The French home decor style, now so wildly popular, has a long, rich history that can be summed up in a few words: some elegance, some chic, some color, some comfort, some history, all with definite feeling. The French have a phrase, je ne sais quoi, which can be defined as ‘an indefinable, elusive quality, esp. a pleasing one.’ The French imbue their life with enjoyment of the feeling of their history, the beauty of their country, the enjoyments of life from love, food and collecting objects of beauty. The French influence from the Louis’ to the country in home decor can be appreciated in the love of beauty of so many things and the enjoyment of a well-loved, comfortable home filled simply with those things that bring pleasure.
The Louis’ and Paris
Historically, there have been several Louis in the influence of style and of culture in the French way of life and of decorating. Before the Louis’ there was the Medieval and Renaissance periods. These can be summed up first out of the necessities of life. Comfort was key in that tapestries protected from the chill, heavy oak furniture deterred theft and simplicity in the form of chests and stools reflecting their way of life. In the renaissance period there was the influence of the ornate style of the Romans and of the Greeks. Furniture makers began to carve designs that emulated these architectural styles. The first period of a Louis of influence in the styling of furniture was Louis III. This young king had regents who ruled and the so-called middle class began to become wealthier and wanted more beautiful, ornate furnishings. Italian influence began to appear as well as the burgeoning French Country style in that those living outside Paris wanted to add beauty to their own homes. These pieces for those in the countryside reflected the ornate style of the city but now with a more relaxed feel. Design was furthered in that leg shapes reflected those of the contours of animals and upholstered chair backs and seats began to replace all wood styles.
Four More Periods Of Louis’ Style
From the 1600’s to the early 1800’s there were four more distinct periods of Louis style. The first was Louis XIV also known as the sun king. During this period the appreciation for art, gardens, architecture and furniture flourished. This era was known for its opulence in gold leaf decorations that reflected the impression of this king. This time period was followed by the Regence. The influence in this era came from the orient, from flowers, and from things that inspire romance. This style began to be appreciated throughout Europe and is the one that endures as a favorite today. The next time period was of Louis XV. This time period is marked by a more feminine influence in that peace and prosperity ruled and women of that time became more influential. Furniture styles reflected this in roll top desks, secret drawers and inlayed designs in the furniture as well as hand-painted and lacquered furniture began to become the favorites. Then there’s Louis XVI. During this time period the neo-classical style began to be added to French decor. The influence of Greek style returned with the addition of geometric styles. What remained from the previous era was the more feminine size in the furniture.
The Influence of the French Revolution
The tumultuous time of the French Revolution impacted not only the lifestyle of the French but also the style of the decor for this period. The exuberant style of the monarchy was replaced by more subdued styles. These styles incorporated some Egyptian themes, retained some of the geometric styles and carvings included animals and of the female figure draped in their clothing.
Then Came Napoleon and Josephine
During Napoleon’s reign the beginning of the aristocracy began as well as a more robust economy. This time period heralded the return of extravagance as this new ‘court’ began to compete with other more established European courts. The Empire design became more bold, more defined reflecting the architecture. The darker woods of mahogany and ebony became prevalent with the addition of marbled tops. The symbols of this period continued to reflect the influence of Egypt but also that of the king and the symbol of the bee became common.
Calmness Restored During Charles X Reign
After the fall of Napoleon, the French appreciation for life, that feeling of comfort returned during the reign of Charles X. Softer versions of the previous era began to emerge with a bit of whimsy added. Garlands of flowers returned, images of musical instruments were carved into lighter shades of wood.
Louis Phillipe and the Bourgeoise Class
To coincide with this era there was the industrial age. The craftsman of the era began to incorporate grouping in furniture during this time period creating sets of furniture. This time period combined the best of all – the influence of the Greek and the Renaissance that were now more functional with the return of darker woods and marble tops.
Then There is the Country French
From every thing I read, this is not associated with a time period, but more so with a sense of feeling. The rich beauty and history of French decor is drawn from where large, ornate pieces can be found in the countryside homes. The je ne sais quoi of Country French decor is the appreciation for the beauty of design, of age, of nature’s design, of place, but mostly of comfort and warmth. What I have found is that there’s no particular formula, no right or wrong. There’s that feeling, that sense that this is beautiful, this is historical, this is cozy and this is comfortable. This is Country French.
Read more! See how to add French Parisienne and French Country Decor to your home.