The French Country House
To celebrate our theme of the month, horses, we’ll be having a series on country homes from around the world. You can sign up here to be alerted when a new post is published.
The uncontested kingdom of the shabby chic effect is (everywhere that wishes it was) Provence. The style which we most commonly associate to the French country home is first and foremost the rustic simplicity of the Provençal style. Coloured furniture in light or bright colours like aquamarine (Annie Sloan has a shade that is called, aptly, Provence) or lavender takes the centre stage, in particular in the kitchen. Wood and cast iron are common materials, but rattan chairs and woven baskets are what really sets the French atmosphere apart from other countries’ country homes.
Ceramics are also key to the décor, with various style which are either reminiscent of the sea (white and blue, especially stripes) or the countryside (with bright yellows and greens, and flowers). Provence is, after all, a very diverse region squeezed between the Côte d’Azur and the mainland of the Rhône region, with mountains on the side. Wines, olives and fish are all part of the local cuisine, so the region offers plenty of antique terracotta from the rural past. Ideal to use for vases of lavender or sunflowers, which are another typical produce of the area.
And food is, in fact, key to the life of the country home. In fact, another very important aspect of it is the garden, which usually has a very simple veranda (often with ivy or vine leaves or other groundlings) covering a table fit for entertaining.
Virginia Woolf decorated Monk’s House (in East Sussex) largely in the French style, with some pieces of décor she purchased while holidaying in the South of France (and the rest from the Omega Workshops).
However, the Provençal cottage isn’t the only type of country home in France. Going from the South East to the North West, and in particular to the Loire Valley, the French chateau makes its grand entrance. The interior décor is the opposite of the rustic simplicity we’ve seen so far: rich furniture (like antique mahogany), floral prints, and deep colours like burgundy and emerald, balanced out by the lighteness of white. Textiles and art pieces take over the space in what is a visually rich space, with carpets and drapes and rooms that are cosy and sophisticated. The original chateaux would entertain the King and Queen of France, so comfort was paramount. Creating a space where people enjoy living, relaxing and entertaining is a nice way to channel the spirit of the past.
Florals, and old-fashioned sturdy furniture also make an appearance in the neighbouring region of Normandy, although the proximity to the sea is another influence in some parts of the region. Like the chateaux in the Loire valley, the architecture of the house and the exteriors are the most particular aspect of both cottages and chateaux in Normandy. A common feature is white stone, most often associated with dark grey one on the roof, but also other types of stones are used, especially in the south of the region. The north is, instead, characterised by half-timbered farm houses, similar to what we would think of Tudor England. Another typical architectural feature is the Bagnolese style of façade, which takes its name from the Belle Époque country vacation homes of the upper classes in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne. The style of these villas is eclectic and much representative of the historical period during which they were built.