I came across a few clients in the San Jose area who wish for a French style home. What is it that makes that je ne sais quoi French? This post is my own list of aspects of a French home, exterior and interior, that are so endearing.
The dormers and the steep roof with flat top. Any French house worth their sel would have dormers against a beautiful slate roof. This is because the top floor is a habitable attic and a very liveable attic needs a steep roof for decent headroom. Think of Nicole Kidman’s pied a terre in Moulin Rouge.
The regularity of windows. It’s time for restraints. I find that the uniformity in window shapes and sizes – at least within the same story- adds to the elegant rhythm found in these French manors.
Stone trims. The quoins and stone casings around the openings make up the typical adornments.
The Tower. A remnant of castle architectural features. Towers are a good tool to create interest among the uniform spread of windows.
The foyer. Now that we manage to pay attention to the interiors, the first room that greets us is the foyer with its obligatory signature stairs. The guardrail is almost always wrought iron or bronze and the flooring stone usually sports a checker board or diamond pattern while a nice lantern graces the room.
The parquet floor comes next. Parquet also presents us with a wide variety of patterns. The wood itself could be quite polished or extremely worn out depending on the degree of formality in the use of the room.
The tiled floor. Pavers and stone, especially limestone, are quite popular in a French home since France is home to quite a selection of limestone quarries. Limestone is durable, looks great even when worn down, and though not quite stain resistant, can be ground down to a new clean surface when needed. One finds limestone floors in kitchen and dining room besides the foyer.
Boiserie. The French takes the art of wood paneling to the highest level of detailing in the molded panels, the appliques, the drops, how they intersect and weave themselves into the openings of the room. An antiqued or glazed finish makes the paneling even more precious. When painted all in one color, the paneling becomes textures on the wall and not just patterns of molding.
The interior door. I love French interior doors. They are most gracious and delicate looking. They bring so much to the room. They take on very nice geometries and give us more interest in what lays beyond.
French kitchen. This is the altar to French cuisine. One must not design kitchen for art’s sake but for food’s sake. Open shelves or pot racks serve toward efficiency in retrieving the pots and pans. A work table for baking, food preps and assembling the dish is a must. A kitchen looking too pristine won’t look right for a seasoned cook. A hood enclosure similar to that of a fireplace is usually the answer above a good range.
The stone fireplace. There seem to be two general looks for fireplaces. The curved front or the bracketed mantel. The curved front mantel is usually found in more formal rooms such as the living room while the other one goes to family rooms, eat-in kitchens etc…
The curves in furniture. French curves take on new meanings when found inside a French house. We have already seen them on doors. We also find them in abundance in pieces of furniture like hutches, armoires and vanities.
The faded colors. Antiqued and glazed finishes lend themselves to the sense of the old and the familiar. Grey green, steel blue, washed grey, dusty roses and pale yellows. Go for those and never be found wanting again.
The bath. Despite rumors of bath scarcities in French homes, baths focus on the tub as their main feature. The tub tells all.
The stone patio with plant containers. The plant containers work as little herb pockets, they work in small and large gardens alike, and orange and lemon trees are content in them. Parisian rooftops are seldom without them.
The garden gateway. They tempt us with a little glimpse of the promises beyond. They tease us by showing us only half of what is to come. They are simple in design, their motives obvious, and their rustiness convince us of their timelessness.
The topiaries. Such precision, such whimsical representations. A gardener with wit is the one to keep.
The rectangular pool flanked by marching rows of pots. I can’t think of a more alluring shape for a pool. It speaks of languorousness and it slows time.
The most difficult problem in creating a French house is the site. One cannot invent an entire setting. One can only wish for it…
And then, there is that little chateaux fit for a royal mistress…
Photos source: click on images for links to sources.