In this post: This complete guide to French country accent chairs explores various chair types, how to style them and where to buy French style armchairs.⇒
There’s nothing that says French Country quite like a Louis XV armchair.
I’m not exactly sure when I fell in love with French chairs, but I fell hard and have been smitten ever since. I think most love affairs with French decor begin with French chairs.
These beauties run the gamut from unabashedly ornate to a much more updated, and comparatively understated, version. They can be stained dark wood, distressed with chippy paint, or sophisticatedly gilded.
French Country Chairs
There’s quite an array of french style chairs to choose from. There are bergères and fauteuils, throne chairs and more. They can be baroque or neoclassical, influenced by the various Louis kings. Some have curved legs, others are fluted; some have cane backs others are upholstered; some have tufting and others are smooth.
They can be carved with flourishes, as the vintage more authentic pieces are.
Yet in recent years, reproductions have become quite popular. While influenced by the originals, they are much cleaner and more attuned to a modern way of life. They are plush and more comfortable than the diminutive versions of the past.
Let’s take a closer look at the different styles and characteristics of french chairs, how to use them in styling your home and where to find them when you’re ready to buy.
What is an Accent Chair?
Before we get to the details of what constitutes french seating, you might ask the question “what is an accent chair and why would I use one?”
The two key elements that define an accent chair are contrast and focus. These chairs, while offering functionality and comfort, typically provide design interest in a room, as well. Rather than matching the primary seating in the living space, they might add contrast by varying color or pattern, or can become an eye-catching focal point by introducing an alternative style. Think ornate chairs in a modern room, a delightful mix when done well.
What are the Different Types of French Chairs?
When we think of french country accent chairs, we tend to be referring to occasional chairs designed in France, from the 17th century until the 19th century. In present day terms, however, we don’t necessarily split hairs regarding the differences between Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI and Louis Philippe, and often lump them all together or combine details from each, yet those distinctions do exist (see below).
Instead, we typically differentiate more broadly among styles, specifically between the bergère chair and the fauteuil. While both of these armchairs include a cushioned seat and exposed wood frames, the key difference between the two is that the fauteuil is a bit more formal with open sides, while the bergère has closed upholstered side panels. The bergère is often wider and deeper, designed for relaxing, with a loose, tailored seat cushion.
(There is a whole separate category of french country side chairs, often with cane backs, sometimes oval, but also squared, generally with upholstered seats and curved or fluted legs. These are most often used as french dining chairs, but can also find their place behind a desk or vanity.)
The Louis Chairs
- Louis XIV – 17th c Baroque style, heavy, masculine frame, symmetrical, voluminous and opulent. The throne chair is an example of this style.
- Louis XV – 18th c Rococo style, lighter, more feminine and graceful, delicate, ornate and curvy (cabriole legs). Fauteuils and bergères fit here.
- Louis XVI – Late 18th c Neoclassical style, elegant, classical, angular straight lines (fluted legs), Greek revival. Medallion or square backed simpler fauteuils.
What are the Characteristics of French Chairs?
I touched on this a bit above, with respect to style, but we can also look at some of the defining details that identify french chairs.
Some of the components that set these chairs apart from ordinary club chairs, adding unique charm, include their exposed hardwood frames, often in fine woods like walnut and mahogany, along with lush upholstery fabric in everything from lightweight chintz and linen to more robust velvet and leather.
But it’s their unique shape and ornamentation that often draw the most notice. The curvy serpentine lines of a cabriole leg, rounded and crossbow backs or central indentations are singularly distinctive, particularly when embellished with decorative motifs. Acanthus leaves, shells and more classical patterns can be found trimming these chairs. The very fact that they are framed in wood allows for these decorative flourishes.
At the same time, the finishes of the wood are also characteristic, with chipped paint, aged stains and artfully placed gilding adding beauty.
Other details, especially found on refurbished pieces, include nailhead trim, deconstructed finishing, exposed stitching and tufted backs.
How to Style French Chairs in Your Updated Home
There are countless ways to use these refined chairs in an updated home, depending on your design preferences. If your taste favors a french aesthetic, then you likely already have pieces that would work well with french occasional chairs, but even in a modern or industrial home, do not underestimate the power of a well placed french chair. As a surprising accent, it can add a sense of drama.
Some of my favorite areas to place a french accent chair:
- Next to the fireplace with a drink table, as a great place to read.
- In the dining room, as end of table chairs.
- In pairs in the living room, opposite a loveseat.
- In the entryway, as a place to drop packages.
- In a home office as a guest chair.
- In the bedroom corner with a foot stool or ottoman.
- In front of a bay window, flanking a tea table.
- In a large bathroom, next to the tub.
Vintage vs New?
When it comes to buying french chairs, one key question is whether to buy vintage or new. An argument can be made for both sides of the equation and in my own home I have both. It simply depends on what you’re going for.
You can’t beat the authenticity of an antique chair, offering hand-crafted unique pieces, but you generally need to factor in reupholstering the piece if you want a comfortable chair. This can work well for you if you prefer a bespoke look, as you get to pick your own fabric, but it does raise the cost. Still, if you find vintage seating in good condition, it could be worthwhile.
A beautiful antique chair can cost a small fortune, but boy do they make a statement in a room! Yet, while I love antiques, sometimes you can make the same impact with reproductions, especially if you mix them with vintage accessories in your room. New pieces also tend to be larger in scale, neutral in color and work well in an updated home. You also don’t need to worry about the original condition like you do with antiques.
Buying Guide and Price
So, you’ve decided you want to buy a french accent chair and now you are wondering where should you go.
If vintage is the route you want to take, for in person purchases look for a large antique market somewhere nearby. Or if you prefer shopping in the privacy of your own home, for a better experience aim to shop online. Visit Etsy, eBay and 1st Dibs, to find a vast selection of what is available at any given time. Check back often if you don’t find what you’re looking for the first time.
The antique market varies greatly and sometimes you can find bargains, while other times vintage can be costly.
Fortunately, there are some great budget options in the reproduction market that are influenced by french style, and these affordable pieces can add lovely french flair to your home. See the buying guide linked below for my latest picks.
A Word About Price
Now, since everything is relative, I recognize that one person’s budget chair is another person’s wish list chair.
For our purposes here, I’m defining an affordable accent chair as one that’s under $1000, with many under $500 (and several closer to $300). Yet prices have risen significantly in the past year or so, so keep that in mind. There’s one chair listed that’s a good bit higher, but it’s included because it’s the only one I could find that’s similar to a chair I own and I’m asked about it all the time.
Given that many similar upholstered chairs, including reproductions, can easily cost well over $2000, most of these still seem like a bargain to me!
If, like me, you appreciate the beauty of french chairs, with their lovely detailing and the elegance they add to a room, you just might find a piece here you’d like to add to your home.
For me the passion started small with one simple chair and over the years I’ve added many to surround myself with things I love. Whether you have only one accent piece or a house full of these beauties, you just might find yourself in a love affair with french chairs.
To get the look, click on the items below for direct links to the products. Where actual items were no longer available, I’ve provided similar options. If an item is out of stock but may be restocked, I left it on the list. Please note that stores are constantly changing their stock, so I try to update this post frequently. If you find several items are no longer available, feel free to alert me as I can usually track them down elsewhere.
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