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Index by Medium

French Provincial Style

As a nation, our most notable cultural influence has always been English. This is especially true with all things architectural. However two other European influences have also had a lesser impact upon that in which we live--Spanish and French. It's hard to say which has had the greater weight...they're highly geographical of course...maybe also because that influence may be about equal in each case. Spanish style architectural influences are quite obvious. French influences are much subtler. And although the deep South contains a few examples of French colonial architecture, most of what we know now elsewhere (other than Chateauesque and Beaux-Art) came as a result of the First World War when those who had served in France came home intimately aware of the subtle, warm, romantic aura these homes seem to possess. Some might prefer the name French Eclectic for this style; I prefer to call them French Provincial, because they are in fact, a largely rural styling more common as a typical French farm house than an urban dwelling.

Unlike some housing styles, French Provincial is dominated by its roof...steeply pitched, hipped, with or without dormers (more often with). Beneath that there is an attachment to masonry--brick, stone, even concrete and rubble--makes no difference. Three basic shapes prevail--the symmetrical cube (one or two story), the "L" shape with a round, corner tower housing the entry, and the asymmetrical double cube (one slightly larger than the other). Chimneys are tall, rectangular, and slender. Windows are often fairly plain, seldom adorned with much beyond shutters. Entries too are usually pretty simple, often arched, occasionally ornamented with side columns and some decorative masonry. The key element in this style is simplicity and understatement. On the "low end" they can be quite unadorned, finished in white stucco. On the high end, in rare cases, the style may veer toward the Beaux-Art, and occasionally aspire toward becoming chateaux. Those influenced by the architecture of Brittany and Normandy (North-western French provinces) may have a half-timbered Tudor look as well.

In this country, the style came sandwiched between the wars as we searched diligently for a truly "American" housing style ironically by imitating our European cousins. After the war, as we seemed to "find" our own style in places like Levittown, New York and its carbon copy suburbs outside ever other city in the country, we became deeply introspective, rejecting as impractical, or uneconomic, or even vaguely un-American, anything more lavish than the ubiquitous, all-American, sparkling white, vanilla-flavoured ranch style bungalow. But that's another story. We've still got a lot of eclecticism to plow through before we arrive at that questionable goal.

contributed by Lane, Jim


8 October 2000

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