French Architectural Style
The rural homes of France that provide the basis for French Country style are diverse in all but their charm.
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The French Country design is more of a style than a set of specifics — the feel of a lace curtain drifting in the breeze, a sun-washed kitchen, a roaring fire. The rural homes of France that provide the basis for French Country style are diverse in all but their charm. There are the indigenous granite cottages with roofs of tufted thatch of Brittany, a northwestern province, and the half-timbered structures of Normandy, reminiscent of Tudor style, faced with clay and topped with steep roofs. In the south of France, whitewashed cottages boast canal-tiled roofs in Basque country. The country homes of Provence have a Mediterranean flavor, with cheerful huts of limestone, with narrow, deep windows and doors, flanked by slat-board shutters and painted vividly.
One common trait is the multi-paned windows that extend down to the floor, which we call "French windows" and that are used like doors, inside and out. The basic interiors of all these homes are also similar in design, though each uses regional materials in construction. The kitchen is huge — the heart of the family — and comfortable, with exposed, sturdy beams, tiled floors, and open hearth cooking.
The living room is also large--space converted from the place, in centuries past, where French peasants kept the family livestock within the house. Both the French original and the American derivative are stocked with dark wood, rustic country furniture, and antiques. Just as crucial to the look are table skirts, tasseled pillows and upholstery of "Provencal" material, the light and lively cotton patterned after the materials France imported from India in the 17th century. The French influence on American suburban dwellings and modest country homes really caught on when World War I veterans returned from serving in France, and is still popular for its casual elegance today.
In 1718 the upper Mississippi Valley region became part of the Louisiana Territory, and it was here that the Acadians--French Canadians from Nova Scotia — and the Creoles — descended from West Indian, French, and Spanish settlers--made their architectural mark. Their collaboration resulted in a house design entirely responsive to the demands of living in the bayou area. French Colonials could be spotted by their distinctive roof, which was hipped and double-pitched, with split cypress shingles. Another unusual characteristic was the four-sided porch. In the bayou area of Louisiana, the house was usually built at least two feet off the ground to avoid seepage; on the river, seven feet above the ground was a safer bet.
Perhaps the most unique part of a French Colonial structure was the foundation. One type of house, the maison de poteaux-en-terre, was built on upright posts driven into the ground. The other, the "post on sill" or poteaux-sur-sole, had a mammoth timber frame built directly on a sill. In either structure, the spaces between vertical posts were filled in with clay and rubble stone, or mud bound with grasses or Spanish moss. Early on, the interior was two rooms with a center chimney. As houses grew larger, the floor plan called for a single or double row of rooms, end to end. Without interior halls, rooms would open to the all-encompassing porch, where people traversed the building. Kitchens were in an entirely separate building.
Trademark features of Colonial style homes have been repeated time and again and have never completely gone out of style.