Modern furniture is sleek, clean and minimal, at times monochrome, sober or colored. Asymmetry is often a highlight and is integrated with crisp lines. Carved legs and ornamentation, popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, are now a luxury because the cost is high and labor work intensive. However, these decorative elements are what French provincial furniture uses to highlight the styles popular several centuries ago.
French provincial décor borrows styles from several French country provinces. Brittany, Bordeaux and Provence influenced the almost iconic look now replicated in many parts of the world. So, though slim, streamlined furniture with carvings is what most of us associate with the style, it's common to see solid and heavy designs.
The term French provincial is the same as French country, very different from the upscale décor popular in Paris in those eras. Where Parisian furniture was trendy and kept up with the times, French provincial took longer to gain a fan following. Since the designs combined both functionality and aesthetics, furniture items were longer longer and were cheaper to replace.
Upholstery tended to display country scenes like wheat patterns, fields and other 'rustic' designs. In keeping with their religious beliefs, upholsterers and carpenters also frequently produced works depicting mythological and biblical scenes. In metal, iron was the popular choice as steel was expensive and not available. Wood was the dominant furniture material, however, as it was cheap and easy to carve. Ornamentation was meaningful with fruit and flowers signifying heavenly grace and doves and hearts representing love. Simple ideals shared by country folk.
Shopping for French provincial furniture today can be confusing because most styles in those eras featured carvings, and Gothic and Renaissance influences. The simplest way to pick it out is by looking for items that are carved but not overly ornate, pieces with no marquetry and minimal veneers. People in the country were not wealthy like the Parisians and could not afford to Incorporate intricate carvings which were expensive to produce. Upholstery using silk and velvet was also not favored due to price.
Popular woods included oak, mahogany, walnut and fruitwoods, now with price tags deemed expensive. Shoppers should look for joineries that are sturdy and use no screws or nails. Unpainted but varnished furniture speaks rustic more than gilded items. Of course, mixing French provincial and Parisian always produces fine results but the country element may be lost.
Actual vintage furniture is expensive and runs up into thousands of dollars. Replicas, on the other hand, are much cheaper and because French provincial is a very popular style, it's easy to find. The more important matter is choosing an era because the style is a mix of different influences. For instance, designs with heavy leanings toward Gothic furniture are strong and sometimes, severe. Late Baroque or rococo styles are softer and more intricate. Combining the two will result in a clash so deciding on a dominating influence is the best way to pay tribute to this iconic style.
So now that we've covered some of the features displayed by French provincial furniture, let's look at how shoppers stand to benefit. Unlike contemporary or even colonial furniture, French provincial is a testament to the artistic skill of craftsmen and upholsterers of yore. It lends a very distinct coordinated look and feel to any room, effortlessly integrating style and comfort. And it is not exorbitantly priced either, without one opts for collectible items sold through auctions.