I have always spent summer in rural France – this is how the locals create effortless rustic country homes

Stay on the right side of shabby chic

Trio of charming French provincial-style rooms
(Image credit: Future / Lucas Soubigou-Marie photography / Benji Lewis Design)

I have been spending my summertimes in France well before I began to gurgle the word 'brioche'. Whether nestled in the rolling, verdant hills of Auvergne surrounding my grandmère's home or tucked amidst the rugged, more arid landscape of the Provence region, there is nothing quite like the allure of French country decor. 

Distinctly rustic exteriors, often adorned with colorful cottage-like planting, pave the way for beguiling interiors that imbue nostalgia and relaxed countryside appeal. The homes of my French family, of their neighbors, and now of my (happily retired) mother's friends never cease to surprise me with their effortless beauty. 

Defining French country style at home is an art, let us show you how it's done.

How to create an effortless French Provincial-style home

So, how do they do it? Instead of simply basking in their inherently stylish surroundings, I thought I would dig a little deeper to bring these rustic styling secrets home and sharpen my own approach to this timeless interior design style.

1. They blend 'select' antiques and vintage finds

Characterful, floral painted wooden chest in hallway with caved decor and antique lighting fixtures

(Image credit: Lucas Soubigou-Marie)

My grandmère's antique sideboard (a buffet in French) was an imposing piece of furniture that anchored the open plan living room diner. Housing all of the family porcelain and often adorned with fruit from the garden, it holds a special place in my memory. 

Between this and gorgeous mahogany armoirs in the bedrooms, it comes as no surprise that I continue to source and style antique-style furniture for my own living space. It seems I have been on the right path to success after all. 'Preloved furnishings and accessories sourced from local brocantes look fantastic,' the interior designer Benji Lewis shares with me. 

We have already sung the praises of Benji's home in France (called Maison Noe), for its careful curation of more aged and current pieces. The finish is fresh, interesting and sensitive to the property's heritage. Benji highlights how it is quite the delicate balance to get French country decor right: 'Bear in mind that curation is key, just bundling a load of second-hand stuff together won’t make the magic happen.' And this is true of every Provincial space I encounter in France, it feels effortless and lived-in, but not chaotic with an overload of dusty or unloved items.

Man in blue shirt in stylish room is Benji Lewis
Benji Lewis

Benji Lewis is an established British interior designer with extensive experience working on residential and commercial properties both at home and abroad. Benji Lewis trained at the KLC School of Interior Design and worked for Bonhams Auctioneers and a major Interiors house in London before successfully setting up on his own in 2004.

2. Pattern tells its own story and envelops sleeping spaces

White floral bedroom space with matching upholstered chair, bedding, and sheer veil curtains in white

(Image credit: Benji Lewis Design)

From the pastoral scenes of delft tile to the bucolic nature of Toile decor, decorating with pattern is a prime opportunity to add distinct flair and tell a story. Particularly in French country bedrooms, as we can see in the sleeping space above, designed by Benji. 

The delicate repeat floral pattern is playful and eloquent, working well as both a wallcovering and in upholstery. 'Use textures like linen and hemp and simple patterns like checks or ticking stripes, with a bit of pretty floral in the mix. Toile pattern depicting a pastoral scene would be a lovely way of decorating a bedroom, either on walls or used as curtaining,' adds the designer.

Find similar whimsical looks in Farrow & Ball's latest The Pernon Wallpapers collection that was inspired by a magical Loire Valley château, built early in the seventeenth century.

3. Accent pieces are thoughtful and often floral

Damask wallpaper in earthy tones in bedroom with beams and antique desk

(Image credit: Future)

For a 'fully rustic' finish, you can honor the pattern everywhere. I also enjoy preserving more aged designs and embracing worn hues, brightening them with other accents in the room. For example, in the attic bedroom at my mother's home in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region as pictured above, we have kept the previous owner's wallpaper ideas and used the desk for delicate, ornamental details that add a touch of modern vibrancy.

