The History & Style Characteristics of French Provincial Furniture

The Iconic French Provincial Design

 

Few styles of furniture are more recognizable than French Provincial. From its curves to its detailing and even the iconic off-white and gold coloring of more recent reproductions, French Provincial pieces have made their mark in the furniture world. But what defines the style? How did it come to be? And is it still sought after? Let's dig in!

French Provincial dresser from the White Fine Furniture Company
Classic French Provincial dresser with the iconic gold hardware by White Furniture Co. fully restored by me!

 

The History of French Provincial Furniture

 

To understand the origins of this legendary style, we need to go back a few hundred years and head to Paris, France. During the 17th and 18th centuries, we were introduced to three lavish styles of furniture fit for kings, specifically, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI. While each had its own characteristics, they shared a sense of opulence to which few could relate. The wealth of the Parisian elite was a stark contrast to those living in the outlying provinces, and while the monarchs led the trends of their time, few outside of the city could afford to bring such luxury into their homes.

Blue ornate french provincial dresser

Some Frenchies pay a little more homage to the ornate styles of Louis XV like this gorgeous piece by Paint This Paint That.

 

As a result, a style emerged that took the general concepts of Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical furnishings, and toned them down to be more appealing to the masses and slightly more affordable to those wealthy, but not royally wealthy, in the provinces. 

Red French Provincial vanity desk by The Goodie Girl Shoppe

Delicate feminine curves perfectly accented with a hint of dark glaze in "The Queen of Hearts" vanity by The Goodie Girl Shoppe.

 

The Design Elements That Define French Provincial

 

The style of French Provincial varied from one region to the next but some iconic features stand out. First and foremost, these pieces were built well and meant to be used. Unlike some of the more ornamental pieces of the palace, French Provincial furniture was intended to be a functional part of the home, and because of that, you'll usually find sturdy pieces with high-quality construction, made of locally sourced woods. In terms of design features, the most recognizable are the cabriole legs. Dressers, tables, and chairs have curved legs that form an S shape, ending in a dainty but solid foot. Pieces often had scalloped carvings with flowing scrolls that mirrored the graceful legs, wooden ornaments and details, and somewhat intricate floral-inspired hardware.

French Provincial nightstand set by Brushed Design Co.
Cabriole legs are one of the most recognizable characteristics of the style on this set by Brushed Design Co.

 

French Provincial Pieces in Modern Times

 

This style originated in the 18th century, but its popularity has peaked multiple times since. In the 1900s, the style made a strong comeback with reproduction pieces from an array of designers. Pieces were often available in stained wood or painted options, most commonly off-white with gold accents.

French Provincial dresser

1950s-1980s French Provincial reproduction

 

These days, pieces from the 1950 and beyond are prime picking for furniture artists, accenting the feminine curves with bold colors and painted hardware. Considering many of these reproduction pieces were mass-produced and already painted, it's one of the few styles of furniture that won't get you a ton of grief from the public when you pick up that paintbrush.

White Furniture Co Advertisement with French Provincial dresser

This vIntage advertisement for White Furniture Co. showcases the dresser in the photo at the top of the page!

 

However, if you come across an original French Provincial piece from the 17th or 18th century? Step back and think it over before making any moves. I highly recommend having an original piece appraised before making any alterations or even basic repairs. You just might be sitting on a gold mine. (Have a piece you can't wait to upgrade??? Grab your paint (here) and brushes (here) and start that transformation!!)

French Provincial Nightstand with decoupage drawers

Iconic French Provincial detailing with a modern decopauge gives this piece by Calle's ReDesigns the perfect splash of interest.

Furniture Styles To Come...

 

Are you curious about the origins of a specific style of furniture? Want to know more details about the ornate Parisian designs? Wondering if your Mid Century Modern piece holds any value? Drop a comment below and let me know what style you'd like me to dive into next!

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