Country French Kitchens

Inspiration for the Book

Folks around the world possess an enduring fascination with French culinary arts, French design, and indeed, the French art of living. Joie de vivre tugs at our heartstrings and continues to pull us, inspire us and motivate us to infuse it into our own living spaces, lifestyles and families.

No singular room in the home serves all of these functions as does the kitchen. It is the heartbeat of the home, the room where roasts are basted and where hearts are repaired, where recipes are filed and where homework is checked, where bills are paid and where lunchboxes are packed. In the hustle and bustle of our workaday worlds, the kitchen serves purposes as varied and numerous as our family members' personalities... yet requires, from each of us, our earnest attempts at infusing joie de vivre-the cheerful enjoyment of life-into those human beings whose lives we are nurturing.

And few cultures do this better than the French. For the French, throughout time, have embraced this notion of enjoying life to its fullest, of infusing joy into everyday routines and into life spaces. They have long recognized the value of nurturing: with nurturing meals and nurturing conversations; with loving preparations and loving presentations.

As iPods and BlackBerrys, e-mail and Face Book, move us away from warm human contact-real honest to goodness touch, if you will- and as international travel moves us away from loved ones around the hearth and home and business moves at the speed of thought, we yearn for human connection. For days gone by when time was suspended over lingering weeknight dinners and when conversation trumped nonstop cable television news. We want to slow down, to spend time with our families, to take much-needed respite from the frantically paced lives in which most of us find ourselves.

We yearn for comfort. And no one creates comfort better than the French. Be it through Crème brûlée or molten chocolate, warm baguettes with melted brie and homemade mayonnaise, or toiles de jouy and checks: we seek to be cradled in the cocoon we call home. And we hope that it's been infused with at least some aspect of French culture in one way or another.

With eight houses under my belt-and five different homes within as many years-the recognition of the kitchen as the most important room in the house, as well as its weight on the decorating, design and remodeling scale-has been an undeniable factor in my own family's housing equation. The kitchen was always the first to deserve redecorating budget allocation and the first deal-maker-or breaker-of any of the homes we've purchased in the past twenty-six years. I want my kitchen-the "heart of my home"-to reflect the nurturing quality that I hope to give those in my charge. I want to infuse it with the eternal qualities of beauty, comfort, charm and sensual aromas; indeed, I want to infuse it with Country French sensibilities. For the organic colors, fabrics and textures of the rural French countryside speak to my soul. I gravitate to deep yellows, sage greens and terra-cotta reds. I long to eat dinners slowly, with family and friends around our table, engaged in enjoyable conversation, with the warm glow of candlelight sending sparks of sterling silver flatware and candlesticks in playful patterns on my walls. I love to embrace fresh flowers and enticing aromas.

It was, in fact, during my last trip to France, where the sight of fresh flowers gracing every important street corner and warm chocolate croissants jump-started my mornings... where culinary delights were enjoyed with abandon and where charming design vignettes filled my imagination... it was that trip to France, with all of its various images colliding in my mind, that served as the crucible in which my percolating design ideas were officially smelt.

When we discovered on our last house-hunting trip the house that would be our eighth and current home, I fell instantly in love when I took the first step across the threshold, yet held my breath as we neared what I knew would be the most important room in the house: the kitchen.

As I walked in, my heart sank. The room, though large, was poorly designed. Cabinets were dated, appliances were old, there was no pantry, and laminate countertops hardly filled me with the "joie" that I was seeking. It could best be described by the sad, triumvirate "D's": dark, dreary and drab.

So I proceeded to do what I always do: research. I snapped up decorating books on the Country French style by the armloads and devoured every single page. I read and reread, sticky-noted and dog-eared every photograph that might communicate to my builder, kitchen designer or husband the exact feeling, function and look I was trying to elicit through real live design. Trouble was: only portions of Country French kitchens are preserved photographically in decorating books devoted to the French style. The focus of these books has always been on living areas of the home-living rooms, bedrooms, entryways and dining rooms. Sadly, they leave this most-used room to only a few pictures with text so thin that complete design schemes are left to our imaginations.

Additionally, most professional American kitchen designers hope to create "magazine kitchens." Kitchens worth bubbly house tours and glossy magazine features that oftentimes serve more as advertisements for the designer and the products contained therein than the lifestyle or inherent beauty derived from the room. Kitchens for real living? For raising hearts, minds, souls and healthy bodies? For those of us on a budget? Or those of us who prefer the "undecorated" look of an authentic Country French kitchen?

COUNTRY FRENCH KITCHENS stems from part frustration, part inspiration... and from an overflow of joie de vivre! For in my own personal quest for design inspiration-and indeed, for desiring to impart inspiration to you via this book-I have been invited into the kitchens of dozens of homes across the Northeast. I have examined architectural elements in detail, analyzed floor plans, studied cabinetry configurations and scrutinized appliance variations. I have run my hands over countless countertops, turned on oil-rubbed bronze and polished nickel faucets, tugged on cabinet knobs and custom drawer pulls. I have searched out the most beautiful folk art, pottery and cookware collections and have selected those owners who have chosen to make decoration around their collections central to their overall design schemes. I have interviewed certified kitchen designers, interior designers, builders and architects. I have visited kitchen and appliance showrooms, tile shops, cabinetmakers. All of this heavy lifting has been done to help you more clearly envision your space and to help your designer or builder or architect achieve the best execution possible. We have photographed authentic materials, used commonly throughout France and interpreted widely here in America, to help you understand what, exactly, defines a Country French kitchen stylistically. And finally, I have identified resources to make all of these components easily accessible to you. For reproducing an authentically Country French kitchen in America requires correct translation. And not everyone speaks this language fluently.

In order to help you best speak-and read-this wonderful language of Country French style, I have divided the material into easily identifiable parts. Fundamentals are examined in order to guide you through those elements that are by necessity incorporated into a kitchen: appliances, cabinetry, countertops, sinks, faucets and eating areas. Several common themes authenticate Country French kitchen design, and I'd like to make you familiar with them before you proceed to design execution. What, in fact, fundamentally separates Country French kitchens from American ones, and how can you identify those differences? Second, distinct design styles pervade that of Country French that do not influence other design orientations. How does one design the kitchen space so that it becomes authentically-quintessentially-Country French in style? Third, how does one infuse joie de vivre into one's kitchen? And is it really possible to translate an emotion or a complete lifestyle philosophy into one's kitchen? Fourth, why are tactile sensations so integral to Country French style? Are there elements in texture that need to be examined for correct translation? And lastly, if collections built over one's lifetime reserve a space in one's heart, how does one preserve them in the living spaces of one's home? Where do art and antiques fit into the design of an authentic Country French kitchen?

I hope that you will come to know this style that I have come to love so much. I hope that your fluency will enable you to understand how-and indeed, to ultimately choose-to infuse joie de vivre into this most important room in your home.


Copyright © 2009 Carolina Fernandez | Website by B360 Studios
Image © 2006 Olson Photographic © Gibbs Smith Publishers, Inc. No part of this text may be used without the express permission of the publisher.