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Warm, welcoming French Country is style for any time

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Designer Jessica McClintoch has a French Country kitchen in her home in San Francisco.

Designer Jessica McClintoch has a French Country kitchen in her home in San Francisco.

John Vaughan For Chris Madden Inc.

Design trends come and go, and every year another color from the wheel is declared to be "in." Yet certain decor styles remain fresh and interesting largely because of their basic "good bones" and versatility in today's eclectic homes.

One of my favorites is French Provincial or, as it's better known, French Country, the one style that always inspires me in so many of my designs. Perhaps it's because my sister Jeannie lives in France.

French Country endures because it is warm and welcoming, it makes use of natural materials, and it draws colors from nature. It's an Old World look that doesn't feel antique. It lends itself best to living rooms and kitchens, though colorful toiles and Provencal prints can wake up a bedroom or a bath, as well.

This rustic style is based on the look of country homes in the south of France, particularly in the region of Provence. Over the centuries, people there used local stone and clay for walls and floors, so backdrop colors for floors and walls are fairly neutral: imagine white, taupe, gray or even a subdued mustard yellow.

The rest of the palette reminds me of colors found in the classic Impressionist paintings, particularly Manet, Monet, Degas and Vincent van Gogh. Whether on draperies, fabric or even simple pottery on a shelf, the colors are vibrant and reflect the countryside. Picture sunflower yellow, cornflower blue, russet, green or even lavender. You can actually use some or even all of those colors in combination.

In terms of design, a French Country room is typically an airy, open space, including open shelves, beamed ceilings and tall doors and windows, maximizing light. Floors are stone, tile or polished hardwood, covered only by simple throw rugs.

Walls frame the space with a rustic look that reflects the farmhouse origins of this style. Any decorations should be spare, such as painting one interior door a cobalt blue, or stenciling a Provencal motif such as a fleur-de-lis or sheaf of wheat in a kitchen.

Furniture should always have a handcrafted look, whether it is old or a reproduction. Wooden pieces, from rush-seated benches to simple chairs, have simple lines and were often carved with pastoral designs like leaves. An armoire is a versatile piece for any space and can be used for storage. Fabric-covered banquettes are common in a kitchen.

Fabrics that will help you create this look are typically cotton or lace. The latter is used for curtains or bed linens. Cottons range from damask or chintz to be used on window treatments and upholstery. Checks, floral and one of my favorites, toile, combined carefully can be casual and elegant at the same time. The trademark Provencal patterns are usually fruit, flowers or geometrics printed on red, yellow or beige backgrounds and look great on pillows and curtains. Pierre Frey always has delicious color combinations in their fabric lines.

Once your room design is complete, consider these accessories to complete the French Country look:

— In kitchens, be inspired by the French love of food. Copper pots, pot and wine racks and plenty of baskets for holding fruits and breads are musts. Baker's racks for holding china are common, too.

— For lighting, think rugged. A wrought-iron chandelier would be a smart choice, as would an informal brass design. Lampshades should be covered in a Provencal print or toile.

— Since you're also thinking "farmhouse," choose charming fabrics, lamps and ceramics that depict cows, sheep or roosters, and use them as accents.

— Carpets should be simple. Select simple braided rugs in three or four colors, though a hooked rug in a floral pattern would also work well.

The charm of French Country is that it is adaptable to large or small spaces and is just what you may be looking for if color, coziness and a timeless feel are what you want for your home.

Chris Casson Madden, frequent contributor to Home & Garden Television, is also author of 14 books, including the newly released "Bedrooms," Clarkson Potter Publishers.