What is the Definition of Rustic Furniture?

I have recently been surprised at what some people categorize as rustic furniture. Fourteen years ago when I began in the rustic furniture business, my definition of rustic furniture was furniture made from hand peeled natural logs and then combined with wildlife carvings or natural antlers. I have lived in Michigan most of my life and the cabins and cottages I visited as a kid had traditional rustic furniture made from pine or cedar logs usually adorned with a primitive bear or pine tree carving. This style furniture was called Northwood’s style rustic furniture, and it could be found in cabins that dotted the Au Sable or Manistee Rivers or cottages on the west side of the state from Leelanau to Mackinaw City and back around the eastern side of the state from Rogers City to Alpena. Really, it was found throughout the state as it was ubiquitous and basically the only Midwestern style of rustic furniture at the time.

I have recently realized that what I feel qualifies as rustic furniture is not what the next generation may call rustic furniture. Recently, I was working in Woodland Creek Furniture’s showroom, and a customer came in looking for a unique rustic dining table. She specifically said “unique rustic dining table.” I showed her to an area of the store that had some very nice handcrafted barnwood and log dining tables. She said “no, not cabin furniture; I would like rustic furniture.” We walked around the store for a bit, and she stopped at a table that I would not have considered to be classified as rustic, but to her it was the perfect rustic table. The table had a traditional X trestle base design with a distressed solid wood top in a white wash finish. Yes, there was some distressing, but this was basically a table design that just twenty years ago would have been called “traditional”. We just enhanced the look by distressing it and giving it a twenty first century “urban chic” finish. This got me to thinking “maybe other people have a different definition of rustic furniture. The term rustic furniture is a broad term and maybe my definition was wrong. So what is the correct definition of rustic furniture?

Rustic furniture has been around since the first people came off the boats and landed on Plymouth rock and started pushing west. Yes, these early settlers may have had more refined furniture in their western European homes prior to departing, but they did not initially have the fancy equipment to produce this style so they fashioned furniture from logs, branches and whatever else they could find. The cities on the east coast grew as did the western settlements. Furniture styles changed, but an enduring love affair and respect for the rustic lifestyle remains. This is evidenced by the great lodges and camps built in the Adirondacks. Some lodges date back 150 years. These lodges and camps are full of handcrafted rustic furniture made in a distinct style now called “Adirondack furniture”. Adirondack style furniture was and continues to be made with real birch bark, twigs, and branches usually in designs have had incorporated arched doors or curved trim. Many people collect this style of rustic furniture. Prices for a handcrafted Adirondack style sideboard can range from $800 to $35,000 depending on the artisan who made it and the amount of detail.

Thomas Molesworth made a distinct style of western furniture using hides, natural wood and animal horns. He is credited with creating a style of furniture that is today called “cowboy furniture.” Molesworth operated the Shoshone Furniture Company from 1931 to 1961 in Cody, Wyoming. Mr. Molesworth’s furniture is also sought after, and original pieces bring some very high prices when they can be found.

A recent trend has been to recycle and utilize the weathered wood found on the thousands of barns that dot the back-roads of Midwestern America. These barns provided shelter to the animals and equipment that fed America while it was struggling to find its identity and economic engine. Tens of thousands of aging barns have wood that dates back 100 to 200 years. The wood exhibits the worn character of a maturing nation. Barnwood makes excellent furniture. The elements and oxidation give the wood a wonderful textured, aged patina. All the woodworking tricks in the world cannot replicate the look that Mother Nature slowly and methodically created over time. When salvaged barnwood is sanded and finished properly its character jumps out at you. Now take that “aged, weathered texture and combine it with refined moldings, copper panels, frosted glass, and milled mullions, and you have a distinct style of rustic furniture – or, its own recently coined category called “barn wood furniture”. Woodland Creek Furniture offers hundreds of barnwood designs including barnwood dining tables, barnwood coffee tables, barnwood sideboards, barnwood console tables, barnwood end tables, barnwood chairs, barnwood bar stools, barnwood beds, barnwood nightstands, barnwood chests, barnwood dressers, barnwood vanities, barnwood kitchen cabinets, and much, more. Every barn wood furniture design can be customized to fit your home or office. In addition to a quality piece of rustic furniture you are also getting a piece of American history. If only wood could talk we would hear wonderful stories of how life was on the farm over the past 150 years.

Log homes became very popular and almost mainstream over the past 25 years. It’s hard to know the exact number of log homes built, but I remember hearing a report on Public radio a few years after 9/11. The report basically spotlighted how New Yorkers were reevaluating their high paced city lifestyles post 9/11. The report stated that over 5,000 log homes had been built in the 2002 in New York state alone. The report suggested that many living in the big city wanted a more natural, earthy and tranquil home life after the tumultuous events of 9/11. Thousands of city dwellers sold their city flats and townhouses and opted for a hand hewn log home nestled in the pristine mountains of upstate New York. Whether this was their primary home or just their getaway camp, the thought of having a tranquil sanctuary outside of the concrete jungle became much more appealing. Tens of thousands of additional log homes went up all across the U.S. Sizes ranged from cozy 600 square foot cabins to enormous 15,000 square foot homes. This interest in the rustic lifestyle fueled the burgeoning log furniture industry. Log furniture is the most primitive and primal of all rustic furniture designs. Log furniture is usually made using mortise and tenon construction. Natural logs are hand peeled and the ends are then given a tenon and fitted into an adjoining mortised log. Log furniture is made from many different species of wood. The most common species are white cedar, red cedar, aspen, hickory, and juniper. Woodland Creek tries to differentiate its log furniture through its distinct designs and by personalizing customer’s log furniture with handcarved bears, moose, deer, raccoons, and birds. The customer can tell us their favorite animal or scene, and our carver will hand carve a one of a kind piece of log furniture or log mantel for the fireplace.

I am sure many other style of rustic furniture will surface in the years to come. I know the artisans at Woodland Creek Furniture are constantly pushing the limits of design by mixing in new elements. Right now we are experimenting with adding concrete tops to many of our rustic style bases. Of course not just ordinary concrete tops as our expert finishers have found ways to make concrete look like stucco, granite, natural stone using hand crafted artisan finish techniques – all available in a wide range of colors. Photos will be coming soon so for now this is just a tease.

On behalf of the entire Woodland Creek family we thank you for your interest in our handcrafted rustic furniture. Please consider this an open invitation to visit our workshop for a complete tour whereby you will see the talented woodworkers crafting and designing one of a kind rustic furniture. You will also see thousands of pieces of reclaimed and exotic woods from all over the country and world. We promise you an experience unlike any other and rustic furniture unlike any other.


Rob Evina
Woodland Creek Furniture

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