French provincial decor is often freely re-interpreted in other parts of the world. All of us see other cultures through our own lens - that's why country French decorating ideas in the USA, the UK or elsewhere (outside France) won't look exactly like original French country interior decorating.
For information about French/Provençal styles in France, click a pic:
"French provincial decor - what makes it French -
and not Americanized 'French'?
And ... should ceilings be painted a color for this look?"
Both in the USA and the UK, French provincial decor is often interpreted as "romantic", with lace, ruffles, flounces and and bows. That's not altogether surprising when you consider that the baroque lines of Louis XV furniture are often seen as quintessentially French.
What we tend to overlook, though, is that the elegance and appeal of contemporary French provincial decor comes from its no-frills restraint, its earthiness and nonchalance in mixing old and new.
In other words: In France/Provence, scalloped edges are just about as frilly as it gets.
Take French country bedrooms, for example: The bedlinen is simple (white and crisp), and the bed is covered with a traditional boutis quilt or a white matelassé coverlet. Shams and throw pillows are a rarity (except in hotels).
And you may be surprised that, even though there are wonderful vintage, antique and reproduction Louis XV and Louis XVI beds around, many people in France prefer a simple platform bed without so much as a headboard.
Here are some examples from across France:
These rooms aren't romantic in a 'sweet' or feminine way. They are almost austere in their simplicity. But they're warm and alive with Old-World tradition. Provençal bedrooms, for example, with their antique linens, waxed terra cotta flooring, fine walnut furniture and whitewashed, light blue or pale ochre walls exude a calm, pure, time-honored beauty.
So let's see how French provincial decor can be translated into an American bedroom.
If you're re-creating French provincial decor in a newbuilt house or apartment, you have to make up for the lack of atmosphere that comes with ancient stone walls and antique floor tiles.
To increase the 'romance' factor, you could use a canopy bed or a black iron bed. Then, add oversized French country curtains that end in a 'puddle' on the floor.
But these are not necessary ingredients! Here are two stateside interpretations of French country bedrooms:
It's perhaps not entirely fair to critique this room, because it was designed to look recognizably "French country" to a large number of people, and how do you do that? By using loads of toile de Jouy. But no one actually lives here, so the decor hasn't grown organically into an eclectic mix of old and new like you would find in a real French provincial house. Still, just to give you some ideas:
On the plus side, the decor is suitably simple, there's no silk or fancy patterning, and the window treatments have nice clean lines. Very French.
On the not-quite-French side, the bedstead looks more 'New England' than 'French Country', and the entire color scheme is quite matchy and bland (in France, you'd find a few color accents). And forgive me for nitpicking, but when you look closely at the bed spread (below right), you can see it has a (gasp!) tasseled fringe. Which looks nice, but it's so not 'French Country'. Compare:
French provincial decor: Quilts & Coverlets
French provincial bedcovers - both quilts (left) and matelassé coverlets (center) - have straight or scalloped edges. And there's the occasional picot edging, too. But no ruffles or fringes!
Decorating with toile de Jouy: Check out a list of bedroom ideas here!
Let's look at a second example, one that I think works really well:
The headboard as well as the backless bench have an 18th-century French look about them, the white matelassé coverlet is straight out of authentic French provincial bedrooms, and the ticking, though originally reserved for mattresses, has a lovely, mellow, traditional appearance. So despite the heavy load of shams & accent pillows, this bedroom breathes the restrained stylishness of authentic French country decor.
The following dining room is an intentional syle mix; the owner lovingly called it her "French Country Hobbit Makeover". Even though she wasn't trying for an authentic French look, these pictures are a great example of the simple things you can do to "Frenchify" your home:
The chandelier, creatively gussied up at very little expense, would make perfectly fine 'room jewelry' for authentic French provincial decor. The toile valances and wallpaper are unobtrusive and don't overpower the room. But there's one conspicuously non-French element in this room: Windsor chairs.
You can hide any old table under a large, cream-colored French linen tablecloth, but those stickbacks will always give the game away. In France, country chairs are strictly of the ladderback variety. You could, of course, use any of the French chair styles below to create more cohesive French country interiors (except #5):
1: Medaillon back chairs became fashionable at the time of Louis XVI;
2: Crossbar backs have been popular since the Restoration (1815-1830), but this is a modern version (© Toprural);
3: Rush-seated Provençal chairs were introduced into fine society by Louis XV's maîtresse, Madame de Pompadour (© Frenchfinds);
4: Louis XV caned armchairs were the 'economy' version of elegant upholstered armchair models (© Victoria & Albert Museum, London);
5: Thonet bentwood chairs were actually invented in Germany and have been continually produced there since 1850. However, they're so widely used in Parisian cafés that they're generally known as "French café chairs". They're also used around some French kitchen tables, but the look is a bit too urban for French provincial decor, and too modern to go with the 18th-century toile print in the room above! (© Thomas Fitzgerald).
So, to the second part of Catherin's question: Country houses in Provence rarely have painted ceilings, but I did find the one above right, by interior designer extraordinaire, Richard Goullet, in the tiny town of Blauzac.
This is of course not strictly traditional French provincial decor, but it's a wonderfully spirited way to fill an ancient Provençal stone house with elegance and attitude. And attitude is definitely an authentic part of French interior decorating, provincial or not :-)
So paint your ceiling any color you like, Catherin! Add a bit of ornament, too, if you feel like it. A bit of gold never goes amiss, least of all in French provincial decor!
Here are a few castle ceilings to take inspiration from:
Another fabulous ceiling I love is this one, in the Popes' Palace in Avignon (Provence).
Remember this is definitely not French country decor, but if you like the look of this - honestly, just go for it!!!
I'm currently working on a page about different ways to create a French provincial kitchen, but in the meantime, these pages will help you get started (click a pic):
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