French kitchen design brings elegance and sophistication to the heart of the home. With roots extending back to ornate palace kitchens of the 17th and 18th centuries, the French kitchen celebrates cooking as an art form. From the layout to the materials and finishes, French kitchens embody both beauty and functionality.
Characteristics of the French Kitchen
A French kitchen is instantly recognizable for its distinctive features. Here are some of the defining characteristics of French kitchen design:
- Wood – Rich wood cabinetry in oak, cherry or walnut conveys warmth. Wood counters bring additional natural texture.
- Marble – Elegant marble countertops, backsplashes and floors suit the French kitchen. White Carrara marble is a popular choice.
- Metal – Brass, copper or stainless steel metal accents and fixtures lend an upscale look.
- Tile – Subway tile, mosaic tile or toile backsplashes complement the French country kitchen aesthetic.
- Neutrals – Whites, creams and earth tones like brown and tan give the kitchen a light and airy sensibility.
- Pastels – Soft pastel hues like robin’s egg blue, butter yellow and dusky rose pink add French flair.
- Deep Accents – Navy, burgundy and forest green used sparingly create striking accents.
- U-Shape – The U-shaped layout enables convenient cooking access and allows for an inviting dining area.
- Double Galley – Two parallel kitchen counters with an aisle between them facilitate multi-cook access.
- Work Triangle – The classic work triangle between sink, stove and refrigerator optimizes workflow.
- Island – A large kitchen island provides additional counter space and storage while facilitating conversation.
- Dining Nook – Built-in banquettes, booths or a breakfast nook integrate dining seamlessly.
- Glass Front Cabinets – Glass-front upper cabinets elegantly display cherished dinnerware.
- Open Shelving – Charming open shelving introduces a casual, country influence.
- Chandeliers – Ornate ceiling fixtures like crystal chandeliers make a dazzling statement.
- Pendant Lights – Hanging pendant lights illuminate kitchen islands in style.
- Undercabinet Lights – Discreet undercabinet lighting illuminates the kitchen in a functional way.
- Natural Light – Abundant windows, skylights and French doors fill the kitchen with natural light.
- Distressed Wood – Brushed, weathered, salvaged and vintage wood adds rustic texture.
- Wicker & Rattan – Incorporating baskets, hampers and pendants adds artisan texture.
- Fabric – Upholstered dining chairs and window treatments infuse cozy softness.
- Raw Materials – Unfinished wood beams, stone walls and exposed brickwork add organic texture.
History of the French Kitchen
To understand the origins of French kitchen design, we must go back in time to see the progression of kitchen styles throughout France’s history.
Early French Kitchens
In ancient kitchens, most cooking was done over an open-hearth fire in the center of the room. Without gas or electricity, the medieval kitchen relied solely on fire for cooking. Kitchens were strictly utilitarian spaces separated from the main living areas.
Palace Kitchens of the 17th & 18th Centuries
During the reign of Louis XIV, palace kitchens became grand showplaces, with high ceilings, abundant windows, and ornate carvings. Multiple fireplaces enabled simultaneous preparation of labor-intensive recipes. The Palace of Versailles had nearly 100 professional cooks toiling in the massive kitchens.
After the French revolution, kitchens were designed with more efficiency and practicality in mind. Cast iron stoves and built-in ovens improved functionality. Kitchens moved up from dark basement spaces to occupy ground floor rooms.
Early 20th Century Kitchens
Modern kitchen design began taking shape in the 1920s and 30s. Electric and gas stoves replaced wood-burning hearths. Built-in cabinetry gained popularity, along with continuous countertops and backsplashes. Form and function combined in kitchen layouts.
Post-WWII kitchens embraced labor-saving technology like refrigerators, electric mixers and commercial ranges. Floor plans optimized the kitchen work triangle. Bright colors and patterns characterized 1950s décor.
Contemporary French Kitchens
Today’s French kitchens honor classic national traditions while integrating 21st century innovations. Open concept kitchens have become more commonplace, while retaining elegance and artistry.
Elements of French Kitchen Design
Several key elements work together to create the overall look and feel of the French kitchen. Careful attention to each detail contributes to the cohesive design.
Traditional flooring materials like stone, brick, tile and hardwoods suit French décor. Options include:
- Stone – Flagstone, limestone or soapstone in earth tone colors
- Brick – Red or neutrally-colored brick pavers
- Tile – Encaustic, cement or terracotta tiles often in geometric patterns
- Wood – Oak, walnut or pine planks in a natural finish
Stone or brick floors should be sealed to make cleaning easier. Wood flooring introduces warmth but requires more maintenance.
