French Country Decor Everything You Need to Know
Photo: Amitha Verma 
Architecture + Design

French Country Decor: Everything You Need to Know About This Rustic and Refined Style 

With over 300 years of history, design inspired by the French countryside continues to prove its timeless elegance

Rooted in a rustic, warm base dressed with refined, elegant accents, French country decor offers the best of both worlds: a comfortable, lived-in home that’s undeniably luxurious too. “It’s a wonderful yin and yang,” says Anita Joyce, author of French Accents: Farmhouse French Style For Today's Home, host of Decorating Tips and Tricks, and publisher of Cedar Hill Farmhouse. Though often described as a close relative of farmhouse style, country French decor still has its own aesthetic DNA. Eager to learn more? Here, AD chats with Joyce, along with  Amitha Verma, an interior designer, founder of Amitha Verma Furniture Paint, and owner of Village Antiques in Houston (also known as Farmhouse by Amitha), all about this warm and graceful style. 

Neutral color palettes are common in French country decor. Flowers and soft blue pillows add a pop of color. 

Photo: Anita Joyce

What is French country decor?

According to Joyce, French country decor is “a relaxed take on Provence style, with a mix of rustic and refined elements.” As she points out—and as the name implies—the aesthetic is inspired by the effortless, simplistic beauty of both the French countryside itself and the lifestyle that those who live in the region often embody. “It uses natural elements mixed with authentic French antiques,” she explains. “I would call it a refined elegance where embellishments are tempered by natural elements and relaxed comfort.” Like many things French, it feels effortless yet undeniably chic. “Picture if I were a gal living in Paris in a beautiful apartment, and I’ve been collecting these beautiful antiques, silk-covered bergères, gilt lamps, and antique commodes, and then one day, I decided to move out to the countryside, buy a farmhouse, and restore it.” Verma says. “I take all of my beautiful antiques and I mix them into this very rustic home and a lifestyle where I’m dragging my boots with mud on them inside of my home. That’s the look, all in one home.” 

Intricate carving and painted wood, as seen on these chairs and buffet, is a common element of French country decor. 

Photo: Jack Thompson. Courtesy of Amitha Verma. 
What is the difference between farmhouse and French country?

While there are notable similarities between farmhouse style and French country decor, there are also many distinguishable differences. Perhaps the most obvious connection is their shared emphasis on rustic, homespun features. “All of the rustic elements are very similar,” says Joyce. Both have old-world roots, but while a French country home is—obviously—inspired by the French countryside, farmhouse style is often inspired by American farms. 

In Anita Joyce’s dinning room, rustic elements, like a farmhouse-style table, meet daintier accents, like the chandelier. 

Photo: Anita Joyce

While not exclusively true—and there are certainly overlaps—locales outside of large metropolitan areas in France often inspire images of rolling hills, cottages covered in climbing vines, and fields of colorful wildflowers. Farms—though again, not always true—are often allied with barns, fields of crops, and the stereotypical style of a farmer, things like denim, plaid, or even cowboy boots. 

While both of these foundations influence the more rustic nature of these two design styles—think beamed ceilings and the use of natural materials—modern farmhouse style is often more utilitarian, with sharper lines and a more casual look. You’ll often find heavier materials like brass or steel and elements like shiplap, reminiscent of barns, in this style of home. Country French style, on the other hand, uses this same baseline, but adds in daintier elements. “I think you could take a farmhouse room and throw in some French furniture and some antiques and then you would have French countryside,” Joyce says. “But you’ve got to add in the refined elements and flourishments to the casual foundation.” As Verma explains, understanding the history of French country decor can provide further context to what the style actually is, and how it compares farmhouse style. “It really boils down to the decade,” she says. 

History of French country decor

Patterns, like the plaid seen on Joyce’s armchair, is a common ingredient in French country decor. 

Photo: Anita Joyce

Back in the 1700s, France was ruled by King Louis XV, whose monarchy, intentionally or not, greatly influenced the French country style we know today. “Through the Napoleonic and even after, all of the interior design is influenced by the monarchy,” Verma explains. During his rule, “he enjoyed taking his court to the countryside and enjoying many of the leisurely pursuits of life,” she says. Of course, this helps contextualize why—and how—French country style honors both a rustic aesthetic and an elegant one. “From this time, this is where everything we know and love about the French country is born,” Verma adds. 

At the same time, the United States was a considerably younger country and didn’t gain its independence from England until the late 1700s. As such, the more leisurely pursuits of life weren’t the top priority. “So farmhouses were much more utilitarian, with simple, straighter lines and more vernacular design, meaning you just use whatever you have around you to create your structures and your furniture.” 

