Surprisingly, neither falls into an identifiable style category. Most of the current designs are inspired by homes from the Gothic Revival and Folk Victorian eras. Of course, any home with an expansive front porch is often referred to as "country-style" or "farmhouse."
The first such homes were built in the southern parts of the country in the early 1800s, where porches offered some relief from the scorching sun. As the railroads began to provide an economical way to transport materials across the nation, elaborately detailed trim, often referred to as gingerbread, along with windows, doors and other specialty items, became readily available. During the mid- to late-1800s, Andrew Jackson Downing presented "pattern books" showing highly detailed homes with elaborate ornamentation, steep roofs and pointed arch windows. Identified as Gothic Revival homes, they have inspired many of our present "country-style" homes.
Of all the elements inherent in the Gothic Revival style, none is more prevalent than the front porch. While porches continue to be very practical elements of design (they still block the scorching sun!), their appeal seems based on much more than pure practicality. The front porch, more than, perhaps, anything else, reminds us of an era that we perceive as simpler, slower and less stressful. Whether or not this is valid, many of us are certainly drawn to homes with porches.
In addition to an inviting front porch, the overall design premise of these "country" homes can be classified as casual. Living, dining and kitchen areas are usually open to one another, similar to most current designs. Formal living areas are rare, and increasingly, the formal dining room is being replaced by one large, practical dining area that can accommodate large family gatherings. Grand foyers with massive, elaborate staircases give way to functional stairs that are often conveniently located in the family or kitchen area. Even the finishes and trim items appear to favor casual simplicity over anything even remotely pretentious.
While they may be based on Gothic Revival architecture, the "farmhouse" and "country" homes we are designing today are unlike anything seen in the past. As a designer, the opportunities are inspiring. It is a challenge to merge a simple, straightforward farmhouse design with open, livable spaces, excellent traffic flow and attractive, functional baths and kitchens. As more and more people are interested in simplifying and "de-stressing" their lives, the appeal of casual, inviting, "country-style" homes will be strong. The dream of relaxing on your own front porch with a cool glass of iced tea has never been more appealing.