Design Challenge: Boston Burbs, Modern Farmhouse Vibe meets Traditional 90’s Architecture.

Design Challenge

Design Challenge: Boston Burbs, Modern Farmhouse Vibe meets Traditional 90’s Architecture.

Let’s just say, they were looking each other up and down and saying: “Um, no…I don’t think so”

As I recall, our initial conversation with the clients back in 2018 started something like this: “Hello, I’m not sure if I can even afford this, but would it even be possible to take a traditional home and make it into a modern farmhouse?”

Similar to most other real estate stories, they had wanted to purchase a brand new Modern Farmhouse style home complete with black metal roofing, gooseneck lighting fixtures, and of course, lots of shiplap. The only issue, it would need to be completed more quickly to meet their timeline.  Alas, a gorgeous albeit aging traditional home on a large property became available.  As with many real estate decisions in New England, they decided to jump on it and just make the improvements with their dream farmhouse style in mind. 

After almost five years of making furniture purchases and decorating some of the kid’s rooms to reflect this style, there was a dead stop as they realized that the more public areas of the home would need some professional intervention.

Fast forward to 2023, we were tasked with updating the office/library area. For them, the last straw was during the COVID pandemic and being at home with the whole family and golden retriever. This executive needed something more than the mish-mash of old furnishings that had become their office space.


The first step was to get a wishlist:  that is, of course, the easy part.

“I wish I had a beautiful built-in! And wouldn’t it be nice to have a rolling library ladder? I’ve always wanted one of those.”  

The client had this desk that they had fallen in love with and hoped we could incorporate it.  We also discussed window treatments or shades, a beautiful rug, and a chair or two for kids or spouses to have a seat when inquiring the occupant for, well, you know…’Can you sign this paper? Can I have a playdate? What should we do for dinner?’


Along with the request for built in’s, the client commented: “One of those chairs needs to be super comfortable because I like to put my feet up when I need to read long reports.” Comfort seems to be a priority for most clients we work with, and we agree. Comfort is a must!

Next, we talked about the investment and agreed upon a starting point. When beginning a design, we always photograph the space from several angles, and measure walls, windows, doors, and any existing furnishings that are staying in the finished space.

multi switch panel

During our first design meetings, we showed several floor plans and iterations of the built-ins.  We finally agreed upon a desk placement that did not have windows behind the person sitting at the desk.  You can probably guess why; video meetings are now here to stay. A window behind distorts the person sitting in front of the computer making them look like a literal shadow.  Sunlight will also stream right onto the screen making it impossible to see. 

Instead, we placed the desk facing the built-in cabinet, putting the windows on the right.  Now their view is out at the beautiful backyard and the gorgeous builtin. There is also a small wall behind the desk that creates the perfect backdrop for Zoom meetings, featuring a painting and a plant that frames the area perfectly.  A glass pad was added under the chair so as not to damage the wood floor beneath, and an acrylic riser, wireless keyboard, and mouse were added to make the many hours spent on the computer less stressful on the neck and shoulders.


Now that the desk was in this position, window treatments, and shadings were not as necessary to control sunlight. In fact, the sunlight is welcomed. Since our client loves the millwork surrounding the bay window we all agreed that it would be nice to keep that area untouched. As of the writing of this blog, there is still an existing chair and ottoman in the space which actually looks very nice. As time allows, the chair that will ultimately go in that space will include a swivel function and a larger footprint for a true lounging experience.

The result: a tranquil hint to the farmhouse aesthetic that our clients had fallen in love with so many years ago now. White built-ins with matte black hardware and a black ladder are styled with treasures they have purchased on their travels, received as gifts, beloved books, and a few new items to create balance. Of particular interest are the baskets that are placed strategically to mask some smaller miscellaneous items. When they were delivered and styled our client commented, “Oh that’s cool, now it doesn’t look like a hot mess!” Files with printed labels are also stored neatly in the pullout file drawers.

The area rug has a lot of warm neutral colors in it and has a bit of poly-silk added to create softness and a hint of luster. It boasts an updated traditional design where the motifs are a bit larger in scale and farther apart than in the Persian-style rugs of old. 

Double French doors lead into this space from the formal living room creating a finished look to the formal area of the home. The whole family seems to gravitate toward this room, finding excuses to stop in. The bright, clean, simple aesthetic is only a nod to the modern farmhouse style that you see in the design shows but what we have found for our clients, is less is more, and quality over quantity is prudent and effective. (you can say that in an English accent, if you like, it’s more fun).


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