The most delightful thing happened recently: I received a personal request to write an article on French Country design. Ooh la la! A friend has French roots and needed a little guidance with this wonderful lifestyle. But before I get started, let me set the mood for this French Saturday with something a bit fun! Simply log on to: www.putumayo.com HYPERLINK "http://www.putumayo.com/content/french_café_0"French Café - Putumayo World Music to listen to a wonderful piece or two that will put you in a jaunty French mood.
So here we are on a fabulous Saturday with a petit amount of French café music in the background and perhaps a beret you have popped on your head and a warm croissant at your fingertips and coffee. And we are off to France, gorgeous! I believe a respectable share of people join me in favoring the Provence region of France for its brilliantly bright, cheery and casual interiors. We will leave the Paris design and its more refined interiors for another Saturday! Agreed? So, back to Provence with the extraordinarily vivid color palette that many of us have grown to be passionate about over the past several decades. One of the most recognizable aspects of this design is, of course, the rooster!
Why Roosters Roost in France
There is reason for the significance of this fabulous fowl in French design! I know, I know, but I love a bit of history! Indulge me and let me tell you the history of this unofficial symbol of France, the rooster. The rooster has both Christian and patriotic meaning for the French. First, consider that Jesus predicted Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. At the rooster’s crowing, Peter remembered Jesus’ words. After Peter’s denial of Christ, the rooster stood for his remorse and repentance. With this solid theological reasoning, roosters were used to embellish church bells and towers.
In other cultures, the rooster’s crowing at the dawn of a new day made it a daily victory of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil. Therefore, a rooster adorned the people’s flag during the French Revolution and symbolized the resilience and bravery of the French Resistance in World War II. Understanding why the rooster is significant to French Country design makes you appreciate it as more than just a design accessory.
Now, let’s focus on what is classic French Country design and how to achieve this appealing look in your home.
The Colors of the Mediterranean
The colors used in French Country design reflect the hues present in Provence, the southeast region near the Mediterranean Sea. These colors are derived from native items such as lavender, sunflowers, wheat, lemons, poppies, olives and cicadas (which are similar to locust). It is easy to see the source of the brilliant colors in this appealing way of designing. Cheerful and delightfully happy!
Page 2 of 3 - Fabulous Fabrics
French Country fabrics feature rich, saturated colors captured from the countryside, maybe the splendid sundrenched yellow of a field of sunflowers or the blazing red of a poppy. Fashioned from Provencal cotton, the patterns include sunflowers, olives, stripes, vintage Provence prints, big bold checks and petit checks. Toile, meaning linen cloth or canvas, is a fabric that lays out a story in great detail within its print. Toile a Matelas, a mattress cloth we know as ticking. Natural linens and cottons are a perfect balance for this casual yet brilliantly hued design direction. The layering and combinations of patterns and colors are immense! For this way of life, disregard the silks, damasks and anything that shouts formal and instead navigate to nonchalant, fun fabrics.
As for the furniture, French Country does not refer to a period, but a lifestyle. It is actually a combination of many periods of French furniture, including Louis XV and XVI, Regency, Directoir and Louis Phillip. Skilled craftsmen in Paris and other significant European cities built the furniture during these periods for royality as well as the wealthy city residents. For residents of the countryside, these pieces were styled in a friendlier fashion that we typically think of as French Country. The pieces are not as refined as those crafted by the famous cabinetmakers, such as Jean-François Oeben, and there were no highly polished finishes, ormolus (ornate gold detailing) or gilding. The pieces are void of marquetry (elaborate wood inlays) and feature very little ornamentation. What you have instead is still beautiful, expertly crafted furniture from the woods available in the region (oak, walnut, fruit wood and, some mahogany).
While French Country furniture does not have the same level of refinement as that made by notable European craftsmen, it still remained very livable. This time-tested furniture often features boards left long, giving you planked tabletops, painted pieces and pieces simply left as raw wood. Aspects of rural life blended with the lavish city lifestyle to create softer, more relaxed, rustic pieces void of stuffiness. French Country furniture might mingle with pieces that have some age and have maybe even met a paintbrush once or twice, perhaps in a cerulean blue like the sky or the soft mellow green of the lavender plant leaves. Farm tables surrounded by ladder-back chairs with rush seats are common. Furniture will have graceful curves to the chair backs and legs (cabriole leg). You might see carvings of flowers, wheat or even cicadas on armoires, sideboards, chair backs, table aprons and legs as well as hutches. Plus, look for cara marble tops and iron bases used in tables and console pieces. Modern reproductions, often stained a deep tone of a well-aged cognac as well as other versions of rich dark wood, may or may not have a distressed appearance that ranges from slight to heavy, giving the piece instant age. As you can see, there is quite a diversity of pieces that come together to create the fondness for the French County way of life.
Page 3 of 3 - Accessories with Flair
To accessorize a French Country décor, start with, of course, the grand rooster. Bring one home to roost on your kitchen island or dining room table in all its ceramic glory, look for lamps with perhaps a bronze or pewter rooster on a base, black wrought iron door stop or any variety of rooster interpretations. Or, look into typical French Country potteries such as Quimper (pronounced kem-pair). Quimper features vibrantly hand painted figures of people, chickens and flowers deliciously crafted into absolutely everything from canisters to clocks. You’ll find terracotta glazed in splendid colors molded into Anduze urns (wonderful pots with swags and medallion relief detailing at the top lip) that make wonderful containers for plants, indoors or out. Look for French flower buckets for a sunflower bouquet on the kitchen table (just be sure to give them some weight with rocks at the bottom as they tend to be top heavy). Any interpretation of a hot-air balloon says ooh la la, as do metal pieces designed into clocks, plant stands and let’s not forget an iron Eiffel Tower! Find baskets in beautiful natural fibers or lacquered painted finishes! And, of course, there’s the whimsical cicadas in ceramic with a glazed finish as wall ornaments. So many many items can give your home that bit of French authenticity! Plus, they’re a joy to search for!
When developing a French Country home, the thing to keep in mind is that you need to live and feel the design. French country homes are easy, festive and uncomplicated. There is really no right or wrong way to develop this style as the goal is to finish with a warm and comfortable home. It is a lifestyle that has stood the test of time and I don’t see any end to its marvelous charm.
As my brillant and beloved professor Ardon used say to our class, "My friends the French do everything better!" Whether or not my mentor of design was correct, it is a wonderful rich way to live!
Jan Colvin has been a professional interior designer for over 25 years (Allied ASID). She accredits her mother Pat Robinson and Lucille Chase for her intense interest and love for design.
She has taught interior design at the college level and operated her private design business since 2001. Look for her new book soon!
Jan welcomes questions, which will be answered in her columns. Send your questions to: Fjan@jcolvininteriors.com