Kristin Hohenadel is an interior design expert who has covered architecture, interiors, and decor trends for publications including the New York Times, Interior Design, Lonny, and the American and international editions of Elle Decor. She resides in Paris, France, and has traveled to over 30 countries, giving her a global perspective on home design.
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Updated on 09/17/20
French country style is a timeless aesthetic that can encompass the refined simplicity of a rustic farmhouse or the sophisticated luxury of a country chateau. It varies according to region, with Provencal-style farmhouses, Normandy cottages, and houses on the Brittany seashore each having their own distinctive characteristics.
What all the regions of the French countryside share is a cultural devotion to the art of living and perfecting the domestic sphere in order to bring beauty to everyday life. In France, part of living with centuries of history is learning to gracefully incorporate past and present into a timeless style that honors tradition while constantly adapting to contemporary needs and lifestyles. The quotidian elegance of a French country living room honors tradition while constantly reinventing itself, which today means that in addition to rustic accessories and distressed finishes you will also find plenty of comfortably upholstered sofas, a light breezy color palette, and a mix of styles that is easy to recreate no matter where you live thanks to the widespread appeal and easy availability of French-style furniture and accessories around the world.
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French Country Style With American Structure
The fireplace in this living room from Sheila at Maison de Cinq has classic American bones, but details like recognizably French armchairs upholstered in simple white fabric, a vintage sideboard with a whitewashed patina, and a mirror and jumble of paintings with gilded frames are some of the details that help channel the French country living room vibes.
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Soft and Romantic
In a decidedly romantic take on French country design, this California living room from Courtney at French Country Cottage features rustic elements like dark wood ceiling beams and is softened with comfortable seating upholstered in muted colors. A vintage chandelier and a pair of stacked antique gilded French mirrors leaning against the wall add a note of history and romance. French-style doors help create a French country feel.
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In this elegantly low-key living room, a cluster of white slipcovered sofas creates family-style seating arranged to create an area for gathering and conversation. A beautiful historic gray stone fireplace is the focal point of the room, not a large screen TV, and arched window frame details are painted in soft gray to echo the fireplace and call attention to the pretty shape of the windows. Walls, ceiling, and hardwood floors in pale neutral shades create a cohesive look and a comfortably modern feel. A chandelier anchors the living space and adds a vintage note.
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In her French country-inspired living room, Sheila at Maison de Cinq added an antique Mora clock from Sweden that works beautifully with the overall aesthetic, demonstrating that you can achieve French country elegance without adhering to French-only style. The tone-on-tone neutral palette of light soft whites, creams, tans, and browns keep the room feeling cohesive and inviting.
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Modern French Country
This French country style living room from French designer Nathalie Vingot Mei is what the French call style campagne chic, or chic country style. Here, a muted palette of greige, beige, soft gray, and tan complements comfortable modern upholstered furniture with classic lines in natural fabrics like linen and cotton. The room is accessorized with elegant vintage sconces and a simple rug covering the traditional terracotta floor tiles in a hexagonal shape that the French call tomettes. And because the French are masters of blending old and new, to keep the room grounded in history but timeless and comfortable by today's standards, the designer chose a trio of modern coffee tables including two graphic round black metal tables of varying size and a third vintage wooden mid-century table with 1960s legs that work because they are the same shape without matching.
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Country in the City
Ceiling moldings and a classic fireplace give this city apartment living room a formal vibe, but French country touches like a painted vintage mirror, a simple elegant chandelier, slipcovered furniture in white and a dark floral, and a homey old-style floor lamp channel a timeless, relaxed French country vibe.
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French country style can also mean the kind of sophisticated style you'd find in a chateau living room, with its historic bones and period fireplace and gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows. Comfortable overstuffed contemporary sofas upholstered in simple neutral linens and heavy floor-to-ceiling drapes in an unfussy pale fabric complement the light stone floors. A modern coffee table and work of colorful contemporary art over the mantel keep the room feeling livable and not like a theater set. If you are working with a room that has less architectural interest, add in some vintage picture frames or a mirror or antique lamps to add a note of history to your space.
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Painted Ceiling Beams
Painted out ceiling beams create an airier effect that takes this room from rustic to modern rustic, and leaves the spotlight on a dark wood door and darker finishes on antique furnishings. Classic French-style armchairs and a slipcovered couch with an informal furniture arrangement creates the sense that this is a flexible living space, not a formal living room, which perfectly embodies French country spirit.
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To create a modern rustic French country-style vibe in this contemporary living room, with its dramatic ceiling line and imposing wooden beams, a distressed contemporary brown leather couch, a simple crowd-pleasing palette coffee table on wheels, and a painted wall clock adds a bit of vintage charm that is easily copied anywhere.
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Unpretentious and Comfy
This cozy French farmhouse-inspired living room has painted out ceiling beams and an original fireplace, with a comfy, overstuffed couch and simple, mismatched furniture. Featuredin the room is a rustic modern tree stump side table, an industrial task light for reading, a generous ottoman that doubles as a coffee table, and rustic touches like a chandelier and woven basket for firewood.
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French country style is often lumped in with shabby chic, which is characterized by lots of white slipcovered furniture and feminine, homey touches like painted wood lamps with traditional lampshades. This interpretation of French country style can be achieved using French pieces but if it's easier or cheaper to get your hands on vintage pieces from the U.S. or England, you can achieve a similar look by keeping everything soft and neutral with plenty of natural wood furniture with antique details to create the timeless look.
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French Country Minimalism
Not every French country living room has to be chock-full of furniture and accessories. This rustic room has dark ceiling beams and an original wood door with metal hardware that are beautiful enough to shine on their own without a lot of embellishment. A couple of vintage sofas and plenty of open floor space keep this French country living room feeling airy. Part of the charm of a French country-inspired living room is treating it as a living space that doesn't look too done, with room for things to be added to create a space that can evolve over time.
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French Country Sleek
There's a vaguely French country vibe to this all-white room with its sleek shiny white painted floors, slipcovered armchairs, logs in the unused fireplace, and empty painted vintage frames hung on the wall. It's a stylized nod to some of the elements that create the sophisticated but comforting timeless elegance of French country style that can work just as well in an urban environment when done with a light touch.
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Open Plan Living
Open-plan living isn't reserved for urban loft conversions and new builds. A classic French farmhouse would have concentrated living, dining, and kitchen space into a central room, if only to benefit from the warmth of a central fireplace. In this all-white airy open plan living and dining room space, a French gilded mirror, crystal chandelier, and soft comfortable overstuffed sofas create an effortlessly elegant, livable vibe. The natural light from the wall of French windows and doors and period stained glass detail add to the charm.
Open Floor Plan: History, Pros and Cons
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Mix and Match
This French country-style living room looks like it's been there forever, with its dark rustic wood-beamed ceiling and classic fireplace as focal point. The room looks assembled over time, with its nonchalant mix of vintage armchairs, antique wooden hutch and furniture, traditional hexagonal floor tiles, and a dose of color in a more modern rug. It's a lesson in how everything from wood finishes to upholstery doesn't have to match to work well together.
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