French Country decorating infuses rustic, primitive elements with chic, elegant style. Interiors contain an eclectic mix of distressed woodwork, salvaged items, antiques and contemporary furnishings. French Country paint colors are influenced by the varying landscapes and climates of France, timeless neutrals, aged patinas, gilding and the colors of classic French Country fabrics.
French Country Kitchens
French Country kitchens are warm and informal, a place where family and friends come together to linger over home-cooked food and lively conversation. Consider sunny tones of yellow for kitchen walls, in hues of butter, straw, sunflower or pale yellow. Natural greens in fir, olive or citrusy lime add character to open cupboards and cabinets, while earthy browns appear on terra-cotta tile or hardwood floors and rustic wood ceiling beams.
Other paint colors in French Country kitchens include creamy whites, used on both walls and cabinets and muted blues or grays, on islands or cabinets.
Cool French Palettes
Influenced by the pale light and gray skies of northern France, a cool French Country color palette consists of soft shades of gray, milky whites and pale or muted blues and greens. For a touch of complementary warmth, include yellowish-orange wood tones for contrast against the cool blues and greens, or keep it much more subtle by painting woodwork in antique ivory or soft, yellowy cream.
Cool French Country palettes combined with slipcovered furniture and beds layered in white and cream linens, ruffles and lace lend a delicate, calm and serene atmosphere.
Warm Mediterranean Colors
The sun-kissed Mediterranean countryside of southern France inspires a palette of dusky lavender, sunflower yellow, ochre, earthy terra cotta and brick red. Accents in aqua or pale blue bring to mind the Mediterranean Sea and sky. Vibrant reds and yellows appear in French country fabrics, with motifs of roosters or floral prints.
Pair warm wall colors with dark, rustic wood and wrought-iron lighting, iron bed frames, iron hardware and accents such as iron candelabras for an Old World European feel.
Neutral French Palettes
Neutral colors provide a soft, romantic French Country look. Walls painted in light greige -- a blend of beige and gray -- complement creamy whites and accents in pale pink, yellow, green or blue.
Warm grays on painted furniture blend with cream, light buttery yellow or earthy ocher or mustard yellow. Rooms layered in neutrals of white, ivory, cream, ecru, oatmeal, beige, brown and gray feel comfortable, yet elegant. Neutral palettes can also be accented with varying shades of green, blue, berry pink, red or yellow. Toile patterns on fabrics, wallpaper or china provide a quintessential French Country look and bring in accent colors of red, blue or green. Mix in patterns of stripes, checks or gingham in the same color. Add textural interest with accent pillows or chair seats covered in burlap and grain-sack cloth.
A Touch of Gold
Gold gilding is a signature element of French interiors and decor. Add a touch of glamour to mirror or picture frames with gold metallic paint. Detail a headboard or dresser painted in white with gold gilding or try a simple stenciled design on a wall or ceiling. Add a thin stripe of gold at chair-rail height on bedroom walls or a golden line around a door or window.
Mimic the look of lime or chalk whitewash finishes in rural French homes by applying a white or gray semi-transparent stain to untreated wood paneling. Use an opaque stain on previously treated wood. Chalk paint in antique white, blue or gray provides timeworn character to painted furniture and is used for distressed finishes.
Whitewash can be applied to brick with a 1-to-1 ratio of white latex paint to water. Apply the whitewash with a brush, and have a partner come along behind you and wipe it with a rag. Practice distressing and whitewashing techniques on scrap wood or bricks before applying to furniture, paneling and masonry.
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Michelle Radcliff owned a retail home furnishings business for eight years. Radcliff offers decorating advice on her blog, Home Decorating News, is a regular contributor on interior design at LoveToKnow.com and earned certification as an interior decorator from Penn Foster College in 2013.