French Country Design Influences on Antique Furniture
When thinking about French antiques, it is relatively easy to immediately picture the opulence of design found in places such as Versailles, meant for the members of the monarchy. Not every piece of historic and influential French design came solely from that heavily gold gilt, Rococo-like piece of art, however.
For those who lived their lives in the near pastoral countryside of France, furniture design there took on its interpretation of country life with distant inspirations based on courtly whim. This style of furniture is generally referred to as French Provincial Furniture. The style was influenced by King Louis XIV, who was adamant in cementing France as a pioneer of its style, art, and refined elegance. While adapted from the designs found in palaces, over time the characteristics of this kind of opulent furniture became softened as the years passed and became one of the most well-known antique décor styles synonymous with casual elegance.
So beautiful was this merging of styles that it is still one of the most sought after for interior designers and homeowners alike, with its juxtaposition of distressed finishes with lavish furnishings. What sort of influences of French Country design on antique furniture can be seen through the centuries? What characteristics of this defining artistic design set itself to become part of a timeless beloved style throughout the ages?
What is French Country Style?
In its earliest stages, the French Country Style was not singular or a precise style. Throughout French history, many rural provinces created as well as consumed furniture that emulated urban trends with simpler versions. Instead of heavy gilt or bronze ornamentation, for instance, simpler metals or veneers may have been used. There were a few periods, however, where global motifs made strong appearances. The first occurred in the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIII. This era of furniture was made to be bold, big, solid yet very opulent and extremely decorative with geometric carvings, cherubs, and organic motifs most prominent.
What makes this era even more significant to the influences of French country design on antique furniture, is this is roughly the first appearance of the middle class in France, especially in the provinces. People who were not born into aristocratic or noble families yet had amassed enough wealth to not only envision a more comfortable way of life but to afford it while living comfortably enough to participate in style trends. This was the first true period of French Country furniture, as the Baroque Louis XIII style was recreated in simpler iterations. While less ornamental, this provincial furniture was still as elegant and stylish as it maintained the beautiful forms and attitudes of the Louis XII furniture.
French Country Style had a secondary era to further define itself during the 18th century. For many, this is the French Country style we are most familiar with. Aristocratic life was encapsulated within the Regence and Louis XV trends of design. Styles were lighter in colors and took less visual weight than the earlier French Country style of the 17th century, but opulence and lavish details were still to be found. The 18th century French Country style can be loosely termed as that of the Rococo style.
French Country Style’s Timeless Characteristics
The influences of French Country design on antique furniture can be seen in certain intrinsic characteristics that have made their style mark timeless. Even today, some of the key elements of French Country style can be seen in both modern and vintage-inspired décor around the world. French Country style has inspired many substyles as well, such as French Farmhouse. Each one has key elements that stem from the influences of the French Country. Here, we will briefly help define the difference between French Farmhouse and French Country.
The French Farmhouse Style
The signature element of the French Farmhouse can be wrapped around a single concept: rustic. As its name suggests, it is representative of French farms—not to be mistaken for American rustic farmhouse style. This theme features old and raw or heavily distressed wood. Parquet flooring or even exposed beams are the basics for this type of décor. Very simple furniture with very few ornaments and wood tones are lighter. Weathered and well-used furniture and accessories are part of this rustic, charming style. Pieces of furniture with damaged surfaces or paint, for example, are often employed in this décor. Items such as cow portraits, roosters, English quotes on simple wood boards, however, are to be avoided. These items are characteristic of the American Farmhouse style, not French.
The French Country or French Provincial Style
The French Country of French Provincial style has some rustic touches to it, but this style can be summed up easier by its main component that is warmth. Associated with the Provence region with its elegant furniture and earthy warm and welcome colors, the French Country is a friendly refined style. Console tables with delicate legs, beautiful armoires in spring-green washes with other colors that evoke the shades of sunlight. The French Provincial style incorporates old and exposed stonework, the fields of lavender with olive trees, and a touch of old-world markets. One of the most popular color themes for interior and exterior areas for French Provincial is ocher. Typical of Roussillon (South of France) there are multiple tones of ocher found in nature from saffron yellow to orange-red.
Furthermore, French Country or Provincial Style featured a distinctive theme of patterns and prints, created in Marseille during the mid to late 1600s. These prints showcase cicadas, lavenders, olive trees, poppies, geometric or stylized stripes, circles, and arabesques.
These timeless influences of French country design on antique furniture culminate into a few key signatures:
- Neutral colors like taupe, ivory, sage or olive green, greys, ochre with rare touches of bright-grass green or dark hunter green, cobalt blue, or soft ocean tones.
- Raw distressed wood that features many ornamental, beautiful carvings, where the graceful curve of the cabriole leg is heavily featured. Many of the furniture’s cabriole legs end in decorative feet such as hooves, scrolls, tambours, or whorl feet.
- Flora and fauna were popular decorative motifs for nobility and middle class alike. Cartouches in frames, scallop shells, doves, and dolphins with stylized flowers are on almost every kind of furniture piece.
Today, these influences can still be seen in the antique furniture created directly after this era, echoing to furniture created to this very day. Such a breathtaking, yet simple elegance makes the French Country style of furniture easy to fall in love with, and admire its ageless touch across centuries.
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