France has always been a byword for sophistication and style. That goes well beyond legendary urban chic and elegance associated with the capital, Paris. Rural French homes have generated their own enviable style that has been emulated around the world. The French country style is informal and understated but unfailingly stylish. It is also marvelously versatile, not only fit for a rural chateau or a country cottage but for homes everywhere.
French country style is a relative of shabby chic, though it isn’t necessarily very shabby and it’s never tatty and tasteless. Its charm relates to its traditional feel, with elements of farmhouse style as well as touches of rococo. Decorative pieces and furniture may show a bit of wear but that is all about classiness. What you will never find in French country style is nouveau riche flash or brand new shininess. It’s a style that is never sharp or loud or in your face.
The books of Peter Mayle about relocating to live in France may have something to do with it. His 1989 book ‘A Year in Provence’ was an international hit, and popularized romantic notions of simple but beautifully appointed rural cottages set among leafy vineyards and fields of waving lavender. The idyllic country lifestyle evokes images of basket overflowing with harvested apples and grapes, of fine French dining and of course, a good bottle of wine always on the table.
The French country look has taken its place among the most popular decorating trends of recent decades, along with another perennial favorite, the decor of rural Tuscany. Part of the appeal of the French country decor style is that it is ultra-chic without ever being pretentious. It’s an artisan-made, lived-in look that never seems to have been contrived or over-designed.
One of the hallmarks of rural French style is that it has a wonderfully organic feel. You can imagine that the kitchen table was made from locally grown trees and the wicker baskets and furniture woven from local materials. Furniture inspired by rural French homes, made of materials like rattan and reed, is practical and beautiful, and thanks to its manufacture world-wide you don’t have to live in France to get it.
The other hallmark of the French country look is the color palette. At its simplest, it’s epitomized by a plain, unassuming storage basket. As well as aged bare wood, wicker and cane, the style is characterized by items of furniture painted in soft whites and fresh pastel colors. It’s a look you can achieve at home with a bit of DIY, simply by giving a suitable piece of furniture a coat of fresh white paint. Pastel pinks, yellows and greens achieve the same effect. That effect is of gentle, simple elegance and charm.