What is French Country style? Think wrought iron, exposed beams, painted furniture, and other designs rooted right where you’d expect—in the French countryside, specifically Provence.
While this style has existed for centuries in France, it took off in the United States in the mid-20th century, thanks to two influencers: the furniture company Pierre Deux, and former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
“Mrs. Kennedy decorated the White House with both fine French and Country French pieces, and Pierre Deux made fabrics and furniture for the masses,” explains Joni Webb, an interior designer and Francophile blogger at Cote de Texas.
The popularity of this style gained even further acclaim in the 1980s and 1990s, with movies and books about the region (such as Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence”) inspiring home decor, notes Beverly Solomon of the eponymous design firm.
So how do you add un petit soupçon of French Country style to your home? Here are some ideas to pull it off.
French Country-style furniture
Typically, French Provencal or Country furniture is simpler and rougher-hewn than its Parisian counterparts.
“While the upper class could afford the finer furniture, the country folk weren’t as wealthy, so their homes were furnished with simpler styles, local woods, and less ornate carvings,” Webb explains.
“The best French Country furniture is crafted from oak, pine, walnut, and olive wood, with simple lines, balanced form, and joinery made from pegs—with few, if any nails,” says Solomon. “You’ll also notice these pieces have a fruitwood finish or a painted finish in creamy ivory, so the design is soft, airy, and rather feminine,” adds Webb.
When seeking out French Country chairs, look to the legs and seats, Webb recommends. “The chairs, especially arm chairs, are most identifiable by either straight or curved cabriole legs—though ladder-back chairs are also popular—with seats made from rush or cane.”
Larger pieces include armoires (usually the focal piece of the room), long rectangular tables for dining or as an island, settees with curved mutton legs, and bakers’ rack “shelves” made of iron with brass detailing.
Warm, muted colors
The colors from the south of France are a large part of this style’s appeal.
“French Country is known for earth tones, off-whites, and wonderful terra cottas,” says Solomon. Justin Riordan, of Spade and Archer Design Agency, who says that to describe French Country colors, he always thinks of muted pastels and jewel tones, along with red and floral patterns in multiple shades.
French Country-style signature fabrics
“Of the many prints associated with Provence, the one that gained a lot of fame was toile de Jouy, which was also used by the aristocracy,” explains Isabelle Odjaghian, assistant interior design program director at the Design Institute of San Diego.
“Checked fabrics also say ‘Country French’, as does embroidery,” adds Webb. Chintz and stripes have a place, too; you may also see silk and velvet on dressier pieces or sometimes on the front side of a chair, with the back covered in plain muslin.
Marble and pottery details
White marble is another French Country detail that can be put to use in the kitchen, bath, and on top of console tables and sideboards. Distressed pottery, including vases, tureens, and urns can be lined up on a hutch or open shelving. Or bring simple French style to your meals with oversized café au lait bowls in pretty pastel colors, and dishes with painted landscape scenes.
A warm yet casual vibe
“Think casual and also in terms of texture when putting together a French Country room,” suggests Webb. Her advice: Use a textured rug such as sea grass and then lay a second, softer, more colorful one over it, to cozy it up. A white sofa is an excellent centerpiece, especially with side chairs covered in checked fabric and velvet and toile pillows as accessories.
For the final touch, hang an ornate trumeau mirror over a console or fireplace, made with a wooden frame and a painted or carved section on the top.