Primitive Furniture Style

What No One Tells You About Primitive Furniture Style

The Meaning of Primitive Furniture Style

Primitive furniture style is a decorating style known for its use of traditional folk art designs in it. This variety of styles is characterized as a striking feature of early American decorating styles, where a simple and rustic look with a touch of dark colors is the hallmark of it.

However, primitive style–or what is commonly known as “prim”–does not completely abandon the elements of modern decor. 

Primitive modern folk art is one of the genres which is symbolized with the use of modern materials, even though the aim is to create an old or ancient impression.

Some of the techniques commonly used by artisans of primitive art to create the desired old-fashioned and shabby look include smearing the surface of the work with tea or coffee, or they can be obtained by deliberately rubbing the paint coats together.

The History of Primitive Furniture Style

Some of the handcrafted furniture, such as desks, benches, dressers, and cupboards, for example, or any furniture that appears before the mass production era in American country style can generally be classified as primitive furniture style.

Most of the furniture created before the early 18th century was made by farmers who were able to make ends meet during the dormant months. 

They produced everything their family or farm needed themselves, such as chair seats, caskets, axle handles, window sashes, repair of rails, and much more. 

When requested, these farmers were also able to receive orders to make their versions of city furniture.

Carpentry techniques like dovetail and mortise-and-tenon joints are two of the most often used techniques in the manufacture of these furnishings.

A dovetail joint is used to connect the sides of a drawer to the front, which is a distinguished joint method due to its resistance to splitting (resistance against tensile forces). 

A series of “pins” are cut to stretch from one end of the board to the other with a series of “tails” that have also been previously cut. These pins and tails then form a trapezoidal configuration. 

Meanwhile, the mortise-and-tenon joint is recognized as the other strongest traditional joint technique after dovetail joints. 

It offers solid results by gluing or locking two different halves in one place. Not only that, but mortise joints are also known to provide stunning look-out.

Now it’s time to go back to primitive furniture style: the topic of the day.

Continuing with the previous explanation, the country folk seem quite behind on the popular big-city trends. Compared to urban residents, they had strong traditional tastes. 

Their furniture was generally made from local materials, such as birch or pine wood, rather than using fancy imported variations such as rosewood or mahogany. They also opted not to polish the result of their work and painted it instead.

Everything in the house was painted in a popular style, including furniture, utensils, and boxes – not infrequently they even painted their stairs and pine floors. 

Some craftsmen have also been caught decorating the surfaces of their furniture with stencils. 

This was aimed at getting a detailed and intricate design on their wooden furniture. However, some craftsmen used crumpled paper or sponges to furnish their objects.

There is one distinctive style of painting which is known as “graining.” Graining is the act of painting something, especially interior surfaces or furniture, by imitating the grain of wood or marble. 

The impression of the exotic wood grain can be obtained by rubbing the comb on the paint that has not dried. 

This style of the stencil will be especially salient on the dressers, blanket chests, and closets of German communities living in Pennsylvania and Virginia, as well as those in the back-country villages of Piedmont in North and South Carolina.

Until the early 19th century, handcrafted furniture was rarely found on the market. This is due to the emergence of factory-made furniture with Victorian designs that were sold cheaply. 

The Arts and Craft Movement could not even revive the public’s interest in handmade furniture. In the end, mass production furniture dominated the market and got rid of handmade furniture completely.

Several contemporary craftsmen are noteworthy for their involvement in continuing to develop handcrafted practices well into the 1900s. 

George Nakashima, for example, used the term “primitive” to describe a style of work characterized by the rough and untouched corners of his tables. 

There’s also Sam Maloof on the other hand who was inspired by the Shaker tradition of adding gentle curves to replace straight lines.

How to Distinguish between Primitive, Rustic and Country Style

For those who have long been in the world of interior design, you should be familiar with the following terms: “primitive,” “rustic,” and “country.” 

Often the three are used interchangeably to explain a concept that has almost the same meaning in nature. 

But did you know? It appears that the three words are completely different even though they share a similar context.

Primitive is described as:

  • Created by a primitive artist
  • From an early historical age
  • Crude, plain, or unpolished
  • Being the first of its kind or the earliest

Although the definition is somewhat ambiguous, the formal concept of the primitive style is well explained here.

Any piece of furniture or decoration that is traditionally made by hand is a piece of primitive furniture style. These items are characterized by the background of the manufacturer who had never received any prior formal training in craftsmanship. 

Another characteristic of primitive furniture style is that they were intended solely as utilitarian furniture. 

