Known for its stately, manor-like appearance, French Provincial architecture has been a popular building style since the 1600s—and remains a popular pick today. Typically, French Provincial homes were constructed by French aristocrats in the provinces—or rural areas—outside of Paris. Some famous French provinces include Normandy, Brittany, and Provence, as a province usually designated a regional city and its surrounding lands. Although "provincial" can often mean "unsophisticated," these sprawling, country homes were anything but.
Although some elements of French Provincial architecture have changed over the last several centuries, today's French Provincial homes have retained many of the traditional designs and features, like brick or stone facades, steeply pitched, sloping roofs, and high, arched windows. French Provincial architecture has withstood the test of time and remains a popular building style across the United States today.
The History of French Provincial Architecture
Hailing from the French countryside, French Provincial architecture is a term used to describe the massive manor houses and chateaux homes built by French aristocrats beginning in the 1600s. Many French Provincial homes were built during the reign of King Louis XIV, and were actually inspired by the grand stylings and furnishings of Versailles—on a much simpler, more rustic scale, of course. Although many French Provincial homes that dot the countryside were, indeed, manor homes or summer houses for wealthy families, others were used as business centers for the surrounding farms, and lodging for the people who worked on them.
After World War I, American soldiers brought French Provincial style to the United States. The country manors and massive chateaux homes they saw during their time in Europe inspired them to build similarly styled homes back in the U.S. Although French Provincial style hasn't become has widely popular as architectural styles inspired by Britain and the United Kingdom, it experienced major surges in popularity during the 1920s and 1960s. It's important to note that French Provincial homes in the United States are considered revivals of the original homes from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Must-Have Elements of French Provincial Architecture
Unlike many building and decorating trends, French Provincial architecture has retained most its key elements over the last several centuries. Some distinguishing characteristics of French Provincial architecture include:
A Stone or Brick Facade
Some French Provincial homes may feature half-timbering, but for the most part, these stately homes are finished with brick or stone facades. The facade is usually flat, but some have rounded towers near the entryway or other sections of the house.
Like French Colonial architecture, French Provincial homes are extremely symmetrical. You'll typically see the front entryway is centered exactly on the front of the house, and the same number of tall, rectangular windows on each side of the structure. These windows are usually flanked by simple, painted shutters. The only break from symmetry on some houses were the aforementioned rounded towers.
Steeply Pitched Roof
Nearly all French Provincial homes have a steeply pitched, hipped roof—meaning all four sides of the roof slope downwards to the ground—and dormers, which are small extensions that stretch beyond the roof's edges. Adding to the home's simple beauty, many roofs were made from slate or copper.
At Least Two Stories
French Provincial style is grand, so it's no surprise that these homes typically have at least two stories. Oftentimes, the upper stories will have tall, arched windows. Many homes have windows that extend beyond the eave of the roof line to give the structure an even taller, more grand appearance.
Simple Yet Elegant Interiors
Despite the straight, symmetrical lines you'll find on the exterior of a French Provincial home, French Provincial interiors are typically softer, with curved lines and lots of texture from materials like linen, wood, wrought iron, and stone. Interior colors reflect the surrounding landscape, so cream, white, brown, green, blue, and gray are common picks. Traditional French Provincial interiors are very similar to the super popular modern farmhouse decor you'll find in many homes today.
Where to Find French Provincial Homes and Buildings
The French countryside is, undoubtedly, the best place to see and get inspired by beautiful, French Provincial homes. Many of the original homes—dating back to the 1600 and 1700s—are still standing today.
French Provincial style can be found across the United States, especially in communities that experienced building booms during the 1920s and 1960s.