UNCOVERING THE PERENNIAL APPEAL OF THE FRENCH PROVINCIAL DRESSER AND CHEST OF DRAWERS
The French Provincial dresser: stately pieces with enviable provenance or positively passé pastiche? Ask virtually any design enthusiast and they’ll likely claim the former. Like the illustrious Bergere chair with which they share French heritage, the French Provincial dresser is eternally in vogue; endlessly capable of being reinvented to suit shifting tastes.
French Provincial design originated in the French countryside in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Those dwelling in France’s outer provinces, including Provence, Normandy, and Bordeaux, co-opted design influences from the lavish Parisian furniture that was de rigueur at the time. Suppressed resources, both material and financial, dictated that craftspeople create a pared-down version of the ornate Baroque and Rococo styles that dominated the Parisian market scene. Cabriole legs, rosettes, and simple scalloping all made the cut, while elaborate hallmarks like veneering, heavy gilding, and repoussé all fell to the wayside. Utilitarian hardwoods such as oak, beech, and pine replaced bourgeois materials like tortoiseshell, ivory, and other exotic woods; gilding was scrapped in favor of raw finishes.
With a whisper of whimsicality, French Provincial dressers perfectly straddle the line between profuse and pared-back. Most feature a medium shape and come equipped with three to nine drawers. A scalloped apron and gently waved front are common features, while cabriole legs and ornate scroll handles are ubiquitous among virtually all models. Bedroom set aficionados will be tickled by the glut of both French Provincial low boy dressers and chest of drawers, or, French Provincial high boys that exist on the market. Parisian purists may find the look of a matchy-matchy bedroom outfit staid, but there’s something to be said for the preppy appeal that comes alongside a ready-to-fête set.
Another tally for vintage French provincial dressers? Their mutability. Pieces with provenance aren’t generally choice candidates for DIY revamps, but thanks to their shapely silhouette and understated embellishments, French Provincial chest of drawers will assume a coat of paint remarkably well. Suit a French Provincial dresser in a fresh coat and you’ve turned a demure wood piece into something palpably playful.
Unless you’re outfitting a teenager’s retreat, designers are prone to warn against cloaking a French country dresser in an eye-shielding hue of electric blue or a toothsome shade of bubblegum pink. While French Provincial dressers decked out in shocking colors were a mainstay of a certain cohort of design-centric blogs for a time, bright pink French Provincial dressers and the like have a tendency to polarize other elements in a room. Instead of breaking out the brights, consider more serene, yet still saturated shades—navy, gray-blues, and deep, sage-y grays will all make a striking statement on vintage French Provincial dressers.
Key in the words “French Provincial dressers for sale” into your search bar and you’re liable to discover that French Provincial chest of drawers fall into three main categories: brown wood, painted, and distressed. Wondering which iteration is right for you? Ahead, we delve into the merits of each.
In contrast to most brown wood furniture, think: Chippendale dining tables and Georgian bureaus, which can skew a bit puritanical, French Provincial dressers pack a novel punch when used in the buff. Deploy a brown wood French Provincial dresser similar to the way you would a bombe chest in a living room. Intermingled with tightly-tailored velvet couches and roll-arm chairs, an oak or walnut French Provincial dresser can create intriguing juxtaposition. Alternatively, use one as a buffet in a dining room. Layer it in among items like a mahogany Regency dining table and colorfully upholstered Louis XI chairs to procure a multifarious set-up.
Painted French Provincial dressers make lovely partners for convivial wallpapers, especially those with wild florals or other high-density prints. Pick a high-contrast paint color that complements your wallpaper to really dial up the dynamism. The secret to this combo’s success? French provincial dressers’ subtle curves—accentuated by paint—echo scroll-y wallpapers’ winding prints. And whereas dressers with more elaborate embellishment would compete with wallpaper, French country dressers hit the sweet spot between discernable, but not overt.
It may be futile to try and associate a distressed French Provincial dresser with anything other than shabby chic style, the quaffable, white-on-white, French-focused style that dominated in the late 90s, but that doesn’t mean one can’t be used to startling, new effect. Paired with a jocular mix of colorful, eclectic art and un-precocious upholstery like slipcovered sofas and kilim-upholstered settees, a distressed white French Provincial dresser can take on a sensational new appeal. Use the top surface to display decor in natural materials like raffia or wicker and you’ve procured a look that’s enviably eclectic-chic.
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