French Country Decor: Everything You Need to Know

Intricate carving and painted wood, as seen on these chairs and buffet, is a common element of French country decor.

Photo: Jack Thompson. Courtesy of Amitha Verma.

What is the difference between farmhouse and French country?

While there are notable similarities between farmhouse style and French country decor, there are also many distinguishable differences. Perhaps the most obvious connection is their shared emphasis on rustic, homespun features. “All of the rustic elements are very similar,” says Joyce. Both have old-world roots, but while a French country home is—obviously—inspired by the French countryside, the farmhouse style is often inspired by American farms.

In Anita Joyce’s dining room, rustic elements, like a farmhouse-style table, meet daintier accents, like the chandelier.

Photo: Anita Joyce

While not exclusively true—and there are certainly overlaps—locales outside of large metropolitan areas in France often inspire images of rolling hills, cottages covered in climbing vines, and fields of colorful wildflowers. Farms—though again, not always true—are often allied with barns, fields of crops, and the stereotypical style of a farmer, things like denim, plaid, or even cowboy boots.

While both of these foundations influence the more rustic nature of these two design styles—think beamed ceilings and the use of natural materials—modern farmhouse style is often more utilitarian, with sharper lines and a more casual look. You’ll often find heavier materials like brass or steel and elements like shiplap, reminiscent of barns, in this home style. Country French style, on the other hand, uses this same baseline, but adds in daintier elements. “I thought you could take a farmhouse room and throw in some French furniture and some antiques and then you would have French countryside,” Joyce says. “But you’ve got to add in the refined elements and flourishments to the casual foundation.” As Verma explains, understanding the history of French country decor can provide further context to what the style actually is, and how it compares farmhouse style. “It really boils down to the decade,” she says.

History of French country decor

Patterns, like the plaid seen on Joyce’s armchair, are a common ingredient in French country decor.

Photo: Anita Joyce

Back in the 1700s, France was ruled by King Louis XV, whose monarchy, intentionally or not, greatly influenced the French country style we know today. “Through the Napoleonic and even after, all of the interior design is influenced by the monarchy,” Verma explains. During his rule, “he enjoyed taking his court to the countryside and enjoying many of the leisurely pursuits of life,” she says. Of course, this helps contextualize why—and how—French country style honors both a rustic aesthetic and an elegant one. “From this time, this is where everything we know and love about the French country was born,” Verma added.

At the same time, the United States was a much younger country and didn’t gain its independence from England until the late 1700s. As such, the more leisurely pursuits of life weren’t the top priority. “So farmhouses were much more utilitarian, with simple, straighter lines and a more vernacular design, meaning you just use whatever you have around you to create your structures and your furniture.”