Aaron and Mallory Lembo love living in the middle of the city, on a busy street near Patterson Park. They thrive on the hustle and bustle of the urban environment and the closeness of their neighbors.
Aesthetically, however, Mallory is inspired by a lifestyle with a much slower pace. She looks to the country.
The couple hired interior designer Laura Hodges to help them figure out how to best imbue the home with the rustic vibe they’d come to love.
“Mallory is drawn to a farmhouse, rustic, homey, country feeling, and Aaron had more of an industrial feeling he wanted to incorporate,” says Hodges.
That farmhouse-meets-industrial look is a popular one among city dwellers like the Lembos, who love the notion of filling their homes with elements that exude rough-hewn character. Despite the styles’ divergent origins, the rough-hewn woods, Mason jars and apron-front sinks evocative of the country are increasingly paired with the unpolished metals and hard lines inspired by the factory — on Pinterest boards and in urban homes.
“They like the feeling of living downtown but want to blend that with the patina of reclaimed and vintage pieces so it feels more homey,” says Hodges of the Lembos.
In the kitchen of her own home in Catonsville — not exactly an urban epicenter, but far from bucolic — Hodges has adopted a few farmhouse-inspired elements, including wood floors, an apron-front sink and Mason jar lighting over a central island. “It’s more of a classic take,” she says, noting that she mixed those elements with modern design touches like white subway tile and a midcentury tulip table for a combination of homey and fresh.
Aaron Lembo built some of the couple’s most notably rustic pieces himself, with some advice from Hodges. Shelves made with reclaimed wood and metal pipe tie together the country and industrial looks Aaron and Mallory favor, and an impressive farmhouse table and bench are designed to last for generations. Lembo scoured Second Chance for materials and has put hours of his own sweat equity into the decor.
“I look at this table and think it’s worth way more than what I paid for the wood,” says Aaron Lembo, who loves the small imperfections in the surface and the table’s weathered look.
“It might not be perfect, but we picked it out,” Mallory Lembo adds. “Any marks that go on it will be our family’s. These are pieces designed to have people use them — not showpieces.”
Monkton-based designer Kimberly Eastburn notes that for urbanites living in small spaces, each design element holds more weight than it would in a rambling house in the suburbs. “City dwellers have to choose more carefully what they want in their environment. If you have to choose between something manufactured with no personality or something that has a story, which will you choose?”
For the Lembos, choosing — and building — furniture with character, made from reclaimed materials, was important, but because of their limited living space, they also appreciate farmhouse pieces for their durability, simplicity and versatility.
“We don’t have a lot of space in the city, so we’re trying to keep things as multi-use as possible,” says Aaron Lembo. “Farm elements do that in their utilitarian manner.”
That the rustic aesthetic lends itself to sustainability is another appealing feature, says Hodges. “The Lembos are very interested in upcycling old materials,” she says. “They feel like they’re doing something good, and they’re lending a sense of instant character to the space.”
Eastburn has seen this aesthetic in action at her son’s Brooklyn, N.Y. home, which is outfitted with natural wood furniture. “It’s a refuge from the noise and chaos outside of the home,” she says, explaining that city dwellers like her son often look to farmhouse elements to create their own private “nests.”
When seeking a farmhouse vibe, wood elements and repurposed metal are a great start. “You need to be in touch with things that feel homey and organic,” says Eastburn. “To be able to touch organic wood and see something with the patina of age. To understand that things aren’t always disposable. There’s longevity.”
Wood and metal appeal to something primal in people, she continues. “It’s a connection to nature that resets people. You need it every once in a while. If you can’t have a patch of grass, you can have a beautiful piece of wood in a table or sculpture.”
Jeanine Turner, of Baltimore’s Turner Design Firm, agrees. “Organic, rustic elements bring a sense of solid, centuries-old, built-to-last feeling to a room,” she says. “Whether the rustic features have an industrial or farmhouse slant, they provide a connection to the natural elements of the earth.”
To add that feeling to the home of clients Dale and Christi Schmidt, who live between Fells Point and Harbor East, Turner incorporated textured elements including brick veneer on a wall, a natural slate backsplash and a leather patchwork rug. The mix of textures was intriguing and, importantly, natural.
The result, she says, was rustic and refined. Though outside the city roars outside their door, inside the Schmidts’ home, like the Lembos’, homey and natural elements add a touch of country, and all the comfort it conveys.