He Wants Dark, Rustic Decor But She Really Doesn’t

Dear Laurel,

I’ve been searching for answers to this question.

My husband and I started building our home in Maine, and there is a backdrop of pines and a beautiful pond.

My question is:

Is there a way to bridge the gap between my husband wanting masculine and rustic decor with lots of wood and my love of blue and white with creamy white molding and whitewashed seaside colors?? 


This is our retirement home, and I really want him to be happy in this house he is building.


We have lots of snow and half year winter, so the beachside colors are definitely going to seem cold and out of place and yet rustic seems dark and suffocating to me. If you have a chance I would love some direction. 

Thanks so much,



Okay, this question about rustic decor with lots of wood is interesting for a lot of reasons.

The first one is that I came close to writing this about myself. For a little bit about that, please check out this Thanksgiving post. And, also, this Christmas post.

And, that’s all I’m going to say about that.


My next point is that I am feeling some concern here.


Jeanne says that they have started building.

Building what? It doesn’t sound like they are ready. Is it a log cabin? Is it a farmhouse? We don’t know. But, the part that’s worrying me is this: It sounds like you’ve started to build a home without having a solid plan.

My third point of interest is this part:


“This is our retirement home, and I really want him to be happy in this house he is building.”


Is the husband building this house on his own? Is he a builder? A contractor? I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you guys are married. Right? So, doesn’t he also want *you* to be happy in this house, too? Sure, there is often some compromising to be made. But, this is another excellent reason for working with a professional designer.


One thing I’ve come to realize after years of working with couples is this:


Many times, people and particularly men who haven’t been exposed to different types of design think they want things a certain way. However, once they see other ways of decorating, they’re okay with a more balanced room.

This happens a lot, not all of the time, but most of the time. And, it also was true for many women. When I was taking clients, one of the best parts for me was watching clients hone in on their taste and preferences.

Please note that there is a post that’s a little over two years old on a similar topic.(you should check it out) I decided not to redo that post because I have so much new material that it seemed silly to revamp that post.

There is also an excellent post about a woman who prefers dark, masculine decor, and it’s her husband who wants things light and bright. You’ll also find some other relevant links in that post.

However, this home sounds like a lake home. It could be in the mountains or hills. Therefore, it would be inherently more casual and rustic.


However, rustic does not have to be dark. You could have a rustic home that’s all white.


Jeanne, I’m sure, would love that. Me too!


via @tristanjayne on instagram Cabin retreat

One of my favorite all-white and elegantly rustic homes is that of the darling interior designer and blogger, Lynn Knowlton.  Yes, I believe you can rent out that treehouse. Whoa! The photo was taken by Lynn’s daughter Tristan on Instagram.   Both of them have gorgeous accounts!

By the way, they’re up in Canada, so plennnnnty of snow!


However, Mr. Jeanne, at this point, wants dark, masculine, chest-pumping, rustic decor.


Can you have both light and bright, with dark and rustic?


Yes, I think those rooms are far more interesting.


Still, Laurel, sorry, but I don’t think you can do Chinoiserie porcelains in a log cabin with a stone fireplace. Can you? Isn’t that the wrong style?


Well, we’ll have to see. ;]


And, won’t blue, as a color, be too cool in a mountain home?


Of course, you can do blue. However, the blue might be a more gray-blue or muted teal-blue. After all, the sky is blue.


Let’s put this all together, beginning with a fantastic showhouse that the immensely talented James T Farmer did not too long ago.


James Farmer vignette log cabin showhouse - rustic decor

And, here it is. Rustic decor meets Chinoiserie with a little pale celadon! Love James’ work. (You can see here, just how much I love it!)


James T Farmer, Rustic decor - dining area - with Chinoiserie


James T Farmer, Rustic decor - with Chinoiserie - stone fireplace

Antlers and porcelain. Love it!


James T Farmer, Rustic decor - with Chinoiserie - sofa vignetteFor more of this fabulous space, click here.


James Farmer is superb at getting the mix of rustic decor balanced perfectly between masculine and feminine. For this reason, I believe that his rooms appeal to both men and women.


Seriously, what’s not to like? I mean, what is Jeanne’s hub going to say?


Sorry, My Dear. These rooms make me uncomfortable. They’re waaaay too beautiful, too interesting and vibrant. I thought we had settled all of this. I’d far prefer something, dark and lifeless. I want some hunky leather furniture where I can spend the rest of my life – sleeping on when I’m not downing a six-pack of beer. That’s my dream house, babe.”

Jeanne’s response:

“Sure, Darling. I’m gonna go hang out at Lynn Knowlton’s treehouse. Of course, you are more than welcome to come and visit me, if you get tired of sleeping and drinking.”


