French Colors

Soft and Milky or Strong and Vibrant

The French country colors palette includes the full color spectrum – from vibrant and strong, to pale and neutral, including the whites that Madame de Pompadour and Marie-Antoinette so loved.

But the French, true to their individualistic style, interpret color in their own subtle way. Paler colors are milky but still have depth – strong colors are vibrant but not shouting.

French Antique Colour Wheel

Traditionally Country French colors were reliant on each region’s local color pigments. Different regions would use local ingredients to make the pigments.

Some traditional color recipes included:

  • Milk washes
  • Lime washes
  • and a Green- or Gray-toned distemper

Weather and natural light also play an important roll in influencing decorative color choices. Light will be paler in the cooler, northern areas opposed to the warm, southern Mediterranean part of the country.

In the sunny south tones are stronger and more definite, reflecting the surrounding landscape’s sharp contrasts. Think of bright sunshine, clear blue skies, yellow sunflowers, lavender, olives and grapes, not forgetting the turquoise Mediterranean sea. Although French Country colors which echo the south are strong, they are always in harmony, have depth and character and evoke warmth and interest. Think of

  • Warm terracotta reds
  • Musty violets
  • Soft butter and creamy saffron yellows
  • Mediterranean blues and turquoises

French ManorThe soft, cool colors found more north of the country seem to have a subtle undertone of gray. In the cooler northern regions of France the landscape is vastly different from the sunny south. In the north winters are cold and summers are mild. Colors used are pale and limpid echoing the northern skies and its play of light on the the terrain. However, these colors will be anything but boring. Having depth and character they are designed to alter in different lights and to compliment and enhance other elements in the room. Think of

  • Soft sage greens
  • Pale watery blues
  • Milky whites
  • Creamy pinks
  • Misty grays

Gray Sheds Its Dreary Reputation

Gray is a much favored French Country color all on its own. However, we are not talking about brutal mortar colored gray here, but a subtle and soft gray, with a blue or pink base. Soft antique yellow gray is also common. Antique painted furniture will most often be in subtle shades of gray.Gray teamed with creamy white is a very sophisticated look.

On a visit to Versailles in 1771, Crown Prince Gustav III of Sweden saw how the French used the color gray and loved it so much that he took the idea back to Sweden, hence the delicate gray painted furniture of the Swedish Gustavian style.

Tips for Country French Colors

  • The French use white as a color and not as a neutral to decorate. Whites are never cold, bright and acrylic looking but warm antique or creamy whites, which have a warmth and depth to them.
  • Whether using warm or cool colors – harmony is the key, so be careful that colors are not in competition with, or shout at each other. Strive to create a harmony of complementary tones.