The Right Way to Do Rustic

The rustic look continues to be popular, adding warmth, texture, and dimension to both modern and traditional spaces through a variety of elements. But as with any specific style, there are tricks to successfully incorporating aspects of it into the home. For pointers on how to achieve a chic rustic aesthetic, we asked Charlottesville, Virginia-based architect Adams Sutphin, whose projects include converting barns to classic living spaces, for some expert advice. Here are his recommendations.

Select elements that will stand the test of time. Sutphin readily admits it’s hard to see into the future, but to avoid creating a look you’ll soon tire of he recommends picking simple rustic elements and taking cues from the existing materials in a house when selecting accents. For example, in the house featured above, he used natural wood on sliding doors to contrast with the painted wood walls and tie back visually and materially to the wood ceiling in the main room. He also added natural wood beams in the living room to add color and interest. Also, think about whether an element actually makes sense in a space; while a sliding barn door will feel right at home in a converted barn project, it might not be the best fit for a different setting.

Be mindful of your color palette. “‘Rustic’ doesn’t have to mean brown everything,” Sutphin says, adding, “Keeping the colors light is certainly a way to bring some sophistication to a non-formal look.” In his recent barn-to-guesthouse project (featured above), for example, interior designer Melanie Zink worked with the owner to create a fresh, casual look with colors and materials that did not weigh down the rooms. Another way to prevent a space from feeling too heavy, Sutphin says, is having a keen eye for editing.

Keep things consistent. “Choose a direction, and make all the decisions based on the previous decision,” Sutphin says about how to tackle transforming a space. Another important consideration is balance; every aspect of the room shouldn’t feel like it’s competing for attention. “One element can make a space special, and some things need to be supportive players, not the star.”

Find fixtures and finishes that complement the look. When it comes to picking fixtures and finishes, be mindful of the effect your choices will have on the overall room. “Paired with a light countertop, oil-rubbed bronze can look modern, clean, and crisp. Conversely, with darker cabinets and counters it can look very rustic or substantial,” says Sutphin, who recommends nickel and brass as classic options that will pair well with a lighter palette. When in doubt, follow Sutphin’s lead and opt for something simple; avoid ambitious tile choices, which can quickly look dated, and instead choose elements that will give a space a sense of calm.

TSG Tip 250 from Adams Sutphin of Sutphin Architecture in Charlottesville, Virginia. Featured images of barn converted to guest house designed by and courtesy of Adams Sutphin.