6 Free Startup & Barebone Themes for WordPress Development

If you are interested in developing WordPress themes, you could start building from scratch. While noble popularity, it can also be quite ineffective. This is especially true if you plan to create multiple themes over time. The repetitive nature of a themed structure means that you will be doing many of the same things over and over again.

Thank God there is a better way to build themes. By using a “startup” theme, all the basics are done for you. Templates and code structure are already in place – but often in a bare way. This basically allows you to build a website to your own custom specifications, and cuts out the repetition and serves as a blank canvas to build on.

By using a good startup theme, you will spend less time ripping out existing styles and more time on the specific needs of your project.

Looking for a Quick Start

As you will see later, there are several different startup themes available for WordPress. On the surface, many will look quite similar, making it difficult to choose the right one to detect. But if you dig a little deeper into the data, you will see that there are some significant differences.

When looking for a starter theme, consider the following:

How bare do you want it?
Some startup themes are a bit heavier in features than others. For example, some may have different code libraries or styles that allow advanced functionality, layout, and special effects. But not everyone will need or want these extras.

On the other side of the coin are themes that are little more than a few templates combined with ultra-lean styles. They are great for designers who want to add their own scripts and styles on an essential basis.

The direction you choose is all about personal preference. But in general, the more control you need to have over the theme, the less bloated your startup theme should be.

Is it built on the “WordPress Way”?
WordPress has its own set of guidelines that should be considered – especially if you want to sell or distribute your finished product.

Moreover, it is a good idea to ensure that any startup theme is using best practices. Otherwise you may face compatibility or security issues that may dampen your day. You can see any potential issues by installing the startup theme on a test site and activating the Theme Check plugin.

Is the theme actively maintained?
While a startup theme does not need to be updated as regularly as a full theme, it’s still nice to know if the project is being actively developed or not. If it has not been contacted in a few years, you may run the risk of having an outdated code. You will want to make sure that the version of the theme you are running is compatible with the latest versions of WordPress.

Introductory Themes to Look

Now that we know what to look for, let ‘s look at some of the most significant introductory themes for the future:


Blockbase is a free startup theme from Automattic that utilizes WordPress Site Editing (FSE). It is completely minimal in scope, allowing you to start projects with a clean slate.

And since it’s a block theme, there’s also an opportunity to add custom templates or modify existing ones using the front or back. Blockbase has the flexibility to match your desired workflow.


The beauty of GeneratePress is that it provides just enough of a starting point without being overly opinionated. This free open source theme offers basic layout, typography and color options. From there, it lets you build on that base with the block editor.

Add the free GenerateBlocks plugin and you will have a real page creation experience. In addition, a premium version of the theme promotes pre-built settings, a dynamic layout system, and hooks.

Underscortha (_s)

Perhaps the most famous startup theme, Underscores, certainly fits the bill as a bare bones product. There are many styles and scripts (a simple mobile navigation script is included), so you will not be overwhelmed by bloated code.

If you activate the theme as it is, you will get a blank page. It’s up to you to customize this one in any way you choose. Built by the team at Automattic, you can be sure that this theme is built the “WordPress Way.” Looking for stronger features? Check the wd_s fork.

Highlights (_s) Start WordPress Theme


Tonik is an introductory theme that sets its sights on expert developers. It goes beyond basic templates by including a selection of assistant functions to make theme development more efficient.

An optional command-line interface (CLI) is also included. Overall, tonik is well suited for those who want a more organized way to build a theme and don’t mind learning a few new tricks in the process.


Sage also seeks to improve efficiency over traditional WordPress themes. For example, its Theme Folder feature tries to greatly reduce the amount of repetitive code we need. It allows you to conditionally select an original file that includes things like yours get_header(), get_footer() and get_sidebar() functions for different pages or post types.

It also includes the latest version of Bootstrap, which provides a solid selection of styles. A great option for those who want to pack a few more features into a startup theme.


Based on Underscores, Air adds some bling to startup themes like a beautiful fullscreen mobile navigation system, desktop sticky navigation, and a slider.

It also boldly disables widgets / sidebars and post formats. These items are not used as much as they used to be, so the switch makes sense (and can always be re-enabled when needed). You can also get a helpful plugin to enable WooCommerce support and other good articles.

air light Start WordPress Theme

Start at the Right Foot

In general, the decision to use a startup theme makes sense. Rather than being weighed down by a high profile theme, an introductory theme will allow you to work properly on the important things.

Choosing the themes above will give you a great starting point for building a new website – each with its own set of features. But the nice thing is that you do not need to set the default package with any of these themes. For example, if you know that you will want to use a specific script on every new site you build, you can add it to your own custom version.

Personally, I have my own custom version of Underscores that I use for every new project. It includes a different mobile navigation script, icon fonts, and responsive styles – as well as a few other goodies I’ve thrown into. It makes it much easier to start a new project.

Explore the wide range of WordPress startup themes out there and find one that will help you improve your development workflow.

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