Our recent love affair with the Hamptons has overshadowed some other styles that are also timeless classics. The Hamptons look is absolutely gorgeous and a favourite of mine but it's good to sometimes look around the world and remind ourselves of some of the other enduring decorating styles and consider the home we have and whether it may actually be suited to a different look. With this in mind, I thought that I should write a guide to French Provincial Style as it is in many ways so akin to our own timeless Australian Country style and so suited to our relaxed way of life. It does too have a close association with the Hamptons Style which you will see here.
Whether we look at the style of the French countryside or concentrate on where the mountains meet the coast, French Provincial Style has elements that we can relate so well to and bring into our homes here.
I will take you through the features that define French Provincial Style so that you can bring some of this gracious, enduring look into your homes. Remember that you don't have to use every element but this guide will help you to define how this style is slightly different to others and will help you to understand which look is right for your home.
Colours for a French Provincial Style
Understated has to be the word that sums up this entire look perfectly. Don't be fooled by the sometimes slightly shabby furniture or the lived in sofa, this gracious look is one that exudes elegance and style. With this unpretentious look comes a beautifully mellow and understated colour palette.
Whites are slightly dirtier and softer than the crisp whites that are gaining in popularity at the moment. Blue whites are rarely used in a French Provincial style and if a cooler look is desired then this is achieved with a touch of grey. Chalky whites or neutral green based whites are far more common for this look.
So one of the key points to take away if you love this style is to soften the contrast and use a white that is subtle and elegant rather than crisp, cool and bright.
Green based neutrals underpin the colour palette with soft blues and greens, natural stone colours and washed out greys prevailing.
Warmer tones are preferred as the backdrop with a prevalence of natural weathered timber and beautiful aged and mellow terracotta for floors.
I wrote about French Provincial colours in an article for Country Home Magazine which goes into more detail:
Colours for 2019 are warmer than they have been for a while with soft pinks, corals and natural terracotta tones gaining ground on the classic and much loved blues, greys and whites that we have seen in recent times. French Provincial Style combines these earthy tones with natural grey whites and neutral stone colours. An earlier article that I wrote about terracotta explains further.
Finishes for a French Provincial Style
Gloss is absolutely out. Remember that word understated? Again this says it all. Natural paint finishes are important to achieve the right look for this style. Chalk paint is excellent to use for furniture with matt finishes for the walls. Limewash that subtly blooms or soft distemper finishes work well too. The French countryside is filled with buildings that have stood for centuries and their appeal is in their aged and mellow facades made from local stone.
Hardwood timbers are left to age and turn to silver, natural stone is sealed with a matt finish to ensure the stone remains as natural looking as possible and furniture is simply oiled to enhance the grain.
Related: The Art of Shabby
French Provincial Style fabrics
I really just have one word to offer here – linen! Don't even consider styling a home to replicate a country home in France without it. You can of course use other fabrics. Natural cotton, an odd velvet chair found in a local flea market or an aged leather armchair all suit this look but it is natural linen that defines it.
French Country Furniture
An organic and evolving look is what you are trying to achieve for this style and so furniture should be curated with a feel that it has been collected throughout a long and interesting life, inherited, found in local markets and picked up along the way. The aim here of course is to not have furniture that all matches. So if you do want to create this look but want to do it quickly, buy a few foundation pieces that work together rather than match exactly.
Key pieces for a French Provincial style are bedheads made of rattan or those upholstered in natural linen, antique armoires and dressers, scrubbed farmhouse style tables with ladder back chairs, quirky hand painted side tables, consoles and soft, comfortable linen upholstered sofas or pre-shrunk cotton slip covers.
Country style window dressings
Shutters, either external or internal should be used for this style with curtains rather than blinds being a favourite. Keep curtains simple with little embellishment.
French Provincial Styling
Be careful not to have a look that is too contrived. Remember that this is essentially a country style and styling should be effortless and relaxed.
Sharon Santoni is my go-to person for all things French Country and I love this image above which I think sums up the look perfectly.
An earthenware jar of lavender, interesting books, local ceramics and bowls with baskets to contain firewood are good inclusions for this look. Remember that the look is unpretentious and should be defined by pieces that have meaning and have been organically collected rather than intricately styled. Hunt through bric a brac shops and markets stalls for some interesting finds.
Here is a re-cap of the main points to remember for a French Provincial Style
- The colour palette should include whites that are soft and chalky with a touch of grey rather than crisp and clean.
- Accents of grey green and blue with warm earthy foundation colours of natural stone and weathered/worn timber
- Finishes must be matt and as natural looking as possible
- Furniture should tell a story rather than all matching exactly
- Natural linen fabric defines the look
- Windows should be treated simply with external/internal shutters and unembellished drapes
- Style with baskets, white porcelain dinnerware, natural earthenware jugs and plenty of greenery and flowers
Related: How to style with baskets
I hope you can see the beauty of this gorgeous style that has taken a back seat lately to its rival the Hamptons style. It is a classic look that is enduring and one that is ideally built upon over time. Let me know in the comments below if you can relate to this beautiful look.
If you love country style decorating you should read my Guide to Country Style and remember that I have a FREE resource library to help you with your next decorating or renovation project including a guide on how to put together a mood board to help you define the style you want. Click here for access to the library.