For many years, the urban loft and well-appointed apartment has either been a steel and chrome modern masterpiece or a classically designed throwback to the mid-20th century. However, more urban dwellers are looking to reconnect with the natural world and are discovering such decidedly country pastimes as raising chickens, farming on a small scale, and yes, even hunting. The New York Times reported not too long ago the story of a Virginia man whose locavore (a person interested in eating food that is locally produced )deer hunting classes have been filling up with New Yorkers and Washington DC residents who are expressing a desire to feel closer to their food and more involved in where it comes from. With the rise of such decidedly rural trends and hobbies, it is no surprise that design has followed suit in more of a pastoral direction. Urban dwellers are now looking for interiors that convey a connection to the rural world, yet still maintain an urban sense of sophistication and sensibility.
Some young designers have interpreted this new urban rustic style in cheeky and ironic ways, overusing animal motifs and deer antlers. However, most sophisticated urban rustics eschew such flash-in-the-pan, and – dare I say it – hipster, designs as a passing trend doomed to the dustbin of design history. For most, urban rustic design is not about slapping a pair of deer antlers on their dinner table, but about combining both the urban and rural sensibilities to create homes that are innovative, warm and inviting.
A wonderful example of a designer who ‘gets’ this trend is Frank Michels. Michels is a Luxembourg-born designer who attended Berlin University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Product Design at The University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam in 2010. Even though he’s a young designer, he’s studied under Hermann A. Weizenegger, volunteered to help preserve historic monuments in Italy and has studied at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. His furniture series “Rustical x Industrial” is a perfect example of rustic design translated to an urban setting. In using products historically associated with rustic farm style design and combining them with modern and minimalist urban design sensibilities, Michels has created pieces that perfectly capture the essence of rustic urban design. Two of my favorite examples are the side table “Soot” that unexpectedly combines curved table legs with a decidedly modern top, and the “Axis Mundi,” an antique looking clothing rack with a circular wooden tray with molded edges and a modern, almost industrial looking concrete base (seen above).
While not many would be able to afford Michel’s designs, even if they were for sale, there are themes from his work that can easily be gleaned and incorporated into the modern urban rustic interior. Side tables made from reclaimed materials that combine curvy and antiquated forms juxtaposed with modern and sleek lines are common in this new art form, and can be found in many avant-garde design show rooms. Objects constructed with unexpected materials are a key part of the urban rustic aesthetic; for example, one might find a farmhouse table top with brushed steel legs, or a modern kitchen with antique light fixtures hanging like jewels from the ceiling, adding a sense of warmth and nostalgia to a sophisticated and modern room.
One of the great things about new, emerging forms of design is their open nature; since their “rules” have not yet solidified, they offer abundant opportunities for creative experimentation. To this end, rustic urbanism is an exciting opportunity to blend the efficiency of modern industrialism with the calming beauty of the countryside – and, best of all, to have fun while doing so!
About the Author
Steve Shapiro is the owner of the eRoomService Modern Furniture Showroom. He has decades of experience in the interior design industry, and specializes in contemporary European furnishings. He lives in Bensalem, PA.