James T Farmer white kitchen - rustic decor

I adore this white kitchen James designed with a blue-green island. The rattan stools are just the right touch. But, let’s look beyond, to the next room.


Heart Pine Shiplap James Carter rustic living room

See? A dark rustic room does not have to be dull and depressing.

And, the blues and greens are gorgeous with the warm, heart pine walls.


James T Farmer, colorful refined Rustic decorFor more spaces in this home, please go here.


James T Farmer - rustic decor - colorful living room

Another colorful room with rustic decor by James T Farmer.


James T farmer - rustic decor - white bathroomA beautiful bathroom by James Farmer. I believe that a home can have a mix of stained brown wood and white areas, like the kitchen and bathrooms. Of course, this might be too formal a room for Jeanne’s new home. And, yes, the bathrooms and kitchen do not have to be white.


However, in a home with a lot of brown wood, I think it would be refreshing.


And, see how James added brown in the mirror and art frames. That’s how it subtly gets tied in.


James T Farmer, Rustic decor -BedroomI’m finishing out James’ beautiful and always elegant rustic decor with this handsome bedroom. Please note the blue and white Chinoiserie porcelain ginger jars on the mantel.

They look a lot like my ginger jars, which are very happy sitting atop my two bookcases in my bedroom.

Please don’t forget to follow James T Farmer on Instagram.


And, oh, what’s wrong with me! James has a new book coming out. And, you can pre-order it here.


Let’s move on to some other designers featuring rustic decor.


forestbound on instagram - log cabin - rustic decor

forestbound on Instagram – a log cabin – rustic decor

Of course, you certainly can do stained wood and have it not look heavy. The skylights bring in plenty of light to this contemporary log cabin.


Gil schafer_mill valley_ exterior - rustic home

Another master of rustic decor, architecture, and interiors, is one of my favorite architects, Gil Schafer. This is the outside of his gorgeous country home.


Gil Schafer-Miles Red warm color scheme in DecoratingHere’s another space inside Gil Schafer’s home.


architecture James F Carter - interior design Tammy ConnorAnother fabulous architect is James F Carter who collaborated with interior designer Tammy Connor

on this incredible home featuring elegant rustic decor.


Via Veranda - architecture - James F Carter - interior design Tammy Connor - photo - Erica George Dines - Rustic home kitchenVia Veranda – architecture – James F Carter – interior design Tammy Connor

photo – Erica George Dines

If you didn’t see it before, please check out the earlier post that features this team’s gorgeous work.


Rustic decor doesn’t have to mean dark brown.


Country Living - modern-cabin-living-room-photo - Audrey Hall

Country Living – modern-cabin-living-room-photo – Audrey Hall


Karin Lidbeck-Brent - rustic-living-room-natural-materials-country living

Karin Lidbeck-Brent

Ohhhh! Another beautiful Instagram account and lots of elegant and rustic decorating!


Mallory Mathison - rustic kitchen - white cabinetry

Mallory Mathison

Terrific rustic kitchen with white cabinetry. It’s interesting because this is quite a departure from Mallory’s very colorful new-trad interiors.


And I’m going to finish off with a designer who has not been on my radar, until TODAY.


But, I have no idea how that’s remotely possible. Her name is Jean Stoffer. (note, I had her name wrong, originally) And, I think her work is incredible! Of course, she’s probably a household name, and I’ve just been living underneath a rock and buried inside my laptop like a little blogging nerd. Oh, well.


jenna borst photography-rustic decor - log cabin living room - Jenna Stoffer Design

This is an incredibly elegant, contemporary, and rustic decor. And, it is carried out with exquisite restraint. That is not easy to do even though she makes it look easy. I think this beautiful pale gray-blue looks ahhhmazing with the wood tones. Plus, I think this look would be lovely in a Maine home on a pond.


Jean Stoffer Design | Torch Lake Cabin

Jean Stoffer Design | Torch Lake Cabin

Here’s a little peek into the fabulous kitchen.



I love this charming bathroom. It’s reminding me of Lotte Meister’s bathroom.

For more of this elegant modern, log cabin, please go here.

Please also check out Jean Stoffer on Instagram.


You might also enjoy this post about loving a home except for the stained wood trim.


Okay! I hope that y’all enjoyed these beautiful rustic interiors. In addition to mountain and lake homes, rusticity is definitely on-trend, these days. But rusticity is about blending the old with the new. And, that’s always a classic look.




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34 Responses

  1. To paint a paneled ceiling white in a log cabin, what finish would be best? Gloss? Semi-gloss? Other?

  2. This makes me think of old photos I’ve seen of rather grand, turn of the century homes from out West. Brides of ranchers and cattlemen and merchants would arrive with a wagonload (or two) of colorful fabrics for curtains, fine china, silver and crystal, vases and other feminine things that were popular back East. The houses that were heavy with stained wood and taxidermy would suddenly transform into a home. It’s a sort of strength and determination meets elegance and culture style of decorating, and I’ve always found the contrast quite fetching.