'Accessorise thoughtfully,' adds Benji. 'Glass jars filled with artisan soap bars, dried hydrangeas in ceramic pots, or baskets hanging from ceiling-mounted racks.' It is less about quantity and more about bringing an element of something special to the space. 

With mention of greenery, plants speak for themselves in many homes, but I guarantee you, there is not a rural French home that does not feel seamlessly connected with nature in some way. 'French doors opening onto a beautifully planted garden would be ideal – think lavender, hydrangea, plane and cypress trees.' 

4. Distressed surfaces are given space

Rustic dining room space with wooden table, feature log burnier and open white-framed windows

(Image credit: Lucas Soubigou-Marie)

Nor will you find a French country home without its natural bones.

For a space to imbue modern rustic decor and the right side of French shabby chic, give unfinished finishes room to shine. Exposed stone walls and soft lime render, distressed wallpapered walls, reclaimed terracotta floor tiles, painted wooden furnishings and a mismatch of pattern all go a long way to creating a perfect French Provincial design vibe. This French country dining room showcases warm tones and rugged expression well. 

5. Artwork feels organic and personal to the home

French dining room with large architectural pendant lighting, modern artwork and varnished walnut side cabinet

Design by Fabrice Juan, photography by Xavier Béjot

(Image credit: Xavier Béjot)

Be that handpainted wall mural ideas (a scene created by one of my mother's school friend's never ceases to impress me at tea time) or a landscape oil painting of the area, paintings feel like they belong. 'I like to integrate touches of color and organic shapes in both country and more Parisian styles,' Paris-based designer Fabrice Juan shares with me. 

Adding zest through artwork keeps French Provincial homes unique, appealing to city-lovers and souls of more rural regions too. The work above feels lends organic warmth to a more modern space. 'However, it's best to avoid colors that are too bright, which would cancel out the charm and sophistication' adds Fabrice. 

Man in suit in burgundy room is French designer, Fabrice Juan
Fabrice Juan

Fabrice Juan is a Paris-based designer who enriches every project with French the epitome of chic 'French living.' Naturally, Fabrice in inspired by the romance and eclecticism of the city's sensational colors and buildings. Fabrice frequently works with artisans to reflect this uniqueness and let true craftsmanship elevate luxurious interiors.


What is the main difference between Provincial and Parisian-style interiors?

French Provincial interiors are unsurprisingly, simply more relaxed compared to pristine city design. This is not without allure and some odes to modern farmhouse design. 'For me, French country Provincial-style interiors invite into a world of rustic charm and comfort, with soft colors, weathered or vintage furniture, and natural materials,' continues designer Fabrice Juan.

'Parisian design on the other hand, offers a contrasting sophistication, where elegance and modernity meet in a palette of neutral tones and refined finishes.' 

To add some Parisian allure to your French home design, favor more immaculate finishes. 'Look for fabrics like mohair velvet, Chanel-type tweed, and silk damask,' adds Benji. 'Paneled walls painted in beautifully sophisticated gray, mushroom or ivory tones are terrifically chic.'

Can you go overboard when introducing a French Provincial style at home?

Always decorate in a way that does not feel forced, this is how to create a 'laissez-faire' look. It is about nurturing what you have if you have. 'Over renovation can kill the concept of French Provincial design stone dead; I’m always wary of things like dry lined walls (their flatness might be perfect for wallpapering but when painted they lack character),' says designer Benji Lewis.

'Instead go with the rustic charm that persuaded you to buy the house in the first place – uneven flagstoned floors, rough plaster walls and exposed oak beams.'

For more design inspiration, we explore a collection of French country houses that are a lesson in the classic rustic style.

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including house tours, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and during a year abroad studying linguistics and history of art in Bologna, Italy she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille is always creating and spends her downtime painting, taking photos, traveling, and writing short stories.