01 October 2007

A Country French House: Authentic Elements


This beautiful home pictured above is located in the French countryside. Typical of the many homes that dot the landscape, this home didn't start out this large, but has been added to over the years. The original structure most likely housed animals on the ground floor and humans on the second. This type of architecture is gaining in popularity in America. In neighborhood after neighborhood, you can find French styled houses. Usually, these homes are characterized by a stuccoed facade, arched french windows, and a high pitched roof.

Unfortunately when some Americans try to copy the architecture of the simple French country house, it usually ends up too fancy, too contrived, or too forced. The beauty of an authentic French country house lies in its simple lines, it stone facade, its charming windows, the wood or stone floor, the tiled roof, the stone fireplaces. What are the elements that make up a true French country home? Here are some of the more important elements that should be included if you are planning to create an accurate country French home:


Wood floors are an important element of the French look. Here a floor of reclaimed wood laid in a chevron pattern, is typically French.

The traditional Versailles patterned parquet wood floor.


Another floor that is popular in the French countryside is that made of terra cotta. These tiles above are laid in the running board pattern.


Here, a reclaimed limestone floor is laid in a traditional pattern.


Another terra cotta pattern. This is a popular choice in kitchens and family rooms.


No, these are not horse teeth! These are authentic roof tiles taken from a house in the French countryside. While having a roof made of tiles (new or old) is extremely expensive, nothing says authentic French more than these roof tiles.


A limestone mantelpiece. This particular mantel is actually a reproduction.


Another style of a French mantle. Note how deep it is. These types of mantles give a commanding presence to a room.



A stone mantle. Note how high it is, reaching almost to the top of the door.



A French home's foyer showing multiple important elements. A staircase made of limestone as opposed to wood. The banister is made of iron in a curved pattern to offset the straight lines of the risers. The floor is cream colored limestone with insets of black marble.



A second floor landing showing a close up of the iron banister, terra cotta tile floor, and lantern.


A typical ceiling in an older French home shows the exposed rafters. This is a true beamed ceiling, a look that is often copied. The beauty of this original ceiling would be hard to fake.



Elements in a fancier French country home: Versailles patterned wood floor, large french doors, beamed ceiling painted white. The beauty of this room is in it's contrasts: the dark painted walls against the white painted paneling; the simple white tablecloth versus the dressy crystal chandelier; the highly detailed patterned floor with the plain sisal rug.


Windows are a very important element that should be as authentic as possible. These windows open like doors as opposed to windows that raise and lower.


Typical low ceiling of many country homes restored from former animal living quarters. Often, the ceiling heights on the ground floors will be very low. Here the owners have extended the stucco to cover, not just the walls, but also the ceilings. Rooms with these types of low ceilings often have a cave like atmosphere. Terra cotta tiles are laid on the diagonal. Since these structures are made of stone, not wood, the depth of the walls can be extremely thick. The thickness can be observed where the wall meets the window. This type of wall thickness is hard to copy. There are ways to "fake" wall thickness, but the walls will never have the solid feel of real stone.



Charming bedroom: authentic elements are the stucco walls and terra cotta floors.



A typical country french house. Authentic elements to copy: wood shutters, without the typical American slats, terra cotta roof tiles, crushed limestone drive instead of concrete, absence of landscaping around the house.


Authentic French country home: french doors instead of windows, wood shutters, straight lines, terra cotta tiled roof. This home is located in the southern or Provencal part of France.


Close up view of authentic French shutters. These shutters are built to be used, and are not just for decoration. Most are painted a vibrant shade of blue.



Another blue shuttered, straight lined facade, terra cotta roof French country home. Note again, the absence of landscaping bushes surrounding the front.



Many country homes are reached by an allee of trees. What a wonderful way to reach home.

Reclaimed barn, now used as a country home. Large, crushed stone patio surrounds the house with the blue shutters and tiled roof. This home has it's stone facade exposed as opposed to stuccoed.


Here is a departure from the norm: Pale painted shutters, french windows instead of french doors. But the long, straight line of the facade gives it the distinctive country French look.


One type of a French fountain, a must in the French garden. Again, crushed limestone is used instead of pavers, tiles, or concrete.



An outdoor buffet of wine and cheese in Southern France.

Another fountain design, to be placed against a wall. This fountain is actually a reproduction, not an antique.



The fountain in a secret garden setting. When a fountain is placed in a hidden garden, the sound of the water draws you to the fountain, as opposed to seeing it first.


Here is an American "vision" of a country French home, for sale - it was advertised as a "French Beauty." With it's leather recliner, hideous book cases, wall to wall carpet, plain vanilla walls - this could be a charming room, instead it is totally uninspiring. The basic elements are there - a lovely mantel, ceiling beams, high ceilings - instead these Americans have no clue how to make their house, as advertised, a "French beauty."

Lest you think it is just Americans who can ruin a good room, take a look at this disaster. A home located in the south of France, this room has gorgeous moldings, niches, fireplace, mirror, french windows, Versailles patterned wood floor - yet it is a total disaster. A black leather sectional spars against a matching yellow leather sectional. Matching white lacquer tables finish off the less than passable decor. This room has everything going for it, yet the owners are either unaware of the room's beauty, or they happen to like tacky furniture. Either way, it's such a shame to ruin a gorgeous room that has so much potential.


Here's a French country house that DID get it right: the entry has beautiful French doors, distinctive molding above the door, terra cotta tile, painted ceiling, and a minimum of furniture and accessories.




Another country French house - here the living room is shown, appropriately casual for country living. French elements include stuccoed walls, beamed ceilings, and terra cotta tiled floors. An antique canopied daybed lends a romantic touch, as does the baby grand piano.