It’s worth noting that French country decor doesn’t necessarily “exist” in France. “They just call it farmhouse,” Verma says. The specific name is often understood as a reflection of the United States trying to emulate this country lifestyle. As Joyce recalls, it first started to gain traction in the US around the ’70s, though it was a simplistic view of that culture. “For lack of a better word, it wasn’t very refined,” she says. “I wouldn’t call it super authentic.” However, in the ’90s, Charles Faudree reintroduced the style in a whole new way. “He’s Mr. Country French,” Joyce says. “He used all of these authentic elements, and I feel like he really kicked it up a notch.” While Faudree perhaps took a more formal approach to the decorating style, as it evolved over the years, practitioners started to embrace the more casual elements of the style, but with touches of the authentic, refined look Faudree introduced. “I would say the updated version now has less color and more muted tones with simplistic patterns.” 

Defining elements and characteristics of French country decor 

Another view of Joyce’s dining room. 

Photo: Anita Joyce

As Verma explains, “French country is very soft in its details: furniture lines are more delicate, the scale is smaller, pieces take on more feminine shapes, you see curves.” While not an exhaustive list, French country style homes often include the following elements: 

  • Vintage French furniture, which often features intricate carving, cabriole legs, and is distressed or painted with whitewashed or chalk paint. Consider sourcing antique:
  • Dining chairs 
  • Hutches
  • Armoirs
  • Couches
  • Patterns such as 
    • Toile 
    • Gingham 
    • Stripes
    • Plaid
    • Florals
  • Elegant accents such as 
    • Chandeliers 
    • Ornate wall scones 
    • Decorative candlesticks 
  • Muted color palettes like warm yellows, creams, light blue, or soft greens 
  • Natural elements like wood beams

Examples of French country decor 

If you’re looking to craft French country interiors in your home, consider the following French country decor ideas from Joyce and Verma. 

French country kitchen 

Crystal chandeliers provide a more elegant touch to what could be described as a farmhouse style kitchen.

Photo: Anita Joyce
French country dining room 

A French country dining room designed by Amitha Verma. 

Photo: Amitha Verma 
French country living room 

A sitting room in Joyce’s home. 

Photo: Anita Joyce 
French country bathroom 

Joyce’s French country bathroom creates a stylish bathing experience. 

Photo: Anita Joyce 

How to bring French country decor into your home

If French country design feels like the right move for you, Verma and Joyce have tips for helping you achieve the aesthetic. “You’ve got to have French furniture, because that's really the defining element,” says Joyce. She recommends looking for these staples on eBay or other resale websites and local antique shops. She also advises others to look for solid wood pieces with intricate carving, as these embellishments will ensure the country furniture appears true to the era. “Once you have that base, then you can play around a little bit and decide how much you want to stick with the style and how much you want to mix in more contemporary modern elements.” 

A small dining nook in Joyce’s home, which displays a stocked collection of French dishes. 

Photo: Anita Joyce

Aside the country furniture, it’s important to incorporate a mix of patterns through textiles. “Generally speaking, people are often afraid to use pattern, but that’s very French country,” Verma explains. She recommends having “at least patterned pillows,” though in a full French country home, you’d likely see patterned sofas or side chairs too. Consider throw pillows in a toile fabric, which can immediately add an air of elegance to a space, or a gingham tablecloth, for example, which could play up some of the more rustic elements of the design style. Patterned window treatments are also welcome. For wall decor, the designers recommend embellishments such as vintage clocks or landscape oil paintings. “If you want something really authentic, French dishes and monogram linens are beautiful touches,” Joyce adds. 

Is French Country outdated?

A vintage chair and buffet in a French country room designed by Verma. 

Photo: Amitha Verma 

When it comes to home decor, it’s common to question the lifespan of a style—especially one that you’re considering implementing. Luckily, while a French country look does include a hearty mix of vintage and antiques, it’s not outdated. However, Joyce notes that sometimes the upholstery on the vintage pieces could benefit from a touch up. “Have an upholstery guy on speed dial,” she jokes, “send your furniture over there and pick out some beautiful, modern fabric.” 

Is French country still in style?

Though perhaps overshadowed at times by a classic farmhouse, a French country farmhouse is still very much in style. Outfitted with a modern base and ornamented with antique touches, the style crafts a distinctly timeless feel. Of course, when it comes to any home style, it’s always best to embrace the aesthetic that makes you the happiest, not whatever is the trendiest. For those who love a mix of refined decor and rustic comfort, a French country cottage could be just the thing. As Joyce says, “For me, I just think it’s so beautiful. It just feels like a warm hug; I feel like your house should embrace you when you walk in, and this style does that.”