French country home styles flourished in the U.S. after World War I.
You'll find many variations and sizes of French country homes.
Most designs feature symmetrical facades, natural materials, and quaint decor.
Newly constructed homes still incorporate the French country style today.
As easy as it is to daydream about running off to the French countryside, you can enjoy the rustic elegance of Provence architecture without even leaving home. French country homes combine the quaint, natural elegance of early-20th century France with American architecture found everywhere from Louisiana to California. If you're longing for that old coffee-by-the-fireplace, Juliet-balcony, wildflower-garden feeling, be sure to take a look at the French country home style.
What Is French Country Home Architecture?
In the U.S., French country homes—aka French provincial homes or Provencal homes—emulate a building and decor style inspired by the quaint countryside architecture of rural France. Think stone facades, highly pitched roofs, exposed wooden beams, and a roaring hearth that create a humble but romantic aesthetic.
When WWI soldiers returned home, they brought back elements of style they'd seen everywhere from Provence up to Normandy. Both Provencal and Norman architectural styles incorporate a range of elements that make up the Americanized version today.
And because soldiers live across the country, the French country home style adapted to wherever they called home. You'll find French country home elements in New Orleans row homes, in mountaintop chalet homes in the hills outside of LA, and in sprawling villas in New England.
Exterior Features of French Country Home
French country homes are easy to identify when driving down the street. And while the style has modernized over the past century, it retains a standard set of features.
1. Symmetrical Facade
No matter the size or age of an American French country home, the exterior is often symmetrical—if not heavily balanced on both sides. Many original French country homes featured two chimneys on either side of the roof, matching pairs of windows, and symmetrical elements like balconies, balustrades, or doors.
2. Steep Hipped Roofs
Highly sloped roofs are one of the most common features of a French country home. Roofs are typically hipped with four steeply sloping sides and topped with slate, clay, or stone overlapping shingles. You may also spot dormer windows, copper trim, and an occasional round tower.
3. Natural Building Materials
From the walkway to the facade, the French country style fully exposes its natural building materials. Stone, brick, stucco, and plaster are common depending on the region of the U.S., as are exposed wooden beams. This gives each home a neutral color palette made up of white, cream, tan, brown, red, gray, and blue.
4. Ornate Windows
While most countryside homes remain as subtle as possible, you will find touches of ornate elegance in the window design. Tall, thin, multi-paned French windows and doors are common, particularly on the second floor. Windows may feature curved tops, decorative lintels, and colorful shutters.
5. Country Garden
Depending on the region of the country, many French country homes feature a complimentary garden style. English and French country garden styles, for example, encourage lush wildflowers, tall grasses, and winding walkways. In this case, the garden's whimsical style mirrors the natural, romantic home itself.
Interior Features of French Country Home
1. Exposed Beams, Stone, and Plaster
Step inside a French country home and you'll find the natural building materials showcased just as much as they were on the facade.
Wood-planked ceilings are incredibly common, for example. Designers either paint them to match the color of the walls or leave them their original hardwood finish. You'll also find white stone or plaster walls with or without exposed beams. Stone and hardwood floors are also popular—specifically in herringbone patterns.
2. Symmetrical Layouts
Quaint French country homes feature two stories with similar, if not identical, floorplans. They often include a primary entrance area and a rectangular floor plan split into equivalent parts left open for access to the hearth. The layout is often relatively flexible and open, providing options to streamline right from the living space to the kitchen.
More ornate styles will incorporate more complex layouts, multiple separate rooms, and even additional floors.
3. Simple Color Palette
The color palette inside a French country home mirrors the exterior's natural and soft qualities. You'll find white, cream, red, gray, and brown straight from the variety of natural building materials and complementary paint colors. And since these homes often feature multiple windows, natural light can reflect off the softly colored walls and surfaces to open up the space even further.
4. Distressed, Yet Elegant, Design
Perhaps most importantly, the American interpretation of the French country home style strikes a balance between lived-in comfort and chic elegance. If the interior does feature trim or ornamentation, it is subtle and balanced. For example, touches of luxury such as European-style lighting stand out against white plaster walls, wood beams, and marble countertops.
French Country Home Renovation and Care
French country homes built just after WWI often require the care of an experienced local home remodeler to both maintain its historic integrity and bring it up to code. Plaster walls, original wiring, and lack of HVAC capabilities can be costly to address, but they are not uncommon issues in a century-old home.
The original features that make the style unique are also important to consider in your restoration budget. Restoring wall and floor stones, updating wooden beans, and replacing copper trim are all quite common, for example. And while the steep roofs on French Country homes should have protected against ice dams and snow damage, the traditional stone, slate, and clay tile is not your cheapest option.
All this being said, French country architecture remains popular in new home construction. Designers add modern amenities to new homes without losing the original quaint and cozy style that launched the trend.