The French Country Look
The French Country decor is one of my all time favorites. I can best describe it as a combination of high end French furniture styles that have gone romantic and almost shabby chic. To be sure that can sound a bit confusing, but think about it for a moment. The decor is compiled of French styles that could have been in our grandmothers’ homes when they were new, now re-upholstered and the frames slightly distressed through age and wear. And, Voila! French Country is created.
The fabrics that set French Country decor apart are patterned, often on a light background — although some shades of red keep showing up in showrooms around the world. Often the patterns are large. Think of toile (pronounced “twal”) fabrics with their painted pastoral designs. Much like our American shabby chic style, it is perfectly appropriate to combine patterns and designs. In the case of combining patterns, it is important to keep the color scheme somewhat simple — three colors maximum, although slight shading of each color is quite acceptable.
The furniture is often distressed, but not battered. Often the furniture used in the French Country decor has been painted in a light shade of blue or it may be white. Rather than looking dinged or battered, the appearance looks as if it has brushed up against a fine sandpaper in some areas. Mix the white or lightest blue piece with other wood (usually medium light wood) for a table, perhaps, and French Country is established. Throw in a little gilt for glamor.
The drapery material is usually a floral pattern and always consider the distinguishing lace or fringe border. In older French manors with rooms with high ceilings, the wallpaper was often in the same pattern as the drapes. In fact, in some of the manor houses, the so-called “wallpaper” was actually fabric applied to the walls.
Creating Your French Country Decor
1. Choose Your Color Scheme
First of all decide on the color scheme. What will be the basic color? A light creamy shade of pale yellow? Or, a light blue? Those are not the only options, of course, but a good place to start.
The palette above is only one choice, and not the only one. It has been selected to illustrate three colors that will fit the French Country decor.
Remember: Once the three basic colors have been selected, it is quite appropriate to run up and down the color scale of each of the colors. As an example, I will use the shade of blue. Quite often this particular shade of blue is used but a darker hue of the same color may easily be used as an accent.
Remember: Stark white — pure white — is too white for most French Country decor. Even in kitchens that have white cabinets, quite often the color is Navajo White or another slightly creamy hue. Of course, it is your decor and you are the decorator. Use what is comfortable for your eyes.
2. Select the Basic Furniture — the Anchor Pieces
Shopping a furniture store for French Country is one option, and often the one most selected. It takes the guesswork out of the decor. I think it also takes the individuality out of the decor. While many of the furniture store settings are appealing and more than acceptable, it bears mentioning that there will be other settings just like yours. Chances are you will never see them, so for the individual who wants to leave the setting up to professional furniture designers and manufacturers I say “go for it.”
My favorite way to create the decor that makes me most comfortable is to visit antique shops or thrift stores to find French style furniture. The oval back of upholstered furniture is something to look for. When purchasing used furniture, please remember that if the piece is upholstered it should be completely redone — completely, and that includes the padding in particular. You are after the style of the frame, not the upholstery. Check the frame for solid construction. Remember, having a frame completely re-upholstered and all the padding replaced can be expensive. Take your time and choose wisely.
Please note that the selection above is just one style. Check out our French styles to get other ideas.
3. Window Treatments
If your windows are standard size, consider having the drapes made to hang as close to the ceiling as possible. Most French country styles show long, narrow windows. If your windows are not long enough to meet the style, hang the drapes higher to give the appearance of high windows. Valences are an excellent way to hide the fact that the window is not full length.
The window treatment above offers a solid respite from the matching wallpaper and upholstery. This gives a visual break to what otherwise could be a totally overwhelming pattern.
The treatment directly above shows another option for the window treatment. Rather than having a full set of curtains on both windows, use one panel on each window framing the focal point. Again, note the height at which the drapes are placed and also note that the bottom of the panel rests on the floor. This adds softness to the overall visual appeal.
While the flowing skirt of the drapery panel is spread across the floor, it must be said that while the appeal is certainly there, this arrangement is not for the average family with young children and pets. (I’ve been there and it doesn’t work for running youngsters with pets!)
Begin looking for fabrics in the upholstery shop or the drapery shop. A few pillows made from drapery fabric can neatly tie the decor together if placed across the room from the window treatment. Or, consider having a chair upholstered in the fabric of the draperies. In the instance above, the bed frame is upholstered in the same fabric used for the window treatment.
Whether you decide to select a check pattern or a toile pattern or another, a careful balance between the draperies and an upholstered piece of furniture can tie the decor together perfectly. Be sure you like the fabric and can live with it. It is easy enough to change the draperies, but consider the cost of having the furniture re-upholstered when making a selection.
A word of caution: If the room is small, use a smaller pattern. There is nothing less satisfying than a room decor that is swallowed up by a huge pattern.
There is so much more that can be said about this decor that I will hopefully find time to go into greater detail. But, for now I hope this simple introduction has set your mind in motion.