What Drives the Enduring Appeal of French Country Decor?

French country decor with porcelain cups arranged on a distressed wooden cabinet

The popularity of French country decor has been supported by its sustainable blend of old and new furnishings. The style was adapted from the exuberant designs found in palaces in France in the 17th century. King Louis XIV, adamant about cementing France as a pioneer of style and refined elegance, spearheaded a renovation of the Palace of Versailles, employing talented craftsman from all over the world to create an architectural work of opulence and luxury.

Characteristics from this ornate style gradually softened over time, and the French country look that interior designers look to today encompasses casual elegance achieved through a juxtaposition of distressed and lavish furnishings. Calling upon antique and antique-style furniture and natural, rustic accessories, French country decor continues to be a viable choice for those who wish to capture the beauty of the historic houses that line the French countryside.

What is French Country Style?

Wrought-iron bed in French country bedroom

French country style is a form of decor influenced by homes in southern France. It is characterized by natural materials, muted colors, distressed woodwork, and toile fabrics, a type of patterned fabric that appeared in France in the 18th century.

Throughout the 17th century, a strong middle class in France began to emerge in the provinces. Not quite as wealthy as the aristocrats in Paris, yet still yearning for a comfortable, elevated quality of life, this group sought to emulate the stylistic trends both King Louis XIII and Louis XIV cemented in France. This is where the “Country French” style was born.

French country decorators recreated simpler, less ornate iterations of the Baroque and Rococo decadence that flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries. Styles were still opulent and lavishly decorated, yet colors were visually lighter and styles were adapted to meet the needs of everyday living. There was a focus on family and function, which brought about a mix of traditions from the past to establish a new, pared-down style.

Essential Components of French Country Decor

French country decor is characterized by a few simple, defining characteristics. Decorators looking to capture the essence of the style can do so by incorporating muted color palettes, floral patterns, and antique furnishings.

Subtle Color Palette

French country breakfast room with soft, neutral color palette

French country decor uses warm, soft colors. It rejects bright, bold hues and monochromatic tones, instead focusing on dominant shades that are fairly neutral. When choosing colors, look for tans, creams, and soft yellows. Then, bring in historically prominent colors like rust or white to use as accents. Pastels also make for a captivating color palette for French country style. Be sure to add hints of gold throughout to call upon the extravagant origins of French style, whether it be in your furniture, mirrors, or textiles.

Detailed Patterns and Fabrics

Taupe and navy toile paper

Fabrics like curtains, upholstery, or throws offer the chance to work with fanciful patterns and detailed components. Mix the intricacies of traditional floral patterns of iconic French toile with printed tapestries and accessories. Blend fabrics with touches of antique, yellowed lace and sheer linens to create effortlessly layered looks.

Antique Furnishings

Louis XV-style dressing table in cream and gilded lacquered wood with Louis XVI-style chair. Sold for €2,860 via Artcurial (April 2018).

French country decor draws upon furnishings from different French furniture styles throughout history. The aim is to blend a variety of textures including rustic wood, metal, glass, gilded furniture, and a few painted pieces to create a style that blends vintage and contemporary elements. A staple of a French country home is the armoire, which historically was used for storage due to the lack of space in traditional French country homes. Incorporate an armoire to store clothing, to display kitchenware, or to stock towels in a larger bathroom. Another quintessential French country piece is the rustic farm table, accented by an eclectic mix of antique ladderback chairs.

French Porcelain

Vincennes sugar bowl, sold for €1,932 via Piasa (June 2016).

Though decorated porcelain originated in China over 1,000 years ago, it was exported to Europe soon after for wealthy patrons. Due to increased interest and high demand, European potters excitedly sought to discover the formula and successfully began producing their own by 17th century. French porcelain mimicked the beautiful blue-and-white elements evident in Chinese porcelain, and this pattern began appearing throughout French country kitchens through dinnerware, serving ware, candlesticks, and other decorative kitchen elements. Incorporate the intricate, blue-and-white patterned porcelain for a subtle, refined touch.

Lighting and Decor

Left: French style chandelier, sold for $7,500 via Doyle New York (February 2017). Right: French gilt-bronze and glass chandelier, sold for $6,500 via Doyle New York (September 2016).

Many French country spaces incorporate a large, decorative chandelier. Find something ornate, with sparkling and wrought-iron elements to adorn your dining areas. Other accessories to include are woven rugs, fringed throw pillows, mirrors, and wall clocks. All should have a distressed look that feels worn, yet comfortable. This particular style also lends way for particle additions of art. Line your laundry room walls with useful, woven baskets. Hang plates on your wall to offer a decorative, yet functional element.

French Country Decorating Ideas

Each room of your house offers a blank canvas for decorating. Infuse elements of French country decor into different spaces, calling upon decorative items and staple characteristics of the style.

French Country Kitchen Decor

Rustic French country kitchen

Kitchens inspired by this style of decor are practical and useful. Incorporate items like mason jars and antique crocks to display spices and cooking ingredients. Arrange plates and glasses in an open setting using wrought-iron plant hangers, and bring in rustic elements with materials such as distressed wood. Paint cabinets and countertops to match your French country aesthetic using muted colors like pastels and neutrals.

French Country Dining Room

Elegant French country dining room

Dining rooms should exude the French provincial comforts of country living and create an inviting space for family and friends to gather. Find a large, farmhouse table that shows signs of distress, and place mismatched chairs around it. Top your table with a decorative rooster statue or floral centerpiece to present a country feel.

French Country Living Room Decor

French country living room

The central gathering area should feel warm and welcoming. This is achieved through natural light seeping through lacy panels and sheer window treatments. Find antique furniture and vintage collectibles that add a historical element within your room. Finish the look with metal hardware and decorative accents like colored vases and floral artwork on the walls.

French Country Bedroom Decor

French country bedroom

Create an inviting, relaxing space with French country decor bedroom essentials. Layer plush bedding and pillows of pastels and muted colors. Find a metal headboard that’s subtle but also includes intricate detailing. If possible, add an armoire for decorative, additional closet space that truly embodies the French country appeal.

Creating a space inspired by French country decor infuses the antiquity of French provincial design aesthetics, with practical, contemporary elements. What was once an opulent style that emerged during Louis XIV’s reign in the late 17th century has taken on a refined elegance any and all can achieve. Utilize vintage furniture and decor, muted color palettes and elaborate patterns unique to French country decor to channel the comfortable yet commanding essence of the style.

Sources: The Spruce | Fresh Home | Overstock | Homedit | Inspired French Country | HGTV | Country Living | Domino