“French Country” style dates back to the 1700s. It was created primarily for the French bourgeoisie which envied – but could not afford – the over-the-top furnishings that decorated palaces and estate during the Louis XV period. French country furnishings were meant to replicate the sophisticated and stylish appearance of Rococo-style pieces, without the expensive design flourishes which also would be out of place in more simple country homes.
In a nutshell, French country pieces are beautiful and elegant, but comfortable and not overdone. Thankfully, the period in which this furniture originated was when craftsmen began upholstering chairs as a matter of course, meaning that French country chairs are indeed comfortable, and not just decorative.
Perhaps the chairs best known for their French country style are upholstered fauteuil and bergère armchairs. The two styles are similar, but the fauteuil has open sides while the bergère’s arms are closed and fully upholstered. The fauteuil often features scrolled arms and many of these chairs have an upholstered back which curves to its top. Generally speaking, the bergère is a larger chair which sits fairly low to the ground, with more sumptuous padding. Most of these French country pieces feature a slightly-reclined back and cabriole legs.
Straight-back chairs are also important members of the French country design family. Slatted or ladder-back chairs, usually with cabriole legs, are the most often-seen straight-back chairs in French country décor. However, caned chairs (both backs and seats) were also popular in 18th century France and became one staple of the period’s style. The pieces are seen both with and without arms, often with upholstered seats and backs. Straight-line designs are typical in the construction of these straight-back chairs, but the curvilinear approach predominant in French country furniture is used as a design feature at times.
Lighter-colored hardwoods give the chairs their feeling of period authenticity, although even on antique French country chairs the wood may have be stained or painted. Any ornamentation will be sedate, usually limited to carved foliage and the like.
Vintage or antique pieces can be found for thousands of dollars apiece, but reproductions crafted more recently can be budget-friendly and create the casual, comfortable look and feel of true French country décor.