FOR CENTURIES, the French have been in the business of exporting style -- high fashion, cuisine and interior decor. In the area of furniture design, one of the most appealing and perennially popular exported styles has been French Provincial--perhaps more accurately called Country French.
This warm and graceful furniture--most of it hails from the 18th Century--commands high prices. A favorite of interior decorators, French Provincial is exactly what its name implies: furniture from provinces such as Alsace, Normandy, Brittany, and Burgundy.
It is the simple and utilitarian furniture used by French country villagers over the years, a rural (but by no means unsophisticated) interpretation of the prevailing styles fashionable in Paris at any given time. Of course, craftsmen used local woods: chiefly pale honey-colored walnut, but also beech, elm, chestnut, cherry and apple wood, all selected to show color and grain to best advantage.
Local craftsmen took as their models the furniture produced in Paris during various periods, always adapting and simplifying the designs. They used no marquetry, veneer or ormolu, yet their creations clearly echo more elaborate pieces found in the aristocratic homes of the capital.