A French Provincial Christmas, Girl holding a basket of ornaments in front of a Christmas table

How to Decorate For A French Provincial Christmas

How to Decorate For A French Provincial Christmas

The holidays are underway and it’s time to start decorating for Christmas. Over the next few weeks we will be presenting Christmas decoration themes inspired by the color stories we presented back in July. Our first theme is a French provincial or old world Christmas with a lavender and seafoam green color story. If you’d like a reminder on the lavender and seafoam color story as well as the other color stories we will be covering in the future, the check out this article.

These images are meant to enchant and inspire you, since that’s what Always Uttori is all about. To find out how to create some of the DIYs and recipes featured in this article, check out these links: DIYs, Food.

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Zone 1: Table

It can be hard to start with a blank slate, but the holiday dinner table is one of the most important interior spaces (well, in our case, exterior space) to set the mood for your holiday theme. Your holiday table is where you will not only share good food, but hopefully, will also enjoy the good company of family and friends. We set our French Provincial/Old World theme amidst the beauty of a wooded pond area. To highlight elements common to the theme, we’re using a rustic and weather worn wooden table and antique wood chairs.

Many of the pieces we used for our décor were thrifted, with a French Provincial aesthetic as our guide. If you’re not familiar with French Provincial as an aesthetic, it originated as a folkway in the 1600s. What do I mean by folkway? A folkway is just a way of living. During the 1600s, many French nobles built chateaus styled after the Palace of Versailles. For this reason, the aesthetic features an eclectic mix of what many might consider opposites: the practical and the whimsical, the rustic and the opulent, provincial country and city chic. It is the tension of opposites that make French Provincial easily transferable to other aesthetics, such as Old World, Cottagecore, Farmhouse, or Vintage. Provincial style made its way to the US with returning WWI veterans who admired the architecture of the French countryside. As for our tension of opposites, we looked for items that had a mix of opulence and rustic old-world charm, along with items that fit within the color scheme.

Floral Centerpiece

To decorate the table, we created a floral centerpiece, with dried lavender and a crown from Hobby Lobby. Why a crown? Crowns are a common motif in French décor dating back to the Empire period in French furniture design. The Empire period lasted from 1804 to 1815. It is the aesthetic marker of the period when Napoleon Bonaparte ruled as emperor over France. Crowns and bees were often used as symbols during this time to represent Napoleon’s imperial prowess.   

We created the floral centerpiece by placing 3 dried lavender bundles on either side of the box. If you don’t want to use dried lavender, faux lavender is a great option, plus it doesn’t crumble the way real lavender can. Next, I used some artificial pine that I thrifted to further fill out the centerpiece and to make the arrangement look more Christmas-y. You can see exactly how I did this by checking out our DIY article.

The dried lavender was so fragrant. It filled the air with its calming aroma. Scent is a great way to enhance a holiday theme as it engages the senses beyond the visual. Neuroscientists believe that close proximity between the brain regions that deal with memory, emotion, and sense of smell is why scents can trigger memories. With this in mind, consider creating a sensory experience to accompany your Holiday vignettes. The addition of scent is sure to make the holidays even more memorable for your family and guests.

Zone 2: Place Setting

Now that the centerpiece is done, it’s time to work on the place setting. To incorporate our color theme, we went with a mix of lavender and seafoam pieces. I started with a seafoam green placemat that I got from Dollar Tree. I topped the placemats with silver chargers, also from Dollar Tree. Finally, we’re using glass plates that I thrifted and painted lavender since it’s a color that, at the moment, is a little hard to find in dinnerware. By the way, Digital Lavender is a rising color way. It will continue to grow in prominence in 2024 and through to 2026.

To continue building out the place setting, I cut lengths of lavender ribbon so that the ends would tuck under the plate, giving it the appearance of a wrapped gift. Next, I put crown ornaments that I got from At Home for $2.99 a piece on top of the ribbon to help keep it in place. Two sprigs of faux lavender from Dollar Tree go inside the crown and we’ve got a simple and inexpensive design that makes your table setting feel upscale and special. Next, I placed fleur-de-lis water cups that I picked up on sale from Home Goods for $2.99 each. Beside these I’m placing wine glasses that I thrifted for $1.99 apiece. Next, for more French flair, I’m adding a cloche, also from Home Goods. I don’t remember the price on these, but I think they were $9.99 each. I really like the base. It brings in some of that French opulence aesthetic, and it also matches the gold of the crown ornament.

Finally, the flatware. I’m using a gold and silver mixed metallic set that I’ve had for a few years. This helps tie in the mixed metallics with the silver charger plate and the gold in the crown and cloche. Mixed metallics is actually another big holiday trend for the 2023 season, and it’s a great accent to the lavender and seafoam color story that we’re building out. In total, I’ve calculated this table setting to cost around $100.00 to create four place settings even though only three are pictured.

