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In its earliest definition, a farmhouse was exactly what the name implied. It was the primary residence of a family that operated and lived upon a farm. This is still true for those whose livelihood revolves around raising livestock and growing crops, however the percentage of people who live on farms is but a fraction of those who reside in cities and towns. While a farmhouse continues to be the home of a farming family, it has also come to be known as an architectural style for those who simply wish to have a home in the country.
Originally, a farmhouse incorporated several elements that were specific to farm life. Because farmers tended to have large families, with land being passed down generation to generation, the homes were usually two stories. The lower level would consist of a large kitchen, a living area, a dining room, bathroom, and numerous closets, pantries, and mudrooms. The pantries would be well-stocked, and the closets often held work clothes, boots, jackets, and other attire suited for all types of weather conditions. A large kitchen was needed, as farm families tended to can or preserve much of their own food.
Most farmhouses were situated over a basement, often lined with shelves that were used for storage of canned goods and other foodstuffs. The upstairs level largely consisted of bedrooms, both for children, parents, and in some cases, other members of the extended family The basic design of a farmhouse focused on practicality rather than aesthetics, and was more times than not described as a simple “four-square” home. That said, different countries continue to utilize region-appropriate farmhouse designs in order to compensate for weather conditions.
Farmhouses in countries receiving a great deal of snow – Canada and the Norwegian realms for example – have roofs with a severe angle. This building style allows the vast amounts of snow to slide to the ground. If such were not the case, the weight of the annual snowfall could cause a flat or slightly pitched roof to collapse. German farmhouses sometimes have doors that open into an adjoining barn or stable, allowing easy access for the care and feeding of livestock.
In modern times, the term “farmhouse,” often refers to a rural estate, usually quite expensive, that has been built by urban residents seeking a part-time home in the country. In terms of architectural style these homes might somewhat resemble a traditional farmhouse, but such a resemblance is superficial at best. Many do contain large kitchens, living areas, and dining rooms, and most are of two-story design with several bedrooms. Instead of being surrounded by barns, chicken houses, and stables, however, they would more likely include a swimming pool or tennis court.