French Provincial house
French Provincial style evolved by combining rustic materials such as timber and stone, with the ornate styles in Paris, adapted for country living. Image via Pinterest.

Global Style: Provence, France

by Alexia Biggs
This week, our guest style editor for design month, Alexia Biggs, explores Provence, France, a region known for its charmingly rustic blend of old and new.

The Provence region in the south of France is blessed with almost year-round sunshine that casts strong light and deep shadows over its scenic landscapes and azure seas. It’s where artist Cézanne was born and worked most of his life, and where Pablo Picasso famously spent most of his summers on the sparkling Côte d’Azur. French Nobel Prize-winning author Albert Camus wrote of a resplendent region with tall cypress trees, shimmering meadows, and fields of fragrant lavender. It’s a place where small villages hold bustling markets and the glamorous beach resorts of Saint-Tropez, Nice and Cannes are flooded with blue and white beach parasols.

Market in Provence
During summer in Provence, you’ll find great markets selling local produce, high-quality meats and cheeses, fresh-cut lavender and aromatic herbes de Provence. Image via Pinterest.

The Provincial look we know of today, evolved within centuries-old rustic timber and stone farmhouses, where the ornate styles in Paris were adapted for country living. Soft, neutral backdrops were inspired by the surrounding countryside with colours that included olive greens, stone greys, lavenders, sky blues, soft creams and whites. From painting furniture (almost always in muted greys and whites) through to antiquing (both a national pastime and competitive sport in France), the French are masters of mixing old with new, and know what to spend money on… and what not to!

Outside of Paris, the largest French marché aux puces (flea market) takes place in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. These antique markets are billed as the third-most important European centre for antiques (after London and Paris), and its stalls glimmer with glassware, silverware, jewellery, copper cookware and furniture.

BLOG_french prov intro images3
Linen with French ticking stripes is a staple in homes in the south of France. Image via Pinterest.

Fabric plays a huge part in a Provincial look. Linen is a staple in French homes, and Provence is home to many fabric varieties that includes French ticking aka toile a matelas (simply meaning ‘mattress cloth’), with two distinct striped patterns, traditionally in blue or grey. Also local to Provincial France is Cotton Indiennes, with designs ranging from paisleys to small and large florals and botanical prints, and various sized stripes. Originally imported to Europe through the French East India Company from the Indian continent in the 17th Century, Les Olivades, in Arles, is one of the last maisons that print this style. The traditionally coloured le Pays Basque stripe fabric is beloved by Provençales, for its ability to brighten even the smallest space. The bold stripes adorn everything from pillows to table linens, espadrilles, totes and deck chairs. It’s a quintessential summer look in the south of France.

The French country kitchen is charmingly cluttered, with items in plain sight and easy reach. Pots and pans are displayed on hooks or stacked in open shelving. Jars and pottery jugs are used to hold wooden spoons and wire whisks, and tablecloths, aprons and tea towels are layered on wooden tables, or are hung on hooks and rails.

Ceramic pears
The Provincial look draws inspiration from the surrounding countryside, with colours that include soft creams, whites, stone greys and olive greens. (Ceramic pears, from $25 each; terracotta bowl, $40)

In Marseille, renowned general store Maison Empereur (established in 1827, and run by the same family for six generations) is a home goods emporium with a carefully curated range of kitchenware and bathroom products; plus French straw hats, colourful espadrilles and bolts of linen sold by the metre.

With flowers, lavender and herbs by the field-full, Provence is the world capital of perfume. In Marseille, find the century-old factory La Licorne, the authentic maker of ‘Savon de Marseille’ stamped soaps. In perfume capital Grasse, head to Parfumerie Fragonard, and the Musée International de la Parfumerie, then for something sweet, taste the rose and violet petals crystallised by master confectioners at Confiserie Florian.

Still drawing crowds, the romance of Provence, and its irresistibly picturesque landscapes, has been the ultimate travel destination for so long that it’s almost a cliché, yet its style endured in homes around the world.

French Provincial style

Get the French Provincial look

  1. Farmhouse pendant light shade, $319.95
  2. Oil & vinegar bottle set, $41.95
  3. Dill birchwood tray, $98
  4. Organic cotton oven mitt in latin herbal black, $22
  5. Organic olive oil body bars (pack of 2), $25
  6. Lavender in watering can, $79
  7. Terracotta bowls, $40 each

French Provincial living

  1. Navy blue lanterns linen tea towel, $20
  2. Oak & glass bistro light in taper, $180
  3. Laguiole by Louis Thiers cheese board and 3-piece cheese set, $149
  4. Enamel soap dish with tray, $57.50
  5. Stone lamp, from $165
  6. Classic palm market basket with leather trim, $75
  7. Cafe de la tour clock, $105
Guest style editor Alexia Biggs
Guest style editor Alexia Biggs. Photography: Cath Muscat.

Alexia Biggs is a freelance stylist and interiors editor, plus an expert in scouting for all that’s new and stylish in homewares within Australia, and around the globe. She knows the best shops online and on the streets, and for the past four years has delivered the all that’s great in design in her weekly column, “The Source” in Spectrum, in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Design Month at hardtofind
March is Design Month at hardtofind! We’re exploring the hottest trends and up-and-coming finds for 2015, as well as classic looks from around the world that never go out of style. Check out all our design month posts here.

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