French cottage style means refined and rustic
Courtney Allison reveals her passion for French country cottages and how to style your own home on a rural theme
One of the things that I struggled with when we bought our cottage was that it was just that – a cottage. It was built as a holiday house and, as such, had an informal floor plan, and I longed for more elegance and formal spaces rather than a more simple style.
With worn wood floors, rooms with awkward layouts and quirks, it was the farthest thing from elegant. I started out trying to embrace that more rustic style – and then a quick stop in a secondhand shop one day led to the first piece that gave me the confidence to follow my more elegant, French-inspired design dreams in this cottage.
It was a simple vintage chandelier with a brassy patina, lots of crystals, and candlestick holders yellowed with age. My heart pounded at the thought of hanging it in the kitchen. I imagined those crystals sending light through the room and how elegant it would be even in a more rustic space – and I turned around and bought a chandelier that I didn’t even know worked.
The kitchen light when we moved in was a 1960s ceiling fan with a lovely beer bottle pull, and when that came down and that one simple vintage chandelier went up in the kitchen and the lights went on the first time, my heart soared.
My husband even nodded and thought it was perfect. That chandelier changed the kitchen game. It instantly elevated a simple room, giving it the feeling that it was much more important. And that was the piece that was the start of finding my style and the confidence to trust the vision. That chandelier led to a second, a third, and many more, and each time the effect was the same.
As that old rustic cottage started to feel a bit more refined, I realised that the difference between an ordinary space and one that knocks your socks off might not be as big a change as I had originally thought it would be. It might not involve top-to-bottom renovations or fancy floors and formal spaces; it might be something simple like a fresh coat of paint and a little bit of jewellery in a room.
Over the years, my style has evolved as I’ve fallen head over heels in love with a fabric or a paint colour or a craving for more or less in a room. But even as some of my taste has changed, I have stayed with the mix and mingle of refined and rustic, and with the elements that I love.
ELEMENTS OF STYLE: Palate
The French country cottage palette is made up of textures you might find in nature, along with sun-bleached, faded colors, soft florals, and that delightful silvery colour of weathered wood. The subtle softness of old linen washed a hundred times is perfection, as are the pale blushes, shades of white and chippy patina that exposes layer upon layer of vintage goodness.
The patina of antiques speaks to me so loudly. In my home, patina and texture make an appearance on everything from the furniture to the linens to the architecture.
Sometimes it is simple, such as the knot holes and detailing on the wood plank walls and the hand-rubbed finish on the wood on the buffet. And sometimes it is more intricate, such as the delicate, handpainted florals on the china cabinet in the bedroom.
Antiques and vintage play a big role in my style. Sometimes I’ll find a piece that I am drawn to instantly: a sideboard at the flea market, or an oil painting.
There are the always-in-season pieces – vintage French chairs, mottled mirrors, old zinc buckets – which are snapped up right away, of course; but an unexpected find might become a favourite.
Simple utility pieces – such as stools and chairs with broken caning, missing spindles and torn fabric seats – seem to always find their way into my home. Even in a less-than-usable state, they are perfect for tucking into a corner. Another favourite are small Florentine nesting tables. I don’t hesitate to grab another set or single table when I bump into them.
I am one of those people who have a hard time walking by vintage cups, plates and platters at a garage sale. Dishes with delicate details such as florals or embossed patterns and gilded rims always catch my eye.
They often have imperfections – old stains on ironstone or a few chips or missing gilding – but if I love the pattern, those pieces will find a home with me.
Filling a room with light that bounces around like a little breeze quite simply makes it feel magical. I have no shame in admitting that I might have a room or two with more than one – and yes, even more than two – chandeliers in it. In my opinion, the more crystals, the better.
I once gathered up a dozen or so mirrors and old frames of various sizes and created a wall of empty frames and mirrors in the hallway. It was simple, and there were more frames than mirrors, but the arrangement brought a bit of reflected light to that long, dark corridor, and with something on the wall, a small, unimportant in-between space instantly felt interesting.
My favourite mirrors are ones that are well worn and no longer reflect as well as they once did; those brassy, gilded, framed mirrors with the mottled looking glass that shows more black areas than silver make my knees weak every single time.
Copper cookware is quintessentially French. I love my copper pots and pans, dents and all. I love old and new – and love finding ways to incorporate the pieces into my decor. Old copper moulds and bowls are charming on the shelf but also to use in the kitchen on the counter to hold odds and ends.
Brass candlesticks are some of my absolute favourites on a table. Mixed pieces that are various heights, sizes and styles somehow come together to create a cohesive look on the table.
Always on the flea market list are old silver pieces. And while I love shiny finishes, I’ve also found a love for letting them tarnish to that dark, blackened look. With pale pink roses, the mix is undeniably charming.
Get the look
With astute French high street and online buys, you can emulate Courtney’s simple rustic chic look ... Prices and availability correct at time of going to press.
Who’s the fairest of them all?
If finding an original, well-worn miroir at market or brocante proves elusive, try one with a ready-made vintage look such as this one from Maisons du Monde.
Ceiling with feeling
Light can bounce around the room beautifully from a chandelier, and there are some low-cost alternatives to antique ones, such as this from Conforama.
Luminaire in metal and plastic, priced €43.99 from www.conforama.fr
Copper pans not only conduct heat superbly but also ensure a romantic French country feel when hung from a cuisine wall.
Alsace-made set of 5 Baumalu pots €157.49.