This country French dining room shows the essential elements: fireplace mantel, limestone floor, low stuccoed ceiling, and French windows. The fancy crystal chandelier plays against the simple chairs and rustic planters.


Here a country French house shows it's relaxed style by using cream painted antiques, rustic tables, cream colored dinnerware, and bushes instead of flowers. Though the style is comfortable, the antiques give it an air of sophistication.


Here, an American tries and succeeds in getting the country French look "right." Wood floors and stuccoed walls, along with French windows and arched doors lend important elements to the house. The furniture, though gives the true French feel to the house. The antique French settee and chairs are both painted cream, typical of the furniture found in the French countryside. The painted, oversized trumeau is the crowning touch to this living room. Hydrangeas in a patinaed green vase add the romance.


Another American house going in the right direction: French doors, wood floors, cream painted antique chairs and rustic buffet. This dining room is so relaxed and soothing, it would look totally at home on the French cote de sud.





31 comments:

  1. Wow Joni! Great post! It is almost painful to see that recliner and the gold recessed ceiling lights. I also have an irrational dislike for wall to wall carpet. Your phtos are like a mini vacation!:)

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  2. This is one of those great posts that I will come back to again and again. So inspiring and informative! I am realizing how much I love the authentic French look, particularly the more casual version...what I had grown to dislike was the Americanized Disneyworld version of French.

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  3. Joni... brilliant job on this and the ranch post. You're amazing!

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  4. interesting to see the French home with poor design. could it be that it is inhabited by an American whose style is stuck in the lacquer table mode of the 80's? Possible.

    I for one, love the idea of curved stone (or stucco) walls with limestone tiles laid on the diagonal. Absolutely smashing.

    By the way, I did enjoy that mantle that went almost up to the top of the doorway. How interesting to toss something in there so unexpected. It had the cool atmospheric quality of a John Saladino room to me. Intriguing!

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

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  5. Mmm so much eye candy but to tell you the truth so much of the style is also traditional Italian country. For example that stairway with the marble -that is my villa here in southern Italy -exactly!
    I must also tell you that right now there are so many Italians going for that horrible modern tacky look in old traditional houses (I like to call it Ikea's cheap trampy sister look stuck at the ball at midnight).

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  6. Love this post, Joni! You covered a lot of ground and made a great deal of astute observations, accompanied by your trademark candidness. Gotta love it! ;>)Those chevron wood floors are killer! Makes me miss France....

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  7. You are the american ambassador of French HOMES ..

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  8. Great points Joni! In Georgia I'm afraid we have our share of those too fancy, on steroids "French-inspired" homes -- or I guess their owners prefer to think of them as chateaux.

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  9. Oh, what lovely pictures! I just love that juxtaposition of romantic and rustic. Weren't you just dying to get your hands on that horrible room with the leather recliner?!

    Thanks for the beautiful tour!

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  10. Love all the photos! I see we pull from the same magazines :) A bunch of those are from Santa Barbara magazine- I can't remember what issue- but I have a lot of that article pulled, I love their pool and patio area too! And then you have a lot of Exquisite Surfaces pics too. :) Have you been to one of their showrooms? It's great fun to see all that in person. My friend has the most gogeous reclaimed fireplace from them *sigh*

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  11. I just wanted to let you know how happy I am that I found your site. I am learning so much from your photos and your commentary. I am not a decorator, but enjoy decorating my own home and love looking at pictures of creative spaces.
    I am so tired of the "home in a bag" we see everywhere here in the Dallas area. So uninspiring and model home like.
    I enjoy your blog even more than some of my favorite decorating magazines.
    Thank you!

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  12. I just wanted to let you know how happy I am that I found your site. I am learning so much from your photos and your commentary. I am not a decorator, but enjoy decorating my own home and love looking at pictures of creative spaces.
    I am so tired of the "home in a bag" we see everywhere here in the Dallas area. So uninspiring and model home like.
    I enjoy your blog even more than some of my favorite decorating magazines.
    Thank you!

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  13. What a fabulous post! As an anglophile, I tend to like more British decor but this post might be what'll make start peering at the other side of the channel! :-)

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  14. Beautiful pictures indeed! They all show a traditional view of French Country design though (Jocelyne Sibuet has perfected this look). I would love to see some pictures of modern French Country. As you know, it's possible to have very contemporary leather furniture in this setting -- just look at Roche Bobois!

    Thank you for the inspiring shots!

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  15. you always have the most
    b e a u t i f u l pictures~ love this post! gorgeous detail shots of the floors and roof.

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  16. Hi! Beautiful images! I'm looking for some French Country ideas to re-do my living areas. Thanks! Vanessa

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  19. I just came across this post while researching, in Google Images, for the perfect French-country accents... this images are the epitome of french country. I went to the most incredible store in Atlanta, GA called Architectural Accent. They sell all sorts of these goods. Like the Languedoc fountain and tons and tons of mantels, etc. ENJOY! (the website doesn't really give the store justice) www.architecturalaccents.com

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  20. I been enjoying your blog for almost a year!! As a latin Mom, never been at France but having this particulary interest for France,I been collecting all the books of Betty Lou and, I have learned different things from your blog, that complement my thoughts of France, let me tell you, you are simply amazing!!!!
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  21. Beautiful. I would move into all of these houses.

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  31. Hi Joni, thanks to make my day more precious and valuable by sharing this great post...love to read about house and its different area wise pics. I hope you don't mind if i take some idea from these pics. It helps me a lot to decorate my house kitchen and garden areas. I like the French fountain and outdoor buffet area of the house it is also needed for arrange big parties in house. I decided to call my contractor and tell him to do this type of similar home for me also.:)

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