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French Country Furniture: History & Design

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Who says that rustic furniture can't be classy? In this lesson, we are going to explore French country furniture and see how urban styles were modified to fit provincial life.

French Country Furniture

If you're going on a picnic, you don't take the entire dining room table with you. You take something more appropriate, like a picnic blanket. Of course, if you're still trying to impress someone, you could always consider upgrading the blanket to a fine tablecloth or silk sheet.

Furniture is very similar. In most European-based traditions, furniture styles are defined by an urban aristocracy. These styles are made for cities like Paris, but what if you want to travel to your country home for the weekend? Your urban furniture won't quite fit into rural life, so you need something more rustic. That doesn't mean, however, that the rules of style cease to matter. This is where we find French country furniture. It's a style with all the elegance you'd need, but simplified and rustic enough to fit into the countryside.

History and Definition

When we're talking about French country furniture, we aren't always talking about a single and precise style. Really, through all of French history, the rural provinces created and consumed furniture that emulated urban trends, but in simpler versions. Provincial furniture tends to be less ornate, with fewer ornaments and additions like veneers or metal fixings. Woods tend to be local walnut, oak, or fruitwood.

That being said, there are a few times that more unified French country styles emerged. The first was in the 17th-century, under the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1640). Louis XIII era furniture was big and solid but opulent and decorative, with geometric carvings, cherubs, and organic motifs.

Provincial life carried different demands than urban life
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What makes this era significant is the first appearance of a strong middle class in France, particularly in the provinces. These people were not the aristocrats of Paris, but they had enough wealth to envision a more comfortable quality of life and to participate in stylistic trends. This was the first true period of French country furniture, as the Baroque Louis XIII style was recreated in simpler, less ornate iterations. While less decorated, however, this provincial furniture was still elegant and stylish and maintained the basic forms and attitudes of Louis XIII furniture.

The 18th-Century French Country Style

The other era in which a more defined French country style emerged was a little under a century later, in the 18th-century. For many people today, this is the type of French country furniture that first comes to mind.

Provincial interiors tended to be a little more open, even in very refined and wealthy country villas like this
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Aristocratic life in this time was encapsulated within the Regence and Louis XV styles of design. These styles were lighter in color and visual weight than 17th-century designs but were just as opulent and lavishly decorated. We can roughly term this the Rococo style, and it was all the rage among the aristocracy.

Decoration in French country furniture was often limited and reduced to a few important motifs like the seashell
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