For centuries, the kitchen has been considered the heart of the home. Eating a meal together has long been seen as a source of quality time for families and friends, and of course the kitchen is where those meals are prepared. Since cooking requires a source of heat, the kitchen is where the stove was placed, and before modern conveniences like central heating, it was the warmest room in the house — in some climates, people would sleep in the kitchen during winter, and still do in some parts of the world. Even later in history when homes grew larger, heating became easier, fireplaces became a luxury rather than a necessity, and the concept of a dining room began to split off as a separate space, the kitchen remained the most important room of the house. After all, no matter how home design changes and technology advances, people still need to eat.
The storied history of kitchens means that to this day they can evoke a lot of feelings. While some people prefer a slick, contemporary look for their kitchen, others desire a rustic style because they feel it increases the cozy, comforting, and “home-y” aspects of the kitchen as a room that plays a central role in life. Others prefer a rustic look because they feel that a contemporary style feels too sterile or industrial, making them feel like they’re working in a restaurant. Some people enjoy a rustic kitchen because the style makes them feel more connected with the legacy of what kitchens have meant to people throughout history. And some simply like the look because, well, they like it!
Whatever your reasons, if you’re interested in decorating your kitchen in rustic style, this article will help you achieve that goal.
How To Decorate Your Kitchen in Rustic Style
So, what exactly is “rustic?” The word comes from the Latin “rusticus,” meaning “the country.” The modern English language’s meaning of “rustic” is about the same: it refers to things originating from or appropriate for rural areas (as opposed to urban), and has connotations of simplicity and durability. Old-fashioned things needed to last a long time as they could be difficult or time-consuming to replace, so it’s easy to see how this association was formed.
The key to decorating your kitchen in rustic style is to understand what actually makes decor look rustic. You can look for inspiration online, but you still need a basic grasp of what “rustic” really is so you don’t unintentionally end up with decor that’s only “semi-rustic” or “rustic-inspired.” (If that’s what you’re looking for, that’s fine too, but you should be able to tell the difference so you can make informed decisions.) Don’t worry, it’s easier than it might sound!
Tips and Ideas for a Rustic Kitchen
The best way to decorate a kitchen in a rustic style is to start thinking of images, colors and adjectives that come to mind when you are picturing the countryside. When they think rustic, most people imagine a quiet, clean, cozy, and warm atmosphere filled with the smell of freshly baked bread. Let’s look at some tips and guidelines that will help you achieve this atmosphere while still building an up-to-date and convenient kitchen.
Traits of Rustic Kitchen Decor
Natural wood is absolutely essential for a rustic kitchen, and a kitchen cannot properly be called “rustic” if it doesn’t have natural wood. That’s not to say the entire kitchen has to be made from rough wood, but you at least need some natural wood elements throughout the room. Enough natural wood can make such a difference that your kitchen could have smooth, white walls and still look rustic. Since most of your wall space is going to be filled with cabinets or shelving anyway, you can use those to fill your kitchen with the look of natural wood and leave your walls painted with a warm white or light grey. If you have the budget, you could also cover your exposed wall space with faux logs to resemble a log cabin, but with enough texture everywhere else, you don’t have to. A polished wooden floor will also make a big difference.
Stone is the perfect complement to natural wood, and stone elements can be either large or small depending on your tastes. The splashback is a great place to use stone — imagine small to medium-sized rocks of varying shapes mortared together like you might see on a traditional fireplace, and you have the right idea. Similar stone treatment can be applied to the walls to simulate more masonry throughout the kitchen, and can be used for the floor as well.
Your countertops will make a big difference too. Countertops made from large, natural pieces of wood, complete with the occasional knothole and uneven edges, definitely look rustic. For wooden countertops like these, usually only the top is smoothed to provide a work surface while leaving the edges rougher and the general shape more natural. Rustic stone countertops use rich, heavy-looking stone like granite, slate, or soapstone and can also have unfinished edges — although even with a smooth and polished edge, the grains and colors patterning the stone still look rustic enough.
For colors, you want warm tones, including earth tones like orange, yellow, or brown, and warm neutrals like beige, white, eggshell, or light grey. All colors should be muted (not bright or bold). Also think about colors that remind you of nature or food — a dark apple red, a soothing buttermilk, the relaxed orange of pumpkins and squashes, the subtle spice of cinnamon; you get the idea! Even a subtle blue or green can work well as long as it doesn’t clash. Just remember to stick with muted colors because everything needs to look natural and a little aged even if it’s brand new.