  3. OMG. I love this post! Thank you thank you thank you. I am so tired of the cliché “Mountain home decorating“ that surrounds me with no imagination. I learned long ago to ignore the opinions of contractors and do what I want but this post gives me more solid ground and much more inspiration! I’ll leave the bears in the woods, thank you very much.

  4. I love the heart of pine room with gorgeous fireplace and mantle, it looks perfect for a Maine and East to keep up.

    I am cheered to report that my brown furniture loving husband (I can’t, he’s FULL WAGON WHEEL, he still mourns this horrid live edge shellacked coffee table we had years ago) anyway has realized his taste is terrible and I am allowed to decide everything.

  5. Mixed feelings – mostly hate the log cabin thing. But I love the print fabric in the photo of the bedroom by James Farmer – it’s a gray on white print with yellow pomegranates (?) Would you know the maker, by chance?
    Thank you for these posts – very helpful in these dark days.

  6. We discovered natural knotty walnut for kitchen cabinetry when we needed a nod toward rustic, contemporary and flexible for a Montana spec house. We topped it with white counter with light taupe/grey veining, white backsplash. It was the jumping off point for all the other finishes. It possesses gorgeous iridescent tones like cinnamon, purple etc but way less yellow and red than many other hardwoods. Works awesome with grays and blues etc and has become much more widely available for trim, even spotted it at Home Depot. A bit soft for flooring.

  7. Loved this post! It’s our dream to find an oceanfront or saltwater farm in Maine to retire to. So fun to read all about this and see your wonderful interior pictures! Thank you!!!

  8. If I’m doing this wrong ..forgive me. I couldnt find your email and lost my patience. I have a question. Where does one start when you have nothing? We moved into a larger home and we have nothing usable in the living room and kitchen. What should be my first purchase?

    1. Hi Melanda,

      I’m sorry, but I’m no longer doing consultations. However, there are a number of posts that focus on jumping-off points for a home’s decor. Please use the blog sidebar to search box for help in finding them. There is no one way.

    2. ps: you can find my contact info in the top menu bar where it says info/contact. On mobile, you can find a link to the contact page in the menu.

  9. So great to see Jean Stoffer recognized. She relocated here (from Chicago to Grand Rapids MI) a few years ago and has a beautiful retail space in a very old bldg within 10 miles of my home.

  10. I do believe I could live in rustic, after reading this lovely post!! And James T. Farmer–swoon!!

  11. Virginia Fisher (Huka Lodge, Robertson Lodges) also manages to blend masculine but light interiors, that complement
    beautiful, natural environments.

  12. Thank you for this post! I have every one of James Farmer’s books and have been on the hunt for more designers like him. The mix of old and new, formal and casual fits the way we (and I imagine many others!) live.

  13. I love Jean Stoffer! Just wanted to let you know you accidentally wrote Jenna instead of Jean in your first mention of he 🙂

  14. Love this post 😍 Also your posts on real French country not ersatz French country would fit this criteria 😊 in our house we have a basement so my top floor gets to be light and airy and I’ve designed the basement to be more of a cozy english study feel. You’re right that men (and people in general) typically do not know what they want until it is shown to them. My husband would’ve chosen the more typical mancave massive leather sectional and recliner, with fishing rods and beer signs as decor haha. Instead (thanks to your influence) I gave him a brown leather Chesterfield sofa, two tufted leather wingback chairs (that recline!), a fireplace with a dark wood mantel with black marble surround (he still gets his tv above it), bar cart, floor to ceiling stained wood built ins, wood look tile floors (it is a basement after all), masculine pendant lights, an off white chair rail and wainscoting with a midnight blue wall color, and an art wall of beautiful hunting scene oil paintings I scored at various thrift stores. Now all of his military buddies are jealous of his “mancave” 😂

  15. We have property in the mountains, and I dream of building a home there someday to escape the Arizona desert heat in the summer. This post (and other ones of yours) give me so much beautiful inspiration! Thank you, Laurel!

  16. I love the Lucite table and think that is a great looking room. I live out west and am not a big fan of the rustic look but this room is very lovely. Perhaps because it has a very limited amount of dark wood.

  17. Laurel, James Farmer is now one of my favorites! Can’t wait to look at his instagram. I was thinking Ralph Lauren as I was reading the post but your examples were fabulous. Thoroughly enjoyed on this dreary, drizzly day. XOXO

  18. I love the Lucite coffee table with the old wicker chair, and other rustic and antique elements. Fun post, thank you Laurel!

