Color Turns All-White Kitchen Into a French Bistro

An interior designers helps a reader who needs a color palette and decorating options.


Sunflowers, toile curtains, the rooster and wrought-iron stools are all reminiscent of a French Provencal style.

Sunflowers, toile curtains, the rooster and wrought-iron stools are all reminiscent of a French Provencal style.

I need major help. My house was built five years ago and every room is the same color: white. Ugh. I can't stand it anymore. I would like to decorate my kitchen in French bistro style, but my living room has country-ish rough pine boards. Would that work together? I do a lot of cooking, so I would like my kitchen and living room to be warm, friendly and inviting. Help! This girl needs some color and style. Please send all the suggestions you have.
- Heather

Dear Heather,
You have no problems, mademoiselle. A French bistro style in your kitchen would go magnifique with the rough country boards in the living room. All you have to do is spread some of that French pastry around. I would suggest French Provencal style, which is a little more French country than upmarket Parisian, which makes it a good choice to go with your hewn boards. Complement your French bistro look with living room items such as a wrought-iron in an end table or cocktail table and floral painting either as a wall decoration or on painted furniture. Café curtains are another provincial French look that will go great in your space. Remember: Keep it simple (rods and rings for example with floor length cotton prints and lace trim border) for your windows.

The French country style had its origins in the regal court styling of the kings and queens of France. Yet, in the country, that type of lavishness didn't fly (silk and barnyard animals don't mix well), nor could the people afford it. But, copy it they did. There is a plethora of French country furniture on the market for you to choose from: settees and sofas, a wealth of French chair styles from faux-toiles to Bergeres and more armoires than you can shake a cabriolet leg at.

You can also incorporate bistro-style chairs or more sturdy wrought-iron chairs and use fabric patterned with the red rooster (a symbol of France) for the seat covering.

Patterns and fabrics are important in a French country interior design. You might consider bringing in French-inspired polished cottons and chintzes, lace and wool. Besides the rooster mentioned above, patterns include the fleur de lis, the swan motif (representing the Empress Josephine), the bee and laurel leaf crown (representing Napoleon), stripes, small floral prints and checkerboards. There are lots of options for pillows and cushions, linens and accent pieces.

In terms of your color palette, country styles, in general, tend to rely more on bright primary colors, so be bold and daring. Saffron yellow and intense blues take the place of courtly architectural detail in the countryside. On the other hand, the bistro style often uses whites with reds, accented with black. Move these colors about your country chateau in floral arrangements, ceramics or other accents.

For inspiration, think of the southern regions of France that tend to be more brightly colored, a la a van Gogh painting (think sunflowers), while the Normandy style in the north is darker and more serene.

To pep up those white walls you have many options: paint, wallpaper (toile de jouey patterned wallpaper is tres chic in France; it is quite heavily patterned and can be overwhelming in a large space but might be perfect for your bedroom if you want to go ooh-la-la in there, too). You could rough up the walls in the living room with faux painting, perhaps in a champagne color or other white neutral (with plenty of country texture a la troweled plaster).

While you'll want to integrate the colors between kitchen and living room, it's OK to mix things up a bit. The country style is not heavily reliant on perfect color flow from room to room. It's a more natural design, so don't try to be perfect; this style relies more on instinct than rigorous interior design rules of color use.

Don't forget to use the art of France to its fullest as well: Consider scenes of country life, French Impressionism, street scenes of Paris, coastlines or meadow and bold floral paintings - they all ring with the joie de vivre of France.
- Mark McCauley, ASID

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