I received this email recently regarding French Country Kitchens:
Sorry, Ms. Bern
but your article on 12 kitchen trends was impossibly subjective!
The ornate French Country kitchens were spectacular and there was not a square foot that wasn’t visually beautiful.
It’s a matter of taste.
The simple “French Provencal” example was charming, too, and both styles should be appreciated. Designers think they have re-invented the wheel with the white shaker cabinets, white marble top trend. 10 years before that it was all about dark cabinets, granite countertops, that are now looked upon with disdain. What’s next?
I’ve done real estate speculating on houses for 35-years and seen it all come and go and come and go.
My last purchase was a deck house from the mid-seventies. The cabinets were in a dark, flush mahogany design with staple-shaped, stainless steel pulls. The cabinets stayed and the only change was replacing the orange Formica countertop with white Silestone.
I wasn’t going to be coerced into the new mantra of “Granite or go home”. It paid off. By the mid twenty-first century, ignorant young buyers will point to anything brass and utter “Gold…I hate gold.”
Never mind that brass has been around since the time of the pharaohs.
The metal was an affront to their ‘refreshing’, newly formed opinions of what was right or wrong.
Now ‘gold’ is back, reinterpreted in a softer finish to save decorating-trend-sheep– Sorry, meant savvy followers!- from lapsing into PTSD convulsions. Its gotten pretty silly, or maybe as I get older, the decades fly by, blurring into a single moment of short-term memory loss in home buyers.
And don’t get me started on open-plan living where every dirty pot and pan is on view for the guest’s admiration. I mean, why trouble yourself with high-end materials if everything is going to be splattered with spaghetti sauce?
BTW, GOLD has never gone well with gray, no matter how you finish it. Other than that, your website is visually very informative and appealing.
Oh dear… You know when someone starts a note with “sorry,” it means that they’re about to contradict you. And I don’t mind being contradicted by someone, but only when they know what they’re talking about.
Unfortunately, it sounds to me like Rob missed the point of that post which talks about my philosophy of kitchens and design as a whole.
And not to single Rob out, because I believe that a lot of people think like this, which is why I’m tackling this subject of French Country Kitchens.
It is not a matter of taste; it’s a matter of authenticity.
(you can tweet that)
And in this case, I’m talking about “French Country Kitchens” which is one of the most misused terms in interior design– ever.
I can see that you guys look a little shell-shocked which means that you must have some questions, so please fire away.
- What goes into an authentic French Country Kitchen?
- And how is one supposed to differentiate between French country kitchens, English country kitchens, Italian country kitchens?
- And American country kitchens for that matter.
- What period of history do we need to go back to?
- Plus, what about today? Isn’t there room for interpretation?
- Can we mix different styles or is that a no, no?
Well, those are all terrific questions. So, to begin, let’s go back in time to the 17th-19th centuries to see what French Country Kitchens looked like.
Not much to see here except a woman who looks like she’s about to dig the knife into her wrist. But fine. French Country kitchens must’ve been pretty basic.
You just know that her feet are killing her. Love the buffet! That would be in the French Louis XV style.
Sorry, that’s in Swedish. You get it. She’s ladling the soup. I wish there was more to see, though. And yes, it’s not French, but, for our purposes, it doesn’t make a lot of difference.
That is because most people don’t know what French Country Kitchens are, or any of the European Countries. And for the most part, they were much the same. And even in the same country, there were differences. I guess what I mean, is that the differences are more regional than country specific.
“The Cherry Girl” (1875) by Joseph Caraud (1821-1905)
It’s like she just realized that she’ll always be serving the cherries, not eating them.
Joseph Bail, né à Limonest (Rhône) 1862- 1921 – “The serving Maid
This one knows her place. Ahhh.. I see a glimpse of a Country French style armoire in the background.
Well, we’ve already been through this.
I wonder what those maids would think if they walked in and saw this.
French Country Kitchens
I can’t tell you the number of times, I had a prospective client on the other end of the phone line and I would hear, in a voice identical to Fran Drescher—
“I want a French Country Kitchen.”
OR, she wants to do the entire home in “French Country.”
And there’s no way to say this without sounding like a self-aggrandizing, arrogant bitch but to say that I am quite sure that she has no idea what she’s talking about.
Because if she did, it would mean that she wants a kitchen that looks something like this.
And I knew good and well that she would rather bungee jump with a frayed cord down a 200 foot cliff than have a kitchen that looks like this. :]
She wants this.
