In the world of interior design, most styles are fairly precise. When you think of the Art Deco style, for instance, there is a specific set of things that go along with that term, such as eccentric shapes and odd materials that come together into a specific style. This is not the case with rustic design. Certainly, the term brings up a number of images in most peoples’ minds, but the problem is that these images differ from person to person. The very term ‘rustic’ can encompass such a wide variety of different styles it becomes remarkably difficult to pin down what exactly rustic design is.
As always the best way to define something is examine its most basic elements. In a field as broad as rustic design, this means first looking at some of the styles that fit into the rustic category and then finding what elements they have in common. The style that is most often associated with the term rustic in the United States is a take on the frontier style, based on life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America, specifically that of the people who lived on the forefronts of America’s westward (and, to a point, southward) expansion during that period. This style in its most literal form is utilitarian for the most part. Things were constructed from the materials at hand, and often there was not much in the way of embellishment involved. This has brought about the log cabin architectural style as well, as well as the raw wood furniture, most often used for beds and such.
A second interpretation of rustic design is the somewhat more modern descendant of the frontier style. It is, in many ways, closely related to the country style that is also popular these days. Like the frontier style, it is simple for the most part. The furniture of this style is almost always wood with a stain or varnish to let the wood grain show. There is, however, more room for embellishment in this style, with woodwork and metalwork showing more fancy patterns and shapes. However, there is still the emphasis on simplicity.
The European take on rustic design is somewhat different. Much of the European rustic style works somewhat less with wood. The architecture itself is more often masonry than the log cabin style of the American frontier. Even so, things are kept very simple and reserved.
To find the essential core of rustic design, then, one must compare these styles and find their common point. In all three variations (as well as the many other variations of the rustic concept that are out there) the central theme is nature. Whether it is in the raw log construction of the frontier furniture, the more refined woods of the modern rustic style, or the mason work of the European rustic architecture, nature is present. The rustic styles are about making use of the materials at hand and showing how remarkably versatile nature can be in simple but also very beautiful ways. With this in mind, one can easily combine the rustic styles for new variations, or work out whole new styles based on these concepts.