What Is French Country Architecture?

A traditional French country home.

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Best-known for their luxurious, yet effortless stylings, natural stone facades, and chic, rustic interiors, French country homes—otherwise known as Provencal homes—have inspired homebuilders and decorators for centuries—and continue to inspire the modern farmhouse and shabby chic interior decorating trends that are extremely popular today.

Inspired by the French countryside—specifically, Provence, hence the name Provencal—French country homes are more subdued, lived-in, and subtle than the super luxurious, ornate interiors and exteriors typically associated with French architecture and decor. Defined by natural finishes, simple, neutral color palettes, and some serious inspiration from their natural surroundings, French country homes stray from the gilding and molding found in luxurious Parisian homes.

History of French Country Architecture

As previously mentioned, French country homes draw their inspiration from the French countryside. Although you'll find many manors and massive chateaux houses in the French countryside, French country homes are slightly 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, of course—French country homes were typically influence by their surrounding natural elements.

During World War I, American soldiers saw—and found themselves inspired by—the French country homes that dotted the French countryside. After the war, many of these 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 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 incredibly popular modern farmhouse decorating trends.

Must-Have Design Elements

French country architecture and design draws tons of 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 towards the ground. French country roofs are tiled with clay, barrel-shaped tiles that are overlapped to create a tiered effect, and 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.

Double Chimneys

Adding to the provincial style of French country homes, many homes feature two chimneys—one on each side of the house.

Wood-Planked Ceilings & 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 continue to be a popular pick today. Aside from wood, limestone was 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.

A French country kitchen.
Andreas von Einsiedel / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images

Soft Lines

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, yet elegant vibe to your home include:

  • Choosing 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. As previously mentioned, white, cream, and gray, among other soft shades are often used in French country homes. Accent these calming colors with greens, reds, blues, or even black to add some depth and warmth.