French Provincial style is one of the most popular design genres out there, whether it’s describing the architecture of a home or the furnishings within it. Although it has somewhat lofty origins, French Provincial design is beloved today for its casually elegant vibe.
When French Provincial architecture appears in the United States, it's actually classified as a revival, inspired by the original 17th- and 18th-century manor houses that dot the countryside of France. These homes and their furnishings were themselves inspired by the then en-vogue stylings of Paris during the reign of King Louis XIV, bringing about toned-down, simpler versions of what filled the halls of Versailles.
The style first came to America after World War I, after soldiers who had glimpsed and admired the grand chateaux and quaint farmhouses in rural France returned and built homes in a similar style. While not as popular as more British-influenced architecture styles, French Provincial homes are fairly common in the U.S., from their original surge in popularity in the '20s as well as a second revival that brought the style back to the fore in the '60s.
Here Are the Key Elements of the Style
For both those original manor houses in the rural provinces of France and the revival versions here in the U.S., several features stand out. The houses are built of brick or stone, and feature symmetrical, flat facades with a centered front door. Painted wood shutters are common for the windows and doors.
These were large country homes that almost always had at least two stories, sometimes with a third under the steeply pitched, hipped roof (meaning all four sides of the roof slope down toward the ground) with dormers. The second stories of these homes were uniquely tall and featured high, arched windows that extended past the eave of the roof, adding to the heightened appearance of the house. Such a steep roof calls for a beautiful material worthy of looking at, so many French Provincial homes are topped with slate tile or copper-accented roofs.
Original French Provincial homes ranged from large but modest farmhouses to country estates of wealthy aristocrats, so the level of adornment and detailing varied, but most of the revival homes air on the grand, detailed side. A rounded tower may break up the rectangular symmetry and mark the entryway. Large, multi-paned windows are common and stately, arched doorways are typical for these homes.
It Makes for a Chic Exterior or Interior
When it comes to French Provincial interiors, the style has a low-maintenance elegance to it that's timeless and beautifully simple. The colors match the landscape: lots of cream and white, with browns, grays, and muted greens and blues. Texture is a key element of French Provincial design with unfinished wood, iron, and stone frequently serving as accents—an homage to the historic farmhouses the style originated within.
What keeps the style from straying into industrial minimalism are the soft lines and curves of the furniture. Grand armoires are a quintessential French Provincial piece, with detailed trim along the edges. Again, since this style originated during King Louis XIV's reign, that era's ornate shapes heavily influence French Provincial furniture, but instead of being gilded in gold and covered with heavily textured brocade, the wood is simply stained or painted white, and linen plays a popular role in upholstery.
French Provincial design is especially popular today because it's a softer, more elegant take on minimal or rustic farmhouse decor. Plus, you won't be rushing to replace it in a few years because it's a classic we don't see going out of style anytime soon.
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