And since I don’t do “this,” I need to gracefully bow out. But, if you have “this,” and I know that some of you do, please know that I still love you. There’s nothing wrong with this kitchen. It’s classic American misinformation, that’s all.
And by the way, the two images above are not French Country, but they could be. They are from the most interesting artist in Scotland, Domenica More Gordon. And I got the images from Ruth Guilding’s Bible of British Taste which should be required weekly reading for all Americans starting the day they begin eating solid food.
So, Laurel… Are you saying that French Country Kitchens mean that you need to make a big bloody mess and have all of your shit lying around?
You mean like this?
Oh, calm the freak down. I was cleaning out my entire dresser the other day which was long over-due. The reason will be very clear come Sunday.
But, I will respect the 25% of you who are neat-freaks. I know that because about 2,500 of you filled out a survey several months ago and 75% you are slobs of one degree or another and 25% are neat-freaks.
And NO. I have no idea who said what. The survey was completely anonymous!
But getting back to our subject; No, French Country Kitchens don’t mean that you need to have everything out, but that’s a helluva lot closer to authentic Country French Kitchens than some plastic, fake, disproportionate, carved up the wazoo, design masquerading as something it’s not.
It’s not anything– except bad design.
And Rob, I am not sorry! It is NOT a matter of taste.
There is good design and bad design. But not all good design is to my liking. That, is a matter of taste.
However, all bad design is subjecting itself to my intense scrutiny and ridicule. That is because I am aiming to rid the world of BAD DESIGN.
Do some people disagree with my categorization of good and bad design.
Of course. :]
BUT… Please note. I said DESIGN. And design is not a PERSON. I do not attack, ridicule and shame people. Well, not publicly, and not to their face or in writing (unless they do something objectionable to me, personally.)
I only ask, the same of all of you lovely readers. Feel free to disagree, but I’m not into debate, or being told off which happens too frequently.
Thank you for your understanding. xo
And, if any of you wish to have bad design in your home, I am totally fine with that.
But, the point is that Americans in particular have become so indoctrinated with the false, faux (the bad kind of faux) and just plain wrong that we don’t know what is right.
By the way, not all English people like to have all of their stuff out. In fact, from what I observed when I was there last October, most of them are quite tidy. but we’ll be addressing uhhh, tidiness over the weekend. (brace yourselves)
Well, where does that leave us, Laurel?
That’s a very good question.
I think that we Americans need to loosen up and 86 (get rid of) some or all of the upper cabinets IF the kitchen is large enough and/or we can eliminate some counter space. Floor to ceiling cabinets are great. Pantries are too. There WILL be enough storage. In fact, MORE storage, if we can get rid of the copious number of counters. Easier to keep clean too! (for great kitchen storage ideas, click here)
But let’s call it a French or English “inspired” kitchen, perhaps. And if you like the word country, because it sounds more charming, then sure. Call it whatever you like. French Country, English Country, Italian Country, Botswana Country. I don’t care. Country is country!
It boils down to this: I think that we like to put our designs into nice, neat, tidy packages. Did people 200 years ago, say. “I want a Country French Kitchen?”
No, it was just “kitchen.”
Here are some things that your French Country inspired kitchen might have. But really, there are no hard and fast rules.
- A stone floor, like limestone. Both the English and French love this.
- Or encaustic cement tiles. Remember those? (you can see them here and here)
- Painted or very pale acid washed cabinets with some rusticity.
- Stone and/or brick on the walls
- hand-made tiles.
- Open shelving and/or glass doors
If, I had to say what the quintessential French Country kitchen looked like, this would be it. But this is not going to fly with most Americans. They will think that it’s too rough and dirty looking.
But hey, it’s the COUNTRY! And it’s in the old country. Things are old and dirty and that’s they way they like it.
I do too. I love decayed surfaces!
This is another one that embodies, IMO the feeling of an authentic 21st century French Country Kitchen.
And this one too.
This might be more English, but I love the juxtaposition of materials
This one has the feeling of Provence without being over-the-top-cutesy-toiled-to-death. Not that there’s anything wrong with toile. But in some cases, it’s become too predictable and that is when I think that interior design can become stale.
I’ve long been a fan of Bobby McAlpine and associates. If you are too or think you might be, click here for more.
Love this fresh kitchen pantry with Raphael Wallpaper by Sandberg.
Fabulous designer. Love her work!
This last kitchen by Neptune Kitchens, to me embodies the spirit of the modern French Country Kitchen. It is beautifully proportioned, airy, highly functional, sleek, easy-on-the-eyes.
And I dare-say that if a French maid from the 19th century walked in…
She would say… “Vraiment Cool!”
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