  19. Great post and the interiors are beautiful! I enjoy your blog so much and always learn from it. Question, would you change your advice much for a rustic Maine oceanfront cabin vs. woodsy lakefront setting? Just wondering. Renovation’s wrapping up on our 120 y/o and I’m keeping the wood beams, wood floors and stone fireplace, but with white plank walls we’ll not be quite as dark as these interiors. I like Jean Stoffer’s style a lot.

  20. Oh Laurel I just LOVE this post. James Farmer is one of my favorites. And Lynn Knowlton’s tree house is amazing. She just might find me on her doorstep (just kidding of course). I really appreciate how you always showcase so many different designers and approaches to decorating a space. Throw in your entertaining writing style and I feel like you are a friend, even though we’ve never met. Thank you for making these surreal times pleasant for all of us readers. Take care and stay healthy.

  21. reminds me of the wagon wheel coffee table in the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” Another idea would be to look at photos of Ralph Lauren’s place out west.

  22. Thank you so much for this post. I have a home that is part “rustic” – an extension by the previous owners. I actually love it but this post has given me so many ideas of what I can do to enliven it a bit, especially since I love blues and greens. Once again it seems that most problems people like myself encounter in trying to decorate is a lack of imagination.

  23. Laurel,I enjoy your post and wondering if you can be consulted with. We are building a new home with stone and shake .Trying to capture an ”old” English cottage look.
    I am looking for input on the use of stone on the great room fireplace (14′ ceiling with beams),should it be the same as outside stone?
    What about the range hood design. this is one large open concept room.one granite slab island.

    1. Hi Tammy,

      I’m so sorry, but I’m no longer doing consultations. Even if I did, it wouldn’t be me doing them. I’d have to hire someone else to do them like other bloggers sometimes do.

  24. You nailed several points that I hope Jeanne will take seriously so she AND her husband can avoid making potentially expensive mistakes.

    Back in 2005 we bought a small log cabin in the southern Berkshires as a weekend home. It was quite different in every way from our home in NY (near you as a matter of fact). I dove headfirst into what I call ‘cliche’ decorating…we bought the ubiquitous brown leather sofas, bear ottoman and yes, we even had a singing buck on the wall (don’t ask). It was every man’s paradise. BUT, when we retired and moved there full time, it was suffocating and all wayyyyy too much. (I have a tour on my blog).

    After trying to convince my husband we should whitewash the kitchen backsplash for several years, he finally gave in, and guess what? Lo and behold he liked the results so much he suggested we do the hallway, which I happily did and it looked SO much brighter. Big surprise. I only wish we had done it sooner because a year later we sold the house and are now living in a coastal community where I have indulged my love of blues, greens and whites to my hearts content. If I had only had one of your featured designers in my life 15 years ago I would perhaps not have succumbed to the ‘expected’. But in my defense it’s fun to have two different homes that are different, but I caution Jeanne not to give in because I’m pretty sure her husband just *thinks* that he wants dark and heavy.

    Let’s be honest here. Most men have limited exposure to design and see decorating in a very limited way. No pun intended, but it’s all black and white to them. They need guidance. And while we’re being honest, they need to just zip it and get out of the way ;).

  25. Yes, interesting! I had a look at Jean Stoffer’s page to see more of the log cabin, and I think the success of this depends on painting a lot of the wood (including the logs in some parts of the house) white, and in having tons of windows and therefore light coming in. I find her treatment of the idea more interesting than James T. Farmer’s, even though I’m a great fan of his work.
    But here’s a rant for you: I see too many stone constructions inside houses, and some of them don’t even have the excuse of being old. Rubble walls may be all very well outside, but have no place inside. And what to say about stone still being done with the grey joints neatly cut to look thoroughly artificial and to detract from the stone itself. Rough stone walls should be lime-mortared with only the prominent parts of the stone showing and with the mortar coloured discreetly to match the stone. The Stoffer fireplace is done properly, even though the bright light makes the mortar on the lower half look too pale. End of rant!

  26. Well, I live in the mountains. It used to be that most of the houses were warm wood everywhere. Now, a lot of the houses have a great deal of the wood painted white/off white and it looks so much fresher and more vibrant.

  27. Love all these rooms, thank you! You put such a lot of work into your posts and they are always a great source of interest and amusement! I am the fortunate owner of a chalet in the French Alps – we bought it as a total wreck over 20 years ago and this is just the vibe I have gradually achieved – lots of old wood and stone, but bright and pretty too. Well, not to your standards, but I’m getting there! Come and see it one day!

  28. Very interesting views of rustic interiors. The use of blue is so much nicer than the traditionally used tans and browns.(I could live in Gil Schafer’s version of rustic.) Nice job Laurel.
    On a practical note, they may want to plan for their needs in the future. Wide doorways, a walk in shower, a bedroom on the main floor and no level transitions on the main floor would be very nice to have in place if ever needed.

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Welcome To Laurel Home!


Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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