Looking for a “barn find” on a vacation to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, or another farm community is a popular pastime. It could be an antique milk bottle, a hand-painted sign or even a farm table, but usually, if it catches your eye, it finds its way into your car to be taken home and become a part of your home décor.
In recent years, vintage farm furniture, repurposed tables and barn-picked items have been elevated for use in modern home decorating thanks in large part to HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” television show in which Johanna and Chip Gaines gut and rehab homes around Waco, Texas.
Gaines’ interior designs using farm finds and repurposed furniture have wowed audiences. The excitement she generates with her designs led her to form Magnolia Home online market. Her creations continue to fuel interest in the simple styles of rural farm homes for professional designers and do-it-yourselfers.
To support this interest, retail barn stores and boutique businesses have popped up nationwide, and their continued popularity has been a sign that the interest in farm design is far from fading away.
In southern Lancaster County, Stephanie Rodrigues, a New Jersey transplant, started roaming around barns, auctions and estate sales in 2011, after moving to Gap with her husband, Anthony.
She started buying barn picks and collectibles, and found lots of buyers for the items on social media yard sale sites in New Jersey. Rodrigues would then pack into her car what she sold online and meet the buyers to deliver the goods while she went to visit family near Trenton, New Jersey.
Today, Rodrigues’ business has grown to include sales on site at their historic barn headquarters in Gap, at craft shows, via a commercial Facebook website and even through live online auctions. In late 2019, the couple also opened Barn Picks & Stuff, a brick and mortar farm store in the Quaker Bridge Mall, in Lawrence Township, New Jersey.
Farm décor has grown to include original pieces of farm furniture as well as handmade repurposed furniture from old wood, in addition to new items with a vintage look plus lots of small farm accent pieces.
“It’s keeping a lot of people like Anthony and me busy,” Rodrigues said.
A big help to retailers of farm-type furniture is the reach of the internet, including social media sites Facebook and Instagram, where retailers can market and sell their merchandise. Also in recent years, there has been a growth of social media “influencers” who have established credibility in specific areas like home design, health and nutrition. They attract audiences who listen to their advice about these products and services.
Many influencers do it as a hobby, while others become brand influencers for large companies.
In the home decorator field, Amy Allen of A Little Love Design, Hamilton, New Jersey, is a relatively new player as a social media influencer, but her reputation has grown quickly. Allen has an Instagram home décor account with more than 11,000 followers.
“I fell in love with Johanna Gaines’ designs,” Allen said, “And it got me started posting photos of chalk board art that soon led to more posts on home décor.”
Allen’s followers ask for help in styling their home, or decorating for special events and parties. She also enjoys working with the Rodrigues couple, styling some of their farm furniture to promote the item and their operation as well as Allen’s own social media sites.
Barn Picks & Stuff and other retailers like Linda Campbell (The Cottage, in Leesburg, Virginia) and Cindy Bayer (Rustic Romance at Bayer Farm, in Greenfield, Massachusetts) sell items found locally, from farm decor wholesalers or made especially for them by local craftsmen.
Bayer had planned to clean out the barns on her central Massachusetts property before selling it five years ago and found that there was great interest in what she was putting out as trash. With the help of friends, she staged a couple of barn sales and Rustic Romance was born.
Bayer’s barn has 5,000 feet of selling space and is open on weekends throughout the year. Like many retail locations that had to close during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, she held contactless Facebook sales where customers purchased items and picked them up at her barn.
In Virginia, Campbell houses 15 dealers in a Virginia farm home store in Leesburg.
“It is important to have a variety of furniture and merchandise to attract customers, and many of ours come from the Washington, D.C., metro area only 30 minutes away.”
The Cottage sells vintage furniture, gifts and architectural pieces.
The Barn Picks & Stuff business has grown to the point where Anthony Rodrigues now uses a large trailer to deliver inventory to the New Jersey mall store or to online buyers. During the spring, with most retail operations closed because of the coronavirus, the couple ran a live Facebook sale.
“We assembled about 100 items — from small vintage pieces like candleholders to tables and chairs,” Stephanie Rodrigues said.
“We advertised the sale on social media sites and went live on Facebook just using my iPhone. Within 45 minutes, we were able to sell just about every item with buyers using online applications for payment.”
As retail stores began to reopen toward the end of June, the Rodrigueses packed up a trailer with their latest finds, including merchandise from wholesale buying partners and area craftsmen, and transported it all to their retail store in New Jersey for a three-day tent sale event.
“Our social media followers had told us they were ready to get out and shop again,” Rodrigues said. “And without being able to visit us at our barn this spring, we decided to bring the merchandise to them. We had good weather and we sold a ton of stuff.”
There is no slow season for operations like Barn Picks, The Cottage and Rustic Romance, because finding vintage inventory and raw materials to have farm tables and other furniture made keeps everyone busy.
When asked if farmhouse chic has run its course in interior design, all the shop owners say emphatically, “Absolutely not!”
Everyone agrees families are still watching re-runs of “Fixer Upper” and similar programs, and lots of barn and estate sales are being held again throughout the Northeast. They say buyers are anxious to get back out and do things. The three retailers are ready for a busy late summer and fall.
Art Petrosemolo is a freelance correspondent and photojournalist in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.