French country style is defined as a mix of rustic and refined decor inspired by the homes in the French countryside. It's a popular style worldwide because of its comfortable and casual elegance that's never ostentatious. Three distinct characteristics make up the style:
- Softly patterned fabrics in muted colors
- Distressed, painted, and vintage furnishings and accessories
- Lots of wood and other natural materials
You may also hear this type of decor called provincial style. Provincial style is recognized as a slightly more formal, refined look. Some of its elements, such as its rich colors, bold patterns, and gold accents, can be incorporated into the French country style.
Colors, Prints, and Materials
Colors of this style can be found on the warm side of the color wheel with hues that have medium to low intensity. Think of soft yellows, warm pinks, baby blues, and creams for your rooms. Provincial-style fabrics are known for having more saturated colors, such as sunbaked ochre and deep brick red that bring to mind the pigments found in the region's natural clay earth.
Toile de Jouy, best known as toile, is a traditional pattern printed on cotton or linen fabrics used for upholstery, drapery, tablecloths, and wallpaper in French country rooms. Toile de Jouy is also known as the "fabric of Jouy" because the 18th-century factory of Jouy-en-Josas located near Versailles became famous for printing the fabric.
The toile pattern is characterized by its designs of landscapes and figures of one color printed on a white or cream background. The beauty of toile is that it can be paired with many other patterned fabrics, such as stripes, plaids, checks, ginghams, sunflowers, and small florals. Other patterns used on French country fabrics include roosters, damasks, and the borders that characterize bolder-colored provincial-style fabrics.
The key to French country-style furniture is comfort and style. Upholstered seating and chairs always incorporate soft and cozy cushions. Other furnishings, such as tables and chests, are typically graceful, simple wood pieces that often incorporate some type of carvings that emphasize the furniture's curves. The furniture is also characterized by distressed, painted, and often whitewashed finishes. You can use milk or chalk paint to distress furniture to get this style.
French provincial furniture is a touch more formal with added embellishments than French country style, and its history explains why. French provincial furniture was created in the 18th century for wealthy families living in the French provinces as more affordable adaptations of the luxurious Rococo-style pieces made for the monarchy.
The style's architecture is taken straight from the French provincial countryside. Here are the style's most popular interior architectural elements:
- Exposed wooden ceiling beams
- Natural stone, wood, or brick floors
- Weathered appearance
French country homes incorporate stone, wood, and muted colors into their exterior architecture, as well.
A kitchen in this style is both comfortable and sophisticated. Cabinetry may look like regular furniture with molding and carvings. Casual kitchens of this style feature shabby chic and vintage touches, including pretty old jars and bottles that hold pantry items, quaint signage for wall decor, wrought iron pot racks, and plenty of copper pots. Modern French country kitchens are known for their signature, decorative range hoods.
A rustic chandelier of distressed wood or metal with candelabra bulbs is a must in a traditional French country dining room. A lighter-toned wooden dining table surrounded by whitewashed, vintage, or mismatched chairs brings in a casual and welcoming look. For a casual feel, hang gingham curtains to the floor with a little puddling. Lightweight silk draperies puddled on the floor add a bit more formality.
Airy, whitewashed, and sun-kissed describe the style of French country living rooms. There should not be any heavy, dark fabrics or furniture in the room. This style living room beckons guests with an uplifting and pretty mix of patterned fabrics and painted furniture. Use sheer lace curtains to allow light to stream in while still providing privacy. For a quaint and whimsical touch, place a wrought iron garden bench with pillows under the front window for the look of a casual window seat.
A French country bedroom is feminine and soft with a mix of cottage shabby chic and comforting vintage elements. Add in a small crystal chandelier somewhere in the room, layers of soft and lacy white bedding with a toile comforter and curtains, and a headboard made of distressed wood or an old iron gate, and you have the makings of a beautiful bedroom. Use an old metal garden bench at the end of the bed as a sitting area. A bedroom is the perfect place for painted and distressed dressers and armoires.
Just as a bedroom in this style will have a feminine flair, so does a bathroom with the same decor. Toile wallpaper, a small crystal chandelier, candlestick-style wall sconces, a mirror framed in gold with a bit of carving, and a vintage clawfoot tub combine to create the perfect French country bathroom. For a casual feel, use a wrought iron towel rack or stand for linens.