. The company is located in Sullivan County in upstate New York, a place Florke knows well and values for its quiet tranquility and natural beauty. That it's close enough to the city to make day and weekend trips easy is the big bonus for homeowners. The Rural Connection offers a variety of properties from humble farmhouses like the one below with the Delaware River in its backyard, to estates on large acreage and land parcels waiting for a builder.


For buyers looking to build their own, Florke advocates modular homes as the new solution to obtaining an old-house look. Through his partnership with the company New World Home, he implements sustainable and green technologies to design and build modular homes that look like the Cape, Greek Revival and Federal farmhouses of the nineteenth century but work with modern-day efficiency.


The homes are factory-built, delivered to the site in modular units, then finished with classically inspired details like covered porches and wide-planked wood floors. The interiors of one of his modular houses, below, was decorated with Florke's winning combination of salvaged items, reupholstered vintage furniture and contemporary art.


Pics above and below show the front exterior of the home plus two views of the living room. (You can click on these pics, and some of the others, to open up larger views.)


Randy Florke's decorating style can be explored more thoroughly in his book "Your House, Your Home". Published in 2005 by Country Living, the book features ideas from Randy's own homes in Iowa, Harlem, Sullivan County and New York City. He refers to his beautiful and affordable heartland aesthetic as the "anti keeping up with the Joneses". It's a great book for anyone who finds the farmhouse look appealing but is also a source of inspiration if you wish to learn how to mix fine with found for an eclectic, individual look that is yours alone. On the book's cover, below, you can see the author standing in the entry area of the NYC apartment I have featured in this post. Notice the half wall and column he's leaning against? That's another space-expanding idea that is both modern in concept but has been treated here with the farmhouse elements of painted beadboard and simple forms.


A new book is due from Florke in May of this year. It appears that "Restore, Recycle, Repurpose" will bring even more focus to this designer's desire to live beautifully but sustainably. From the publisher : "Providing inspiration as well as instruction, Florke shows how everyone can achieve a look that’s both harmonious with the environment and beautiful... Anyone hoping to transform a home from ordinary to extraordinary will find eco-friendly, thrifty, and stylish ideas... Comfort, style, and economy are the bellwether elements of his approach to decorating." As much as I love his first book, this one is a "must buy" for me.

On its website and in its newest catalogs, Pottery Barn has proclaimed that farmhouse style is "what's new for spring". Those of us who love farmhouse and cottage couldn't be happier. Melissa and Carol both gushed over the new catalog and Jessica recently showed us some wonderful pics of modern-day farmhouse interiors. Their commenters were every bit as enthusiastic about this "new" version of the timeless look of American farmhouses. And I'm so happy to be "in style" myself for a while!


Now, I can't speak for Randy Florke, but I would have to imagine that he would not want us to shop exclusively at Pottery Barn (if at all) for our farmhouse decor. But if you don't have time to run off to the flea market every weekend or pop in and out of second-hand shops in search of "the thing", I think it would be perfectly fine to add a few of PB's new pieces to your collection of farmhouse finds. I already added a pillow to mine. And I'll probably go back for something more. Ssshhhhh! Don't tell Randy!


All images from countryliving.com and theruralconnection.com except the last from potterybarn.com

7 comments:

Maria Killam said...

Thanks for sharing this great talent with us!

Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions said...

I love that living room! I could be quite comfortable there!

SogniSorrisi said...

What wonderful photos!

Struggler said...

Fascinating - I really don't go for country style and I admit to rolling my eyes when I saw the latest Pottery Barn catalog, BUT, I really like the spaces here so perhaps (for me at least), the citi-fication (?!) of the style is key.
And those modular homes are quite incredible!
Thanks, I will look out for Randy's name in my online and offline browsing!

Linda at Lime in the Coconut! said...

We sold an old 4 story farmhouse in Sullivan County....I even called him to come take a look at it, but it sold before he had a chance to list it. I was perusing his rural connection site last year and saw our old house....for sale again...It looked beautiful. I really miss it! Sullivan County is a BEAUTIFUL corner of the world!

HMCraig said...

The large painting of the countryside in the dining room is beautiful in it's natural casualness. A wonderful choice.

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