Your cabinetry should be a basic, simple style without ostentatious decoration, with Shaker cabinets being a good example. The finish should resemble natural wood and be on the warm side, such as Ginger Deluxe. Sand is a bit cooler, but would work well too. An alternative is to use your cabinets as an opportunity to introduce some additional color, such as chocolate, blue, or even white, and you can use a different color for your base cabinets than your wall cabinets if you’re afraid that too much of one color will dominate the room. If you have room for it alongside your cabinets, open shelving also looks extremely rustic and is worth considering.
Perhaps surprisingly, stainless steel appliances are the most common option for a rustic kitchen, as opposed to trying to find anything with an old-fashioned look. Metal has been used for almost as long in history as wood and stone, and the appearance of stainless steel will gently offset the rest of the room without taking away from it (so maybe it’s not that surprising after all).
Other decor can include cast-iron skillets and pans hung from hooks, on a wall or under a cabinet, and/or copper cookware displayed similarly. Handmade glazed pottery can be both useful and durable and looks great on your open shelving. You could also choose a farm sink as your kitchen sink to really drive the rustic style home.
Things to Avoid in a Rustic Kitchen
To keep your kitchen rustic, avoid anything modern or contemporary other than the stainless steel appliances. Avoid bold or bright colors, obvious plastic and vinyl, current trends, manufactured materials like Lucite and laminate, highly polished finishes, and delicate or complex decoration. If it looks like it was made in a factory or you can only imagine a “rich person” being able to afford it out in the country, it’s not appropriate for the rustic look.
Of course, this is a 21st-century kitchen, and you’re not going to be able to avoid using modern items to some extent (unless you’re really dedicated to a rustic lifestyle and not just the look itself). But there are ways to hide contemporary items or at least make them less out of place.
Hiding Appliances and Other Contemporary Items
Stainless steel will blend decently with a rustic design, so you don’t have to worry too much about your oven and refrigerator. You should also pick your stovetop based on efficiency and safety rather than looks, so consider that unavoidable. You will be able to find one that looks fitting even if it’s current technology.
The microwave can be hidden completely inside a cabinet, as long as you ensure that you purchase one that’s designed to be enclosed in this way. Microwave cabinets come in different types including wall cabinets, base cabinets, and as part of larger oven cabinets.
Having a place for everything also helps. For example, wine bottles can be hidden by tucking them away in cubbies or wine storage cabinets. An appliance garage provides a hiding place for small appliances like mixers and toasters if you feel it would be too inconvenient to keep them inside another cabinet.
Plain styles of straight molding can be used to hide fluorescent light bulbs from sight while still allowing their light to adequately illuminate the kitchen. This works particularly well for lights installed around the edges of the ceiling and beneath the range hood.
Finally, don’t neglect light switches and power outlets — plain plastic ones will break the illusion! You can find a huge assortment of custom switchplates out there, including everything from plain faux wood to cozy designs. Try looking on Etsy or a similar marketplace for handmade items.
Flexibility in Rustic Styles
Many more defined styles have a rustic feel to them, including Tuscan, Farmhouse, Mediterranean, Western and Southwestern, Cottagecore, Coastal, and others. If you want a rustic style but feel that “plain rustic” is lacking some of the specific character you prefer, you can look into these styles as a starting point. You may decide that Southwestern is more appropriate for a rustic Texas home or decide to go with Coastal if you live near the beach. This can make your home feel more connected to your surroundings if that’s important to you. Ultimately, it’s your decision!
Ready to Decorate Your Kitchen in Rustic Style?
With this guide as your introduction, it’s time to start planning your rustic kitchen. Online searches and home magazines can provide a lot of inspiration as you decide what rustic elements you want to bring into your home, and what you personally dislike. It’s crucial to have a solid idea of your budget and to understand how many things you may need to replace — for example, if you already own some furniture, it might not work for your rustic decor unless it’s heavy, solid wood.
Decide whether you want to focus on a specific rustic style like Farmhouse or if you’d prefer to “keep it simple” and just go with natural wood and stone to achieve a more “general” rustic look. It’s completely up to you, and once you understand the concept of “rustic” well enough, you’ll find you have a lot of freedom. What’s most important is that your kitchen is safe, easy to move around in, and feels to you like a place you can call home.