While the country is often thought of as a design style, the term country furniture technically refers to pieces that are durable and functional and usually created by skilled craftsmen in the surrounding area or “country”, hence the term.
There is so much to choose from when it comes to country furniture that, at times it can seem overwhelming. To make the job a bit easier and, more importantly, enjoyable, you must first determine what style of country furniture you are looking for. Do you prefer a French country look with it’s relaxed and comfortable style or is your preference American country furniture that has been hand-made and passed down from generation to generation? Perhaps you prefer the rustic simplicity of primitive country furniture or the whitewashed look of a country cottage. Once your design preference has been determined it is time to decide just what pieces you need to furnish your home.
Chairs are an obvious necessity in any room setting. But do you need a comfortable upholstered chair for reading and relaxation or do you need a set of dining room chairs that will accommodate your family? Let’s take a look at some popular country chair designs:
The Windsor chair was introduced to American society as early as the late 17th century and came from Windsor England. However, the more popular American Windsor chair was developed in the late 1700’s as colonists were seeking ways to improve their homes and add comfort in an affordable yet stylish manner. Windsor chairs feature a rounded back, saddle seat and tapered legs as seen in this photo by Mark Reinfurt of Equinