French country homes feature luxurious yet effortless stylings, natural stone facades, and chic rustic interiors. Otherwise known as Provencal homes, they have inspired homebuilders and decorators for centuries. And they continue to inspire the farmhouse and shabby chic interior decorating trends that are popular today.
Inspired by the French countryside—specifically Provence, hence the name Provencal—French country homes are more subdued and lived-in than the ornate designs typically associated with French architecture and decor. Defined by natural finishes and neutral color palettes, French country homes stray from the gilding and molding found in luxurious Parisian homes.
History of French Country Architecture
Although you'll find many manors and massive chateaux houses in the French countryside, French country homes tend to be more relaxed with an Old-Word feel. Unlike French Provincial homes, which were inspired by the grandeur of King Louis XIV's reign (on a smaller, more rustic scale), French country homes were typically influenced by their surrounding natural elements.
During World War I, American soldiers saw—and were inspired by—the homes that dotted the French countryside. After the war, many soldiers brought Provencal style back to the United States and built their own French country-esque homes. There isn't a single concentration of French country homes in the United States, as soldiers built wherever they decided to settle following the war.
French country architecture and decor have experienced many surges in popularity, and they continue to inspire homebuilders and interior decorators today. In fact, French country style's distressed woods, neutral color palettes, and farmhouse inspiration align with today's popular modern farmhouse decorating trends.
Must-Have Design Elements
French country architecture and design draw inspiration from nature. Accordingly, French country homes tend to blend in with their surroundings. Some distinguishing characteristics of French country architecture and style include:
Natural Stone Facades
French country homes typically have a simple stone or brick facade. Because symmetry is a key element in many French styles—from French-style gardens to French Colonial style—the facade is usually flat.
A Tall, Sloping Roof
Many styles of French homes feature extremely tall, sloping roofs that are hipped—meaning all four corners of the roof point toward the ground. French country roofs are tiled with clay, barrel-shaped tiles that are overlapped to create a tiered effect, and they come in red, brown, or beige.
Tall, Rectangular Windows
The tall, rectangular windows on French country homes not only add to the symmetry of the structures, but make them appear taller, too. Windows on the first and second floors are typically perfectly aligned and often decorated with arches or wooden shutters.
Many French country homes feature two chimneys—one on each side of the house for symmetry.
Wood-Planked Ceilings and Plaster Walls
Although some French country homes may feature exposed wooden beams, many have wood-planked ceilings that are painted white to match the smooth, plaster interior walls.
Wood or Natural Stone Flooring
Natural wood flooring laid in a parquet or herringbone pattern was extremely popular in traditional French country homes, and it continues to be a popular pick today. Aside from wood, limestone was also a common flooring choice.
A Soothing, Neutral Color Palette
Although some homes may use a vivid color as an accent, most French country homes are decorated with white, cream, pale yellow, pale blue, or gray finishes. Texture and warmth can be provided by wood, stone, and other natural accents in the house.
You probably won't find many clean, modern lines in a French country home. Rather, furniture is meant to be cozy, lived-in, and plush, with simple, curving lines and low-sheen finishes.
Decorating Your Home With French Country Style
Ready to say oui to French country style in your own home? Some simple ways to add a rustic and lived-in feel to your home include:
- Choose furniture with low-sheen and natural upholstery. Furniture upholstered in white, cream, or pale yellow linen fabric is extremely common in French country homes.
- Add pattern and texture to your space with traditional French country accessories. Think toile upholstery, blue and white porcelain plates, or woven baskets.
- Choose slightly distressed or weathered wood furniture, flooring, or accent pieces.
- Layer your newer home furnishings and goods with antique or vintage pieces. Scour your local flea markets or antique stores for ceramics, mirrors, or clocks.
- Stick to a neutral color palette with warm accents. White, cream, and gray, among other soft shades, are often used in French country homes. Accent these calming colors with light greens, reds, blues, or even black to add some depth and warmth.