Adapting the styles of Provence Home: To give your house the flavor of the South of France, start with warm-hued walls. Add some country French furniture and regional fabrics and voila! You're there.

September 15, 1996|By Susan Caba | Susan Caba,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Start with color -- glorious, heat-filled, spicy color that stands up defiantly to a noonday Mediterranean sun.

Wash a wall or two in hues of saffron, ocher, bittersweet or salmon. Never mind if it goes on imperfectly -- old Provencal stucco walls don't necessarily take color evenly.

Strip the floors down to the wood or, even better, to earthenware tile. Scatter casual, colorful rugs.

Choose one or two important pieces of French furniture -- a buffet, armoire or table with carved embellishments -- then fill in with whatever else you have, plus one or two rush-seated occasional chairs.

Add curtains in vibrant French Provencal prints, and layer in a few more prints as seat cushions and lamp shades. Sprinkle lightly with earthenware pots, the occasional olive jar in a deep green glaze, a little bit of wire work and casual bouquets of garden flowers.

And there you have it -- a recipe for creating interiors reminiscent of Provence, that region in southern France so exhaustively celebrated in the paintings of Paul Cezanne.

Whether you're in love with Cezanne, with Provence, or merely with the idea of redecorating, French Provencal is a classic look that -- at least in its basic forms -- is easy to achieve. And because Provence is a region that embraces both the sophisticated Riviera (think Nice and Cannes) as well as ancient hill villages built around forts, French Provencal decor can either take on the polish of an elegant Cote d'Azur villa or be kept as utterly simple as a stone farmhouse.

The key characteristic of the region, and of the decor it inspires, ,, is summed up in a new book, "Provence, the Art of Living." Provence, says author Sara Walden, is where "austerity and gentleness confront and complement each other."

'Quality of the light'

The most elemental example of this combative symbiosis is the relationship between the Provencal sun -- most say the region's light is, in fact, its soul -- and the intense colors the Provencals use to foil and tame that sunlight.

"If you look at Cezanne's paintings, you will see two things -- the color and the light. These are what set Provence apart," says Guy Veroli, Paris native and owner of French Corner Antiques in Haverford, Pa.

"The quality of the light -- it's hard to know it, to describe it unless you have seen it. But Provence is also set apart by the colors, the color of the walls -- the outside as well as the inside."

Either one, the sun or the colors, can be hard to take alone. But when they stand up to one another, the effect is exuberant and romantic. Color, then, is the basis of Provencal decor.

"The quickest thing you can do is a color change for the walls. It's the easiest thing, and it's what you have to start with, because nothing else will work without it," says Diane Jingles, owner of Urban Objects in Philadelphia.

The most commonly used colors to create a Provencal feeling are warm ambers, yellow ochers, rusts, and deep greens.

"If you think about bright zinnias, sunflowers, hot-weather flowers, inexpensive plants -- that's the color range we're talking about," Jingles said.

The French country look is also about blurring the distinctions between indoors and out -- by using garden statuary and garden materials (such as tiles) inside, and by creating "rooms" outside with terraces, arbors and garden furniture.

"Provence is not a rich area," said Veroli. "It's semi-mountainous, and there is a lot of agriculture, but it is not a rich agriculture.

"People there bought their furniture over several years -- they rarely could afford to buy in matched sets. They would buy a chair for the dining room every few years. The mix-and-match look is something you can define specifically as a French country element."

Therefore, creating the look doesn't mean buying a lot of furniture.

"You're setting the scene. You need one good, or two good pieces -- a buffet or an armoire or a dining table. That would give you a very good idea of French country," said Veroli. "The rest you will blend in from there, from what you have."

Typical Provencal furniture is mostly simple and unpainted, though, in this country at least, scattering in a few pieces of painted furniture is common. Chestnut, walnut and wild cherry -- medium dark woods with warm undertones -- are the most

frequently used woods in southern France.

Fabrics and ceramics

Besides color, Provencal decor is distinguished by the use of regional fabrics. Dozens of manufacturers produce the vibrant, small prints in combinations of yellows, reds and blues, but the two best-known firms are Pierre Deux and Soleido.

Setting a French-looking table is an easy route to the Provencal look, and one that's particularly appropriate for summer. A bordered tablecloth, green napkins, a set of French salad plates or soup bowls that mix in with existing dinnerware -- these things may be enough to add French flavor to a table setting.

L Decorative ceramics, by the way, are common in French homes.

After Louis XIV melted down his nobility's gold plates during a budget crunch, said Veroli, the only recourse was indigenous ceramics. Each region developed its own, some very primitive, others highly refined. The French often hang an especially pretty plate, or use a whimsical ceramic figure as an accent piece.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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