French Provincial Architecture: History & Characteristics

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Towers and arches in the countryside. What kind of houses did French aristocrats built in the 1600s? In this lesson, learn about the history of French Provincial Architecture and its characteristics.

History of French Provincial Architecture

Have you ever been to France? Have you ever seen a large, stately home with tall arched windows, a steep roof, and perhaps a tower? You might have been looking at an example of French Provincial architecture.

French Provincial architecture is a style associated with specific geographic areas. Used for residential architecture, it was originally found in the countryside of France. The term is used to denote rural manor houses and chateaux from the 1600s and 1700s. Sometimes these structures were truly manors, living spaces for a wealthy landowner and their family but also business centers for the farms and tenants who lived on the surrounding land. Others were built as summer or vacation homes, many during the reign of Louis XIV.

These structures, some almost castle-like, were built by French aristocrats in the provinces, or rural regions of France outside of Paris. A province was a historical designation, and tended to include the land surrounding a regional city. The provinces included places like Normandy, Brittany, and Provence.

Characteristics of French Provincial Architecture

French Provincial architecture has several identifying characteristics. Buildings tend to be built of brick or stone, although they can sometimes feature half-timbering as well. Structures are often symmetrical with very balanced proportions. You'll usually see the same number of windows on each side of a structure, with the entrance often in the middle. Sometimes, you'll also see a round tower as an entranceway or incorporated into another part of the structure.

Example of French Provincial architecture
French Provincial architecture

One of the most distinctive elements of French Provincial architecture is the roof, steeply pitched and often hipped. On a hipped roof, all sides slope downward toward a structure's walls.

A hipped roof slopes down to the walls on all sides
Hipped roof

Sometimes, structures built in the French Provincial style also have dormers on their roofs. Dormers are small extensions that protrude out from the roof. The dormers often have windows and are gabled, with two small roof sections that meet at a ridge.

French Provincial structures tend to have tall second-stories. Sometimes, these upper stories also have distinctive tall windows with curved, arching tops. On some houses, the windows might extend beyond the cornice or eave of the roof line.

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