French styles
French styles in furniture ...   French styles in construction ...
A few tips to identify styles in French furniture :
The reign of Louis XV (1723-1774) is the apex of the French cultural influence in Europe ; Baroque style ; no straight lines ; complicated forms ; fantasy ; marquetry


A typical Louis XV armchair


Under Louis XVI (1774-1792), more simplicity, straight lines (credit)

Typical Louis XVI armchairs


The Directoire (1795-1799) was a period of liberty and fantasy after the horror of the Revolutionary Terror ; a clear return to the Romans and the Greeks ; a lot of painted wood

Directoire bed
The Empire (1804-1815) was a period of military glory and new money ; the style is pompous with columns, bronze and guilded decoration (credit)
A typical Empire buffet

And read more about those kings!

DID YOU KNOW THAT .... ? One of the elements of the charm of Paris is the homogeneity of its 19th Century buildings : same size (6 floors + attic), same beige cut stone (calcaire de Paris), same grey roof (zinc or slates). They result from the massive changes decided by Emperor Napoleon III and implemented by his prefect, Baron Hausmann. Can you "read" a hausmannian building ?
A hausmannian building in the 20th Arr. (source)

Ground floor : shop or concierge, first floor (in the US, second floor) : the shop keeper's apartment, often with a lower ceiling, second floor : the "noble" floor (high ceiling, ironcast balcony, sculptures, third to sixth floor : "ordinary" inhabitants, the social class decreasing with altitude (no elevator at the time !), the last floor has generally a balcony for esthetic reasons, attic : servants and poor people ("la Bohème").

Medieval castles were designed to resist a siege and discourage the enemy ; high towers, a moat, very small windows (credit)

A typical medieval castle


Progressively, the old medieval castles were transformed : larger windows, a spectacular facade, external sculpted staircases, art and beauty everywhere (credit)

A typical Renaissance castle (Blois)


The improvement of guns made medieval castles vulnerable ; Vauban, under Louis XIV, built a ring of fortified cities all around France ; (credit)

Cities fortified by Vauban (here : Rocroi, Norhern France)


With Louis XIV (1643-1715) the castle of Versailles becomes an instrument of the power of the King : to force the nobility to live near the King (and weaken their regional power) and to impress Europe (with the vision of such richness and beauty) (credit)
Versailles : an abstract idea made castle : read more about what this castle means for the French
The elegance of the French XVIIIth Century influences all of Europe (and even the new American Republic : see Washington D.C. and most State monuments) (credit)

A typical XVIIIth Century castle (Canon, Normandy)





  About castles in France...
USEFUL TIPS ..... Remember : there are no strict rules for styles because at the same moment some regions may be experiencing a new form of art while other regions, more isolated, still produce building and pieces of furniture according to the previous style.  

There are thousands of castles in France. Most are private property, others are owned by the State or by local authorities. Some of them have a very specific status.

  • In Burgundy, the casle of Guedelon is owned by an association which has decided to build a big medieval castle from scratch, using only medieval technologies (carving stones, scaffolding with tree trunks, etc). After twenty years of hard work, the castle (6 towers, total perimeter 500 ft) is almost finished. Watch them work : very enlightening..

  • Another interesting case is the castle of Lamothe-Chandeniers in Central-West France. A beautiful romantic ruin on an island on a lake, with big trees growing through its windows, it now has more than 18,000 owners, all over the world, who bought a 50 € share.

  • The Fort Boyard, on an island off the Atlantic coast was built in the 17th century to protect the harbour of La Rochelle from English attacks. It is now the site of a very popular monthly TV show, distributed worldwide since 1990.

A few tips to help you enjoy more your visit...   Facts and figures about antiques, art, etc.
  • Know a little more about French history: each style is the expression of its epoch and is easier to understand and enjoy if you can relate it to its time (wars, French supremacy or peace and prosperity)

  • When you visit a castle, look carefully at details such as the silk curtains, the precious tapestries, the porcelaine plates, etc : they illustrate the strength and the persistance of the sector of luxury and artcraft

  • There is a French style for gardens, the "Jardin a la Francaise" : an abstract vision of nature. Read about it.

  • Test the comments above on the monuments of Paris : see my page historical Paris

  • More to come ...

  • The Salle des Ventes Drouot is a popular auction place in Paris (9 rue Drouot 75009) ; every day except Sundays several auctions take place ; you can see the objects for the next auctions and attend the auctions of the day.

  • Famous names and what they mean : Andre-Charles BOULLE (the most famous cabinetmaker, end of 17th century), Emile GALLE (Art Nouveau, i.e. furniture inspired by nature, c.1900), Andre LENOTRE (1613-1700) is the master of gardens (Versailles, Vaux-ke-Vicomte), Jules Hardouin MANSARD (1646-1708) the architect of Louis XIV, etc.
  • The most famous furniture makers are Andre-Charles Boulle (Louis XIV), Jean-Francois Oeben (Louis XV),  Georges Jacob et Jean-Henri Riesener (Louis XVI), Jacob Desmalter (Empire).

  • Read about the French tradition of quality in the field of artcraft.

  • More to come

To related pages : French History, to unknown Paris, to the ugliest buildings in Paris, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
  • "French Toast - Heureuse comme une Américaine en France", Ramsay, Paris 2005

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)

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Together or separately, Harriet and Philippe Rochefort speak about Intercultural Differences : click here for information.