French provincial style furniture is a favourite amongst those looking to add a touch of refined elegance to any space. The sweeping curves, elongated proportions, neutral palette and natural finishes of French provincial furniture means the style is great for those looking to create a classic, sophisticated interior with the additions of comfort, ease and practicality.
There is some variety amongst French provincial furnishings as the style draws from different periods; however most of the style was established during the 18th century when furnishings and interiors were influenced by the illustrious courts of Versailles and the three King Louis’.
The origins of the style took hold in the Baroque period during the reign of Louis XIV. This was France’s golden age of culture and enlightenment and saw the rise of an elaborate style of furnishings – often carved, gilded and intricately decorated.
This affluent style spread through the capital Paris and slowly trickled down to the provincial farmers and rural inhabitants of France. Life was beginning to thrive in rural France during the Golden era of Louis XIV due to the boom in local commerce. The result was a new up and coming wealthier middle class, able to mimic the Parisian style of fashionable furnishings, but rightly pared back so as to more aptly suit the country lifestyle. This was the rise of French provincial style, the unique combination of the beauty and design flair of Baroque and Rococo fashionable furnishings and the more practical, pared down style of country living.
The provincial artisans in the country had ample access to the timber of surrounding forests and were apprenticed for up to 8 years, resulting in very skilled craftsmanship and quality production. Artisans chose rich but affordable woods like beech, walnut and oak to fashion pieces from the ladder back chairs and large farm tables to carved oak hutches and classic armoires. The wood was either left in a natural state or completed in a soft satin finish (unlike the highly polished mahogany pieces of fashion capital Paris). Other pieces were either limed, colour washed or painted in soft pastels with stencil motifs incorporating elements of French country life (roosters were popular). In metal furniture, iron, rather than bronze was used because of its wider availability in the countryside.
One of the reasons the style has sustained its popularity is that unlike other traditional styles, French provincial lends itself to a seamless integration with more modern furnishings. The style is easily mixed and matched with cutting edge modern pieces, adding a touch of the homely.
Collectors of French provincial furniture should be aware that a lot of poor quality reproduction French provincial style furniture has been manufactured over the years. As with most reproductions and copies, the lines are usually a bit off to the trained eye so the best protection is to view many pieces of furniture, becoming familiar with the style and comparing design quality.
Most period French furniture was not constructed with nails or screws, instead cabinetmakers used dowels and joinery techniques such as dovetails in their construction. So if screws and nails are present, be suspicious. Remember also that just because a piece of furniture is old, French and made outside of Paris does not automatically categorize it as French provincial. The design aesthetics, style and elegance of French provincial furniture should approach, and in some case actually rival the quality of furniture made in Paris during the great periods of French decorative arts.
HFOC has a number of beautiful French Provincial pieces, below is just a small taste of what we have in store.