What Makes a Home French Provincial?
It is no secret that the team here at Carmel Homes are true devotees of the French Provincial style. From the grand scale to the ornate touches, we believe there is a lot to love about French Provincial homes. And, given the enduring popularity of this style, we are clearly not the only ones who feel this way.
But as French Provincial designs have steadily become more commonplace, we have seen the style slowly start to evolve. Some of these changes have been subtle and reflect the practicalities of life in Australia rather than in provincial France. And some have been more obvious and deliberate, like combining French Provincial elements with modern home design techniques.
While the style’s natural growth is interesting to see, it begs an important question – what makes a home French Provincial? Here, we attempt to answer this by outlining what we believe are the essential features of this style. We also share our advice as a leading custom home builder on perfecting your French Provincial design.
The iconic façade of a French Provincial Home
It should be immediately obvious that a home is French Provincial as soon as you see it from the street. Houses in this style are known for their unique façades, which are shaped by a few key features:
• Scale: A classic French Provincial home can seem quite imposing at first glance. Usually two-stories and featuring high ceilings throughout, these properties are generally notably taller than neighbouring homes in different styles. Also, the second floor of a French Provincial home is usually taller than the first, further accentuating the façade’s height.
• Symmetry: Traditional French Provincial designs aim to create balance by keeping the façade quite symmetrical. They are usually built around a central statement door, with windows and other doors spaced evenly across the front elevation. Render and plasterwork are also often used to reinforce the sense of symmetry, creating lines that emanate from the centre.
• Shape: In keeping with the style’s sense of simplicity, French Provincial façades are known for being square and flat. They also have an instantly recognisable roofline, which is flat on the top with steep slopes to each wall. Dormers are also a common feature, though these are usually more of an aesthetic choice than a practical one.
French Provincial façades also tend to feature a highly contrasting colour scheme, with a darker roof and lighter walls. While whites, creams, and greys are the most common wall colour choices, earth tones are also popular. These are usually matched with more natural roof colours (e.g. terracotta), to create a distinctly Mediterranean look.
Landscaping also plays an important role in completing the look of a French Provincial property. Generally, it is carefully planned and structured so as to highlight the overall symmetry of the home’s façade. Usually, hedging helps define the front garden space with more architectural plants and grasses spaced evenly along paths and fences. Whether flat or a sloping block, the landscape design is critical.
Doing more with less
Despite their grand scale, most French Provincial homes have a relatively small footprint. This is because, while their rooms are usually generously proportioned, floor plans are split over two levels. The height of the ceilings and openness of living spaces also helps make these properties feel larger and lighter.
As a result, French Provincial designs are particularly popular with those looking to knockdown and rebuild their existing home. This is because when you knockdown and rebuild, you generally need to work within a set of limitations. For example, you will likely need to negotiate building in an already built-up area and meet strict planning standards. This is also why French Provincial homes can be a great style for dual occupancy designs.
Often, you can make this process easier by keeping your new design within the footprint of your old home. A French Provincial home allows this while providing the extra space most knockdown and rebuild projects are designed to create. It also delivers the sense of luxury and sophistication many homeowners are after.
Importantly, the French Provincial style is also known for having an easy flow between the different rooms. Living areas are usually open plan, which is ideal for large families and those that like to entertain. And there is often also a strong connection between indoor and outdoor areas, further enhancing the sense of space.
The material and colour palette of French provincial home
Just like with any other design style, colour plays a critical role in the creation of a French Provincial home. Generally, the base palette is kept quite soft and subtle so as not to distract from the more ornate architectural elements. Light greys, light greens, and warmer shades of white are common choices.
Accent colours are then layered on top of this to create depth and add to the feeling of warmth. These tend to be bolder, more luxurious tones, like rich terracotta and blush pink. Gold is also a popular choice, particularly for statement furnishings or fittings.
The French Provincial style also celebrates its modest, rural roots through the generous use of natural materials. In addition to historically being easy to source, these materials are both beautiful to look at and practical to use. This combination of features is truly the underpinning of good French Provincial design.
Traditionally, the floors of properties in this style would have been made from flagstone or brick. In more modern home designs, wood is the preferred choice, as it is relatively cost-effective and easier to maintain. For a little added visual interest, many homeowners also opt for herringbone or other detailed laying patterns.
Stone is also widely used in both traditional and contemporary French Provincial designs. Think marble benchtops and splashbacks in the kitchen and engineered stone tiles in the bathrooms. Once again, these choices add a touch of luxury to the home while still being practical and hardwearing.
A sense of relaxed French luxury
The best French Provincial designs are built on the belief that every element should add to the home’s beauty. They have clear attention to detail and use little ornate touches to elevate the overall design. They also use a deft hand to balance the competing forces of simplicity and luxury.
All this combines to create a space that looks aspirational but is actually highly liveable. Some of the features crucial to creating this feeling are:
• Moulding: Used throughout most traditional French Provincial homes, moulding is a great way to subtly add decorative detail to a space. It also helps add depth and dimension to wall and ceiling profiles, making a room feel unique and bespoke.
• Fittings: Opting for more traditional fittings can help tie the overall look together and offset more modern design choices. For example, pair lever taps, flared spouts, and antique brass handles with engineered stone benchtops and modern shaker-style cabinets.
• Furnishings: Finish the look by choosing ornate wooden furniture with rounded edges and cabriole legs, and layer this with linen. This will complement the more permanent architectural details and help create a refined, but lived in, feel.
Tips for creating the perfect French Provincial home
With all the above in mind, the prospect of developing your own French Provincial design probably seems quite daunting. Thankfully, there are a few simple things you can do to tailor the traditional approach to your unique requirements:
• Focus on the basics: As the above shows, a few features automatically give your home a French Provincial feel. These provide a great base for your design, allowing you to play with other elements to make the home yours. They can also help guide all your design decisions, giving you a reliable framework for choosing your fixtures and finishes.
• Keep functionality front of mind: There is no point in creating the perfect French Provincial property if it does not suit your lifestyle. As such, it is important to consider how you will actually live in and use each space. This is particularly true when you are creating your floor plan, as this will largely dictate how the home functions.
• Do not be afraid to mix styles: While French Provincial as a style is quite clearly defined, it also plays well with others. In fact, elements can be pulled into, or from, most other architectural styles fairly easily and successfully. Most custom home builders will have some experience doing this and should be able to help you tailor your design.
• Concentrate on continuity: While the French Provincial style is known for its mix of materials and textures, your design needs some consistency. From a common colour and material palette to a repeated stylistic motif, there are different ways to achieve this continuity. This will help tie the whole home together and create a clear character that flows between rooms.
• Work with a professional: If you need help refining your new home plans, or are worried about making the right choices, consult a design professional. While you can partner with a range of experts, a design and build builder can be particularly helpful. They can support you through the whole process and help you bring your vision of the perfect home to life.
Want to discuss this further?
If you would like to learn more about French Provincial homes, give Carmel Homes a call. We can walk you through the key components of this style and help you work them into your new home design. As one of Melbourne’s leading custom home builders, we can also manage the whole design and build process for you.