Kitchen cabinets make a strong style statement. Details to consider include:
- Doors – Solid wood doors with raised panels or glass fronts
- Finish – Painted, stained, glazed, or distressed options
- Hardware – Antiqued brass, iron or crystal knobs and pulls
- Crown molding – Elegant trim between wall and cabinetry
- Toe kick – Recessed space under cabinet to allow chairs to pull in
Opt for high-quality solid wood cabinets, then add stylish hardware and accents. Include glass-front cabinets to showcase serveware.
Countertops should be both beautiful and functional, so durability is key. Top French kitchen options:
- Marble – Classic white or grey marble with natural veining
- Butcher block – Wood counters bring warmth; require sealing
- Limestone – Earthy, neutral sedimentary rock, less porous than marble
- Soapstone – Heat-resistant natural quarried stone with matte look
- Granite – Durable igneous rock available in many colors and patterns
Seal natural stone surfaces regularly. Marble stains easily but aesthetic appeal outweighs maintenance.
Crisp white backsplashes instantly refresh a space. Creative alternatives include:
- Subway tile – Classic 3×6 white gloss tiles in brick pattern
- Penny tile – Vintage round tile in blues, greens or black and white
- Beaded board – Tongue and groove wooden boards
- Tin ceiling tiles – Antiqued metal tiles or reproductions
- Stenciled designs – Freehand designs in muted tones
Accent sections of the backsplash with mosaic tile, medal medallions or shelving.
Proper kitchen lighting combines ample task lighting with ambient and accent fixtures.
Task Lighting – Focus bright light where it’s needed most
- Undercabinet lights
- Pendant lights over islands & counters
- Recessed cans over work stations
Ambient Lighting – Provide soft general lighting
- Flush mount or semi-flush ceiling lights
- Chandeliers or pendant clusters
Accent Lighting – Add drama with bold fixtures
- Sculptural pendants over dining table
- Sconces flanking a hutch or stove
- Strip lighting under toe kicks
Layer lighting levels to create a dynamic, multi-dimensional look.
Sinks & Fixtures
Period-appropriate plumbing fixtures enhance French country charm.
- Bridge faucets with side sprayers
- Gooseneck faucets with old-fashioned Lever handles
- Two-handle widespread faucets
- Farmhouse apron-front
- Hammered copper
- Enameled cast iron
- Stone farm sink
**Additional Fixtures **
- Pot filler faucet
- Instant hot water dispenser
- Artesian pull-down faucet
Select fixtures that harmonize with the overall aesthetic, like antique brass or polished nickel.
Subtle, elegant hues perfectly suit a French kitchen palette.
- Oyster White
- Dove Grey
- Soft Sky Blue
- Robin’s Egg
- Cadet Blue
- Pale Sage
- Soft Moss
- Dusty Rose
- Lavender Pink
Paint ceilings, walls, cabinetry or furniture in any single muted hue or complementary color combinations.
Furnishings should reflect the French kitchen aesthetic. Possibilities include:
- Crystal chandelier
- Upholstered dining chairs
- Vintage rug
- Farmhouse dining table
- Curio cabinet
- China hutch
- Mini wine fridge
- Butler’s pantry
- Built-in banquette
Incorporate furnishings that reference traditional French designs but also maximize functionality.
Layout & Floor Plan
When designing a French country kitchen, pay special attention to the layout and flow of the space.
The work triangle between the stove, sink and refrigerator should be streamlined. Limit cross-traffic that interferes with workflow.
Island or Peninsula
Including an island or peninsula adds prep space and storage while structuring open floor plans. Optimal clearance is 42-48 inches around all sides. Include seating for casual dining.
Aim for smooth, uninterrupted traffic patterns between zones like cooking, cleaning, and dining. Avoid collisions between busy areas.
Establish separate lighting zones for prep areas, sinks, and dining spaces. Layer ambient and task lighting options.
Maximize every bit of available space with clever storage solutions. Use corners for blind corner cabinets or lazy susans. Try roll outs, pull outs and vertical dividers in base cabinets.
Consider an angled or curved island, banquette or cabinetry to create an inviting, ergonomic flow.
Allow ample clearance for appliances, doors and drawers to fully open. Account for toe kick heights and moldings too.