Zone 3: Tree

It’s time for the Christmas tree. I found an awesome French style planter at Goodwill for $19.99. The planter is the epitome of French Provincial/Old World aesthetic. It has a, a really worn appearance that I just love because it has that tension of chic but vintage. It also has Greco-Roman motifs which were very popular in furniture design during the Empire Era. To prop the tree up inside the planter, I placed broken down cardboard boxes inside ,as well as a piece of Styrofoam that came as packaging for something else. It ended up being the perfect size to hold the miniature Christmas tree, which was also thrifted for $6.99. To hide the base of the tree, I added the same thrifted faux pine I used for the centerpiece, as well as some faux lavender that I got from Amazon.

The French aesthetic often has minimalist and sparse Christmas trees. While I couldn’t find an exact reason for this, I did come across an article in the Atlantic, “How the French Do Christmas” by Thomas Chatterton Williams. Williams is quoted in the article saying, “In France, and perhaps Paris especially, the trees are significantly more compact than the towering North American varieties, and they tend to blend into rather than dominate their surroundings. These trees are indispensable yet understated, striking a simple balance with regular life instead of wholly upending it.” So, with French Provincial/Old World, you get many small trees, rather than a single large tree, which can be really wonderful for creating a sense of nature indoors.

After I set up the tree, I added paper ornaments in shades of purple as well as rustic clay ornaments all keeping within our color story. If you want to learn how to make these yourself, make sure to check out our DIY article.

Zone 4: Cone Garland

Paper Christmas cones are a European tradition popularized during the Victorian period in Britain, although we don’t practice the tradition so much in the states, since we’re working with an Old World theme, we’ve added a cone garland to our decor. I will show you how to make these cones, as well as provide free images for download in the DIY article. I stuffed the cones with tissue paper in a seafoam green color, then strung them up on fairy lights.

Paper cones are an inexpensive and charming way to decorate for the holidays. If you don’t want to use the cones as décor, they also make a create container for giving gifts like cookies or small toys. In fact, in Germany, parents give a schultüte to their children when they move from kindergarten to the first grade. This century old tradition might have had its origin point in Christmas traditions, as Christmas also originated in Germany.

Zone 6: Finishing Touches/Miscellaneous

Now it’s time to add the finishing touches. We placed handmade chair hangers (another project that you can see in our DIY article) to the chairs. Chair hangers are a simple but elegant way to add charm to your décor.

I also added a few miscellaneous lanterns and other décor to complete the look. One such item was a rocking horse that I placed on the end of the table. Unfortunately, the rocking horse broke shortly after creating this vignette. Anyway, as with crowns and bees, horses are a common French motif. Horse riding is one of the most popular outdoor sports in France. The sport of horseback riding is still popular with European elites, so much so that brands like Hermes have closely aligned their image with the pastime. For this reason, as well as the Napoleonic influence, you will often see horse motifs in French provincial design. After all, what could be more country?

Mirror wreath

After adding miscellaneous décor, let’s move on to the wreath. I originally wanted to create a stand for the wreath, but I decided to go a more traditional route after doing a bit more research on the French Provincial/Old World aesthetic. Hanging the wreath on the mirror keeps this wreath design simple and understated. I’m added a garland and stuck it to the back of the mirror with thick glue tape. I stuck the wreath on with the same tape.

Light fire

If you have a fireplace, nothing is more cozy then having a crackling fire to add a touch of ambiance during dinner. Since our setting is outside, we use an outdoor fireplace to give us that wonderful snap and crackle of a cheerfully burning fire.

Light candles

Finally, I lit the candles on the table and…. Our French provincial Christmas was set. So, hurry, Santa.

Conclusion

If you find French country style inspiring, you can use your own color story against the backdrop of neutral tones and natural elements such as rustic wood or vintage pieces that reflect a worn in patina. Because French Provincial/Old Word mixes different time periods, your color choices should be muted or neutral. To give your holiday interior a sense of that Joyeux noel, include common motifs French motifs such as cherubs, crowns, bees, or horses. If the weather permits, and you have the space, you can host your holiday dinner in an outdoor setting or bring the outdoors in by bringing greenery indoors with a wreath or lavender during the holidays. Also, keep the idea of scent, and also sound (such as a crackling fire in the fireplace) in mind as important elements to your aesthetic layering.  

We hope you found inspiration, or at least a sense of enchantment, for your own holiday theme this year. Be sure to check out our DIY and French Cookie Flight articles.

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