And lastly, primitive items have an ancient aesthetic, which is even ancient enough to be categorized as antiques. The design is easily recognizable by its simple, shabby appearance.

Yet, rustic is defined as:

  • Built from tree roots or limbs
  • Has rugged, rough surfaces
  • Having the country people’s characteristics

Then, how does interior design perspective describe rustic?

What is not included in the rustic concept is everything that is made by hand and old. 

Therefore, while rustic furniture has a natural look and worn down finish, a casual feel, and an old-fashioned warmth or comfort, rustic items are generally manufactured in factories. 

This is the main difference between rustic and primitive which then explains why, by definition, a primitive object is rustic but a rustic piece of furniture is not necessarily primitive.

Lastly, the country is defined as:

  • From a specific country or region
  • Rural
  • Unfinished or unsophisticated

“Country” itself is a broad term in the world of interior design that can describe a variety of other styles: whether it’s an American country, cottage, French country, lodge, or coastal decoration, which almost all of them have similar characteristics. 

They are represented as a style with a relaxed atmosphere in it, which uses natural components to achieve an unfinished or weathered impression. 

All of this is intended to achieve an aesthetic that is not only pleasing to the eye but also comfortable to feel.

Country style generally includes rustic or primitive style furniture, although this is not always the case. 

However, exact parameters that can be used to distinguish between rustic and country have not been decided yet.

The rustic color palette is limited to earth tones and muted colors as a rule of thumb. Meanwhile, the country-style color palette can include an even wider variety of colors. 

Rustic furniture is usually made of woods based on red tones, while country furniture often uses oak as its raw material. 

In conclusion, the rustic style can be defined in a more detailed manner than the country style, which is evolving in a more general direction.

How to Decorate with Primitive Furniture Style

A primitive style house is generally accentuated by the presence of antique and vintage collections in each room, coupled with reproduction furnishings that are artfully designed to represent the flair of the old world. 

The addition of primitive furniture style to your abode can make you feel as if you were vacationing in an old log cabin or exploring an early Colonial village in an instant.

If you are ready to get inspired by it, there are several easy ways you can follow below.

Porch or hallway

Before you invite your guests to step further into your living space, you can greet them with a porch filled with primitive-style knick-knacks in every corner. 

A shabby rocking chair to one side offers an inviting place for anyone to relax and enjoy a glass of lemonade on a hot day. 

You can hang a garland of grapevine flowers on your front door that will always suit any environment even if the seasons change.

Take your guests through the hallway, which is also beautifully decorated with rustic hand-carved benches. Invite them to sit for a while in a Winsor-themed chair where they can change their footwear comfortably. 

Don’t forget to let your guests know to hang their outer garment on a weathered board with hand-carved pegs.

Living room

Many are mistaken to think that a house filled with primitive furniture style is close to that of a museum. If the homeowners can combine all the existing elements strategically, they can build an extraordinary living room that contrasts with the rest.

Pair a sofa upholstered in country design with wooden floors that have been layered with colorful woven carpets that warm up space. 

Patterns like pineapples or hearts will look amazing especially under the wing seats. Pick a coffee table from an antique steamer trunk as an accent that ties all of the unique elements together harmoniously.

Instead of hanging grapevine garlands indoors, install valances on the windowsill to multiply the warmth that is very typical of the old world.


Primitive designs in the kitchen can be showcased with vintage carts, baskets, and wooden tableware, but you know you can get a lot more creative than that. 

Assign them to house cooking utensils or display your fruit and vegetable storage which can double as jewelry in a natural centerpiece.

The whole family can gather around the antique farmhouse-style table whether it’s for meal prepping or eating dinner. Children can do homework or finish their science project there while the adults play cards on the other side of the room.

Add a touch of primitive style to the space by replacing your traditional pantry door. As a finishing touch, hang a bunch of dried flowers and herbs on the ceiling rising from low beams.


And, at the end of a long day after escorting all your guests to the front door and bidding goodbye to them, escape to a snug, primitively decorated bedroom.

Lay out your bed with a quilt and fluffy pillows. The antique quilt box at the end of the bed amplifies the primitive appeal while providing additional storage space. 

Don’t forget to include a colonial-style dressing table so that the whimsical touch is even more apparent in it. In a kid’s bedroom, you can display a row of teddy bears on their dresser to make the room more personable.

Decorate the windows with muslin panels which are firmly fixed with square-headed nails. Straps it with thread to complete the distinctively primitive appearance. 

Review important agenda you don’t want to miss on the next day on a vintage board in the wall, anchored with roughly chiseled pegs.