Windows & Doors
Strategically place windows over sinks or prep areas. Include French doors to integrate indoor/outdoor access.
Carve out defined spaces for casual meals and family gatherings. Built-in banquettes are ideal when space is limited.
For large gatherings, allow space for multiple cooks in the kitchen with a double galley setup.
Furnishings & Materials
Selecting the right furnishings and finishes pulls the look together. Source durable, high-quality materials to stand the test of time.
Opt for solid hardwood cabinets like oak or walnut. Painted or distressed finishes add French farmhouse character. Glass-front upper cabinets elegantly display serveware. Include storage innovations like pull-out pantries, lazy susans and spice drawers. Iron hardware makes a striking accent.
Marble, limestone or butcher block counters suit French kitchens. Always seal natural stone. Undermount sinks provide a seamless transition from countertop to sink.
White subway tile is the quintessential French backsplash, but consider penny tile, tin ceiling tiles, beadboard or stenciled designs too.
Hardwood planks, stone tile, or brick floors align with the French country look. Materials like reclaimed wood or limestone add rustic appeal.
For versatile lighting, combine elegant chandeliers, pendant clusters over islands, recessed ceiling lights, and discreet undercabinet fixtures.
Abundant windows and French doors welcome natural light. Style windows with trim, shutters, and drapes. Opt for divided light patterns.
Select sink and faucet styles reminiscent of the French countryside like apron-front sinks, bridge faucets and lever handles. Include luxury accents like pot fillers and instant hot water taps.
Incorporate lush fabrics like cotton, linen, or velvet for upholstered dining chairs, drapes and throw pillows. Tufted designs add depth and dimension.
Warm up the space with vintage rugs, fresh flowers, herbs growing in the window and decorative ceramic ware.
Tips & Ideas
Implementing certain tips will maximize the beauty and function of your French kitchen.
Lighten and Brighten
Paint the space in soft whites or creams. The lighter color palette makes the room feel more open and airy.
Introduce various textures with linen drapes, stone walls, reclaimed wood floors, metal accents and glass cabinet fronts. Playing with textures adds visual interest.
Zones and Vignettes
Create specialized zones for cooking, cleaning and dining. Drape a crystal chandelier over the dining nook to define the space.
Quality over Quantity
Select a few high-end materials like marble counters or custom cabinets for maximum impact. Quality outshines quantity.
Harmony Not Matchy-Matchy
Thoughtfully curate furnishings, rather than aggressively match. Seek creative harmony, with each piece complementing the next.
Function Meets Beauty
Aesthetic appeal means nothing without utility. Insist on smart, useful, well-organized storage solutions.
Display with Purpose
Take advantage of glass cabinet fronts, open shelves and other display spaces. Show off cherished tableware, platters and coffee table books.
Work cherished family antiques into the design. Honor personal history with a touch of grandma’s silver or great aunt’s paintings.
Temper the quiet elegance with strategic bold touches, like black window frames, a lacquered red island, or vivid herringbone backsplash.
Consider future needs like accommodating elderly parents or hosting large family gatherings. Built-in flexibility enables the space to gracefully evolve.
French Kitchen Inspiration
The gorgeous French kitchens below provide abundant inspiration. Study how each kitchen artfully employs the characteristic elements of French design in a creative way.
This light and airy kitchen seamlessly balances old and new. Crisp white cabinets, subway tile and marble counters evoke enduring French kitchen tradition. Modern updates include the stainless range hood and vibrant second island. Dramatic black window frames provide sharp contrast.
Reclaimed wood beams, brick floors and distressed cabinetry inject this kitchen with warmth and timeworn character. Intricate metal accents, stone counters and a crystal chandelier elevate the humble materials. A massive island accommodates casual gatherings.
All About Charm
This intimate but charming kitchen envelops guests in old-world allure. Arched brick alcoves showcase glass cabinet contents. An antique-style chandelier casts a romantic glow, while vintage pendant lights illuminate marble countertops. Soft robin’s egg blue walls and distressed white cabinetry keep the mood light and relaxed.
The unique blend of modern and traditional makes a strong style statement here. Sleek marble counters, stainless appliances and metallic accents provide contemporary contrast to vaulted wood ceilings and distressed cabinets. A vivid royal blue backsplash and range hood infuse vibrant color.
Nothing says cozy countryside charm like an authentic French country kitchen. Exposed original stone walls, weathered wood beams, brick floors and a rustic fireplace embody provincial warmth. Delicate lace curtains, fresh flowers and painted