French provincial style became popular after World War I. Soldiers returning home came back inspired by the fine 17th and 18th century country homes they had seen in the South of France. The interest created a revival of provincial style as it’s known. But what is French provincial style?
Back in the 1600s and 1700s, people living in French rural manors couldn’t afford the extravagant furnishings of Paris and the art showcased in aristocratic and royal homes. Instead, they adopted a simple and functional style that reflected the colourings and the rustic materials of the Southern France landscape.
The reason why French country décor experienced such a revival in the twentieth century and why it continues to be popular today is quite simple: This type of home décor is achievable, practical, beautiful and still elegant. French country style is based on the lifestyle of the South of France. Inspired by rustic country life, domestic farming and farmhouses, country French décor uses rich details like stone floors, plastered walls and soft colour palettes.
The influence of French country decorating ideas has a long pedigree. During the reign of Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette had a country cottage and manor houses built at Versailles. Even with all the ornate décor of the palace at her disposal, she chose the rustic simplicity of country life during her leisure time. In the early 1800s, there was a renewed interest in Gothic and picturesque artwork, which included weathered country landscapes. Today, popular Cape Cod and Hampton styles are influenced by the symmetrical and pastoral simplicity of French provincial design.
Understanding Provincial French Style Decorating
What are some of the hallmarks of French country décor? This style is all about a few key features.
Warm and Inviting
There’s cosiness to this style. There is no aloofness or pretentiousness; instead, there is a focus on usable, everyday finery.
French country homes were lived in, and today’s homes inspired by the same aesthetic are meant to reflect the personality and the history of the owner. French style usually incorporates history and family – heirlooms and personal mementoes on display create an authenticity & connection with the past.
All about opposites
French country décor is pastoral, elegant, luxurious and charming. Even though it’s heavily rooted in an agricultural lifestyle, there is a strong sense of elegance and luxury, quality and simplicity.
A true provincial-style home is one with French country touches throughout. There are not a lot of different influences incorporated into the décor or any eclectic fashion.
Choosing the Right Materials
When decorating in the French-country style, use the right materials. Most should be natural materials in a raw or natural state. For example:
- Untreated or weathered wood and timbers
Stay away from plastics and man-made materials. Minimalist and very glossy styles don’t translate to French-country chic, and neither do busy patterns. Something like ceramic floor tiles are far more appropriate than linoleum, for instance. The idea is to embrace natural, quality and long-lasting products.
Fabrics are also very important when it comes to French-country style furniture. Decorating with window treatments, linens and rugs creates a softer look. It’s also very aligned with 17th and 18th century French country life, when thicker fabrics were used generously in winter months for warmth.
Again, look for natural and less-treated fabrics. Thick cottons and linen, especially in soft white, rich blue, grey or neutral colours looks wonderful. Fine embroidery and texturized fabrics work well, and woven or nubby wools look great with this décor, too. In general, stay away from very bright colours and busy fabrics; they don’t reflect the simplicity and strong sense of style present in French manors in the countryside.
French Provincial Décor Motifs: What To Look For
Small details are what take your home from merely “country” to the refined elegance of French-country style. What are these small details that make a big difference? Embroidery and metallic or coppery finishes (especially in the kitchen) add a country feel while still maintaining that sophisticated edge separating French-country from most rustic styles. For example, copper pots in a pastoral kitchen are a great touch. Fine white-on-white or blue-on-white embroidery on linen bedspreads in the bedroom add beautiful French chic to your home as well.
French country furniture and décor also uses some traditional patterns and motifs, including:
- The Fleur de Lis
Inspired by the landscape in the South of France, these themes look great in your home when mixed with the other elements of French style. Wallpaper with a vine pattern or tiles with a tasteful Fleur de Lis design place your décor firmly in French provincial style without being overwhelming. Since the provincial style is homey but well-designed, avoid using very bold prints or too many patterns. Subtle designs used occasionally go a long way.
You might not have picked the architecture of your home, but you can add cornices or skirting boards to various areas if you want the traditional moulding look that’s common in older rural French manors.
Select The Right Colours for French-Style Decorating
The base colours of most country homes in the South of France are soft and natural. They are generally used to reflect the surrounding landscape.
Look for colours such as:
- Earth tones (taupe greys, olive, sage)
- Weathered Metallic hues
Many provincial wallpapers or wall colours embrace this softer palette. French country furniture, linens and curtains should all be from this range of colours as well.
However, contrast is a big part of French style, so many country manors in France made use of stronger colours such as cobalt blue, russet red, raspberry or maroon to add some excitement to the palette. Use pillows, trims and French country homewares in these contrasting shades to add a pop of excitement and break up the more subdued colours.
French Provincial Furniture
Of course, even with the right details, décor and colours, your home will not reflect true provincial style without the right French-style furniture.
Since manor homes in the 17th and 18th centuries had smaller household budgets than the wealthy homes in Paris, furniture tended to be practical, sturdy and simple. It was not unusual for people to make their own furniture and to keep sturdy pieces in the family for generations, carefully passing them down along with other heirlooms. Not surprisingly, it’s possible to buy authentic French provincial furniture today. While it’s an investment, these pieces have weathered centuries and still look great.
It’s also possible to buy reproduction French-country style furniture. Whether new or old, furniture in the provincial style is simple, sturdy and often has a personal twist. Pieces may be carved or hand-painted, for example. Most pieces are solid wood, although they can vary from simple to slightly more ornate.
For example, durable farmhouse tables, buffets and stools may look rustic, while large armoires may have elegant details. Louis XIV-inspired chairs and chaise lounges may have elegant details and soft fabrics to add a little sophistication. French provincial bedroom furniture, especially, might be a little more ornate than the practical pieces intended for the kitchen.
If you’re looking for French provincial bedroom furniture or pieces for the rest of your home, you have a few options. You can buy newer French-style furniture. Just look for made-to-last, quality pieces if you want to embrace the true French mindset. You can choose to antiquate the furniture by using specialised paints or by strategically sanding pieces to let the wood show through.
Another option is to invest in genuine antiques. These may require a bit more care, though. You can also shop for antiques with a modern twist. Rather than trying to find pieces hundreds of years old, for example, you can look for pieces from the twentieth century, when provincial styles were enjoying a comeback. These antiques still offer some of the stylishness of yesteryear but at a different price point.
French Country Decorating Ideas: Lighting
If you think of rural homes as dimly-lit, you’re likely not thinking of provincial style. French country manors use lighting to add chic style to a room. The lighting is soft and flattering, but it’s also designed to make a statement. Reflected in mirrors around a room, the right lighting can make a French country home look magical.
Metal pendants lights, for example, work handsomely with provincial style while also drawing the eye to specific parts of a room. They can show off a stunning ceiling, for instance. Country farmhouse-style lanterns are another option for adding a more rural feel to a room and work especially well in kitchens or by fireplaces. In dining spaces, chandeliers are a common hallmark of French country homes. Chandeliers also work well in bedrooms, entryways and in more formal rooms.
In addition to overhead provincial lighting, lamps give you more control over the lighting in each room and area of your home. They can call attention to beautiful architectural features of your property and can help you add more light to your space. Decorative lamp shades add even more colour and style to your lighting. For a true provincial French style, look for linen, fabric or glass lamp shades in earth tones, blue or metal colours.
Candles are another great option for adding a little light and ambiance in French country homes. Thick jar candles in pale, soft colours add a gentle glow and a pastoral look, especially when combined with other French décor items. Metal candle-holders can also look exceptional with thick candles. Scented candles in scents like lavender can make your home smell like an authentic Southern France manor.
Provincial Wall Coverings
Wall coverings and windows take up a lot of real estate and can help you embrace French-country style even more. For walls, look for large mirrors — especially ones with heavy-ornate or carved frames. Large mirrors can draw the eye and can also reflect light, making small rooms look larger. In old manor houses in Southern France, mirrors were placed throughout a home to create an airier feel and to add more light.
Another option for walls is gorgeous wallpaper. Textured wallpaper, for example, can offset simpler country furnishings and make even a modern home look more weathered and rustic. Simpler wallpapers in soft colours or provincial motifs can help you add a little French-country flair to any room. Look for thick, high-quality wallpapers that reflect what you might find in a genuine manor.
For windows, consider shutters. In rural France in the 17th and 18th centuries, country manors used shutters on most windows to keep out drafts and to offer extra protection from the elements. Often, layers of curtains were used for added insulation, especially in the winter. You can create the same look with shutters, lace curtains and textured curtains in thicker fabrics — all used together. Hang the layers of curtains on metallic rods and use decorative ends with curlicues or other points of interest to draw the eye upward.
Architectural details are important in older Southern French manors, in part because most of these homes have long and storied histories. Your own property may be much newer, but you can recreate some of the same look with ornate architectural details like decorative cornices, ceiling panels, rosettes, corbels and more. These fine details draw the eye and give your home an air of glamour.
The Extras: Décor and Accessories
The details and extras that go into a room can transform the space. With some French bedroom furniture, you can transform an ordinary sleeping area into a true provincial room. There are several ways to introduce some extra style to each room and to really pull the French-country look together:
- Keep your traditional fireplaces and mantels. If you don’t have any, consider introducing a fireplace into your home — even a non-functioning one. Near the fireplace, stack wood or wooden boxes or baskets for a country look.
- In the kitchen, hang copper pots where they are visible.
- Introduce French country homewares and hardware into your home in wrought iron or other metals. Switch plates, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, and other hardware can be swapped out for less modern looks.
- Have an open, country hutch in the kitchen or dining room. Display ceramic dinnerware or copper pots inside.
- Put bunches of fresh flowers in glass, crystal or ceramic vases on tables.
- Add decorative tapware with ornate touches.
- Replace knobs on cupboards, doors and drawers with porcelain knobs.
- Use open shelves and baskets for storage. Open linen closets with piles of neatly-folded thick linen blankets, for instance, look lovely. Use wood boxes or open baskets to organise items on your shelves.
- Bunches of dried lavender add fragrance and that authentic French province look.
- Cover kitchen benches and counters with stone or stone tile.
French Down to the Ground: Provincial Flooring
Your French furniture looks even better when it’s resting on provincial-style flooring, and since flooring makes up such a large part of the real estate of any room, it makes sense to pay attention to this part of your home. French country style flooring can include:
Stone tiles and floors have the historic country feel provincial style demands. These floors also add stunning texture to your home and last for a long time, making them a practical choice. While large stone slabs would be most authentic, stone tiles may prove more practical in many homes.
Distressed Raw Wood Flooring
Unfinished, weathered floors perfectly complement country style and even more formal provincial furniture. Recycled flooring is an eco-friendly option that could give you the look you want. For an authentic look, seek out wider floorboards or wider pieces of wood for your floors.
Area rugs look wonderful, especially over stone or wood floors, and they add some warmth in the winter. Look for fabrics to complement the colours of your rooms. Older Persian or Oriental rugs look great in provincial-style rooms, especially if they show signs of wear and are layered together. Don’t be afraid to put one rug on top of another for some overlap.
French provincial style has stood the test of time. For hundreds of years, people have turned to this type of décor and furniture style when wanting to create a practical but upscale home. With eye-catching colours and details, provincial style can be adapted into almost any space and can make a home look welcoming and elegant without becoming stuffy. For more ideas to add French provincial design elements to your home, browse the House of Home marketplace today!
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