Interior Design Ideas: Country Style
The term ‘country style’ embraces a vast diversity of styles, in that every nation’s country style is different in character and easily distinguishable. Nevertheless, whatever their dissimilarities, all of these styles have something in common: they are comfortable, comforting, warm and relaxed. Moreover, they are interestingly different from any other style in that, whatever their nationality, they are equally adaptable to a cramped town apartment, a suburban villa, a rambling house or a small cottage.
Endearingly, too, decorating in country style does not require too much money, for the essence of true rurality is simplicity. Here, of course, we are not talking about ‘smart country’, which is an entirely different kettle of fish: it requires either the passage of many years or the expenditure of a good deal of money to implement. Country style proper has an atmosphere of freshness and prettiness that is redolent more of nature than of sophistication.
English Country is, as the writer and critic John Richardson once put it, principally noted for ‘its simultaneous look of relaxed elegance and benign neglect’. Unforced English country is cluttered with slightly bedraggled loose covers of chintz, and typically has worn oriental or needlework rugs on old wood, matting, brick or pamments (large old terracotta tiles). Other typical elements are battered white plaster walls and old pine furniture, great baskets of logs and flowers or leaves and nice old paisley throw spreads. Open fires blaze, dogs stretch luxuriously in front of the hearth, and, at least in summer, French windows open out onto lavender-fringed brick terraces. Grander country houses have delicious Colefax and Fowler prints, swags and festoon blinds, mellow polished mahogany and walls decorated with pictures of horses, dogs and other subjects related to field sports and country life.
French Country vignettes are divided between Proven-gale and provincial. The former are full of charming little cotton prints, often bordered with rich dark backgrounds (eg. deep red or intense yellow, green, terracotta or blue). There are old, sun-baked, terracotta-tiled or stone floors, sometimes with straw mats. The furniture is typically old and made of chestnut with cane seats, and has those slightly curved legs so particular to France and Italy. Cupboards and dressers are primitive in style. Provençale interiors look as if they have grown up in the sun and seem set in the knowledge that the sun will always shine — well, almost always.
Rightly or wrongly, one’s immediate decorative images of the other parts of France — Normandy, Brittany, Burgundy, the Dordogne and the Pyrenees — are of small red or blue checks, faded toile de Jouy on walls and windows and bed alike, lovely old elm or chestnut refectory tables with those practical tirettes (extensions that pull out to accommodate yet more children for Sunday lunch), flagstones and terracotta tiles, ceilings with low beams, pewter everywhere and window boxes bustling with bright geraniums.
American Country is all about primitive furniture in faded burnt-out reds or dusty blues, simple bare board, and the lovely spare lines of Shaker furniture. Checks and small all-over print cottons abound in various guises. Other features are stencilled borders and painted floor cloths, rocking chairs and floorboards, rag rugs and four-poster beds with spanking white linen and crisp embroidery. Then again there are the samplers showing tracts and homilies, the wide stone fireplaces with leaping flames. The pervading smell in winter is of woodsmoke and mulled cider, cloves and cinnamon. Summer is typified by old cane and chintz, and rocking chairs on porches for those long still evenings.
American South West is distinct from the general American country style. It features stone and adobe, roughhewn, solidly-built rustic furniture, faded patched textiles, Navajo rugs, carelessly thrown blankets, Indian sculpture and ceramics, straw matting on terracotta tiling, and great terracotta pots.
Mediterranean Country styles — from Italy, Greece, Turkey, North Africa, Spain, and so on — are something else again. There are cool stone walls and floors, deep window recesses in pink or blue or lemon wash, simple wood and cane chairs, old chests, sun filtering through latticed window screens or elderly shutters, crisp white cotton or linen, and baskets of herbs and flowers, aubergines, peppers and zucchini.
Scandinavian Country style is typified by distressed painted wood, elaborate ceramic and iron wood-burning stoves, bare wood floors, a pervading blue and white, and a clean crispness.
All of these are, of course, nothing more than quick sketches, a kind of shorthand list of ingredients. But you can mix these ingredients in a vast number of recipes to get the kind of look (or looks) you want.
There are two particular points to bear in mind about country living rooms. One is that, however beautiful they might look and whatever their particular country style, unless they are ‘loungeable-in’ they simply will not work. A country living room must have deep, squashy sensibly covered seating, well placed stools, good light for reading, soft lights for atmosphere, and comfortable pillows or cushions and soft rugs for lazing about on. Other essentials are a capacious fireplace, deep window sills for abundant flower arrangements and windows that open out onto sweet-smelling terraces or gardens — or at least onto the landscape outside.
The second point to remember is that it is more important for country rooms to be easy on the eye than it is for them to be impeccably coordinated. Country rooms are more for relaxing in than to be impressed by, more for peaceful contemplation than aesthetic confrontation. Certainly they should not in any way be ‘demanding’ rooms.
The same feeling of peaceful relaxation and informality should certainly be the chief characteristic of a country dining room. If you are generally a gregarious person or family, it is useful if your table is expandable to cope with guests, or if you have another table nearby that you can bring into service. Likewise, you want to have plenty of spare chairs. Although it can be difficult to achieve, it is well worth trying to design your dining room so that during the summer it is cool and redolent of the outdoors, while during the winter it is warm and snug.
Apart from practical points such as these, there are no real decorational rules to follow. Certainly it is appealing to have country accoutrements — old dressers, sideboards, plates, and collections of antique curios; these latter can be particularly effective if the items have a common theme of eating and/or drinking.
The idea of modern furniture in a country dining room seems like a contradiction in terms, probably because when we think of a country style we are thinking of some imaginary timeless idyll. If, nevertheless, you do wish to incorporate into a scheme items of contemporary furniture, it is felicitous to pair them with more-rustic objects, old or new.
The very mention of the words ‘country kitchen’ is apt to bring to mind comforting thoughts of delicious cooking smells mixed with equally comforting visions of worn chopping blocks, bunches of herbs, garlic and onions, shelves massed with stoneware, crocks, utensils, spices, and esoteric oils and vinegars. De rigueur in such a traditional country kitchen would be an old wood table at which one could sit quietly slicing away. The reality of a modern country kitchen is that, instead of the welcoming table, there is likely to be an efficient island in the middle of the room. Nevertheless, all the units should be capacious and made of wood rather than any sort of plastic laminate; the presence of plastics instantly destroys any romantic visions of rurality.
Another practical ingredient for a modern country kitchen is good storage space which might include: glass-fronted cupboards to use for attractive displays; old pine dressers; capacious wooden plate racks; and, perhaps, if you are lucky enough to have the space, a walk-in larder.
The general feeling you should aim to achieve when decorating a country or country-style bedroom is one of gentleness. Country-style bedrooms can be overwhelmingly romantic, chastely fresh, demure, simple and folksy, just plain simple or packed with rustic collectables. Whatever their style, though, they do not try to overtly impress — except, possibly, with a sense of complete ease and comfort.
Victorian and Edwardian iron or brass bedsteads, still fairly easy to pick up in antique shops (or junk stores if you are prepared to paint and rehabilitate them), are very useful for country bedrooms. So are sleigh beds and some old wooden beds. Reproductions of these can fit in almost equally well. Old stripped or painted dressers and chests of drawers look good, as do needlework rugs, rag rugs and old patchwork quilts.
If you have sleep problems, or if you dislike the too-early morning, you should use either layers of curtains and blinds or draperies and shades lined with blackout material to mute the bright country dawn and the chorus of waking birds.