The French are known for their ability to combine comfort with an unerring sense of style, and Country French decorating is much the same.
Whether a country estate or a second home (called a pied-à-terre), a house in this style might feature mellow oak flooring, hand-painted pottery, iron chandeliers, oversize furniture, vintage linens, and gilded mirrors-all in one room.
Light or bright colors coexist happily with dark wood, and an antique coverlet might be draped on the back of a newly purchased chair.
The key is quality: Choose timeless furnishings with excellent design, and then throw in some quirky favorites, though age isn’t nearly as important as beauty, utility, and charm.
• Walls and ceilings. Thickly plastered walls are traditional, but today’s homes can replicate that look with faux-finish textures. Paint walls a rich shade of cream, or move toward sunflower gold, terra cotta, grass green, or vibrant blue shades for the look of the Provence region in southern France.
• Floors. Choose natural materials such as oak planks, flagstone, or handmade tile for the most authentic appearance. If wall-to-wall carpeting is already down and it is prohibitive to remove it, then top it with a hooked, hand-loomed, or needlepoint area rug that echoes colors in the room.
• Surfaces. Go for a combination of textures: Pair rough with smooth or aged wood with polished metal. Natural materials (or look-alikes) are preferable. For kitchen countertops, honed marble and limestone are traditional.
• Furniture. Lines are similar to the fancier, even gilded, furniture in the style of Louis XV or Louis XVI. For a more casual and comfortable appearance, the wood is stained or painted and scuffed to look as though it has been passed down for generations. Look for upholstered sofas and armchairs with exposed-wood legs and arms, chests and storage cupboards with curving lines and raised-panel doors, and old farm tables with plank tops.
• Fabrics. Think cotton, linen, velvet, and wool-natural fabrics that feel good to the touch. Patterns include checks; small, geometric motifs; and traditional toile-de-Jouy scenic designs, often printed in only one color against a contrasting background. Include vintage linens, laces, or other antique fabrics on a few pillows.
• Accessories. Display an assortment of handmade pottery glazed in rich colors, as well as assorted copper and the painted-tin known as toleware. Paintings of rural landscapes, farm animals, and seascapes-either realistic or impressionistic-add an authentic touch.
• Details. Each chair should have an ottoman or footstool; this offers wordless permission for guests to get comfortable and put up their feet. Drape a colorful square tablecloth diagonally across the dining table, and center it with flowers loosely arranged in a glass or pottery pitcher.