Becoming Madame: The inside scoop on French kitchens
A collection of design tips for creating a quintessential French kitchen in your own home.
I had a delightful request for some information about French kitchens from a reader. Originally my idea for this post was to scour the houses and apartments of my families and friends in Paris and throughout France in order to do a truly thorough and realistic post. I was a little too ambitious. It would take a couple of months for me to invite myself to all these people's houses and take the right pictures to put it all together. I decided to err on the side of efficiency, and most pictures are courtesy of www.remodelingmyspace.com and www.thekitchendesigner.org. Throughout this post are pictures I've been able to find that actually look like the French kitchens I know and love.
Having said that, I have tons to say about French kitchens. In fact, my mother did a kitchen renovation a few years back (I've included a few pictures in this post also), and it is from my belle-mère country kitchen in Dordogne that she derived her inspiration. I do believe that type of country kitchen is the most beautiful, quintessentially French kitchen I've ever seen, anywhere.
I must mention that my tastes are completely classic and perhaps even low-tech in the sense that I would much rather have an old wood plank table as an island than the sophisticated space-odyssey-type productions I see when I'm visiting friends back home. Those modern designs are also very popular in France, particularly with the younger generations or Parisians (as a matter of space), anyone who shops at IKEA, or anyone who grew up with tradition breathing down their neck and wants to make a drastic split from their past. I'm neither of those things. In fact, I'd rather like to live back when carriages ruled the roads, ladies wore long dresses (hold the corset) and gentlemen were in tails and top hats; when we dressed for dinner at home...
But I'm getting away from my point... French kitchens!
When I first moved to France, some of my very first impressions were about French kitchens, oddly enough. These have since been elaborated upon by my introduction into an old traditional French family and all the French kitchens that came along with them. So when I speak of a French kitchen I speak of the old traditional French kitchens to which I'm privy. When the time comes for me to renovate my own French kitchen, these are the rules upon which I'll absolutely rely:
- French kitchens have doors and are closed to the rest of the house; open concept kitchens are called cuisines américaines in France.
- Because so few French families have a washer and dryer (the French hang dry their clothes for the most part), their washing machine, or in some cases their two-in-one machine, is in the kitchen.
- French kitchens have large French doors, or French windows, that open wide with no screens.
- French kitchens host big pieces of furniture as their cupboards: large buffets, wood tables, or long wood work tables, for example.
- French kitchens flaunt a great deal of wood.
- French kitchens boast large stone, parquet or terracotta floors.
- French kitchens have very often mustard yellow or cream coloured walls of a thick stucco texture (because here the calls are a metre or more wide!).
- French kitchens have high ceilings.
- Exposed thick wooden beams in the ceiling are quite common.
- French kitchens almost always have a breakfast table in one corner or another.
- A large stand-along stove with a hood is a given, such as a Lacanche or a Cornue.
- French kitchens have flowing drapes.
- In fact, French kitchens go hand in hand with linen: think tablecloths, napkins, and drapery.
- French kitchens use a long, old, wooden, planked table as an island
- French kitchens have a wrought-iron light fixture or pot rack hanging from the ceiling with copper pots suspended.
- French kitchens put their dishes on display.
- French kitchens have a basket of straw laid out on a shelf where the eggs are kept.
- A rooster is almost always present in some form or another.
- French kitchens have large sinks – porcelain, trough-style or stone.
- French kitchens have a large pantry and/or an entrance to the wine cellar/cold storage.
- Unless absolutely impossible, French kitchens love a fireplace.
Very traditional or maybe just old. What I love is the wood and copper.
- French kitchens have fresh herbs growing in the window or just outside the door.
- French kitchens have nooks and crannies; small places where the phone sits or a chair or a little table just for grandma's cookbooks.
- French kitchens are very likely to harbour a close affiliation with sunshine/natural light.
- And finally, French kitchens feel rather bare without fresh-cut flowers and bowls of fruit on the counter.
Born south of the Mason Dixon line, Becoming Madame is a North American attorney, writer and professor living in Paris with her French husband. Since moving to France six years ago, she has learnt fluent French and now teaches law at the Université de Paris to French students. She writes and runs the blog Becoming Madame, which provides an inside peek into real life in the French capital – les marchés, Soldes, boulangeries, cafés, French cooking, traditions and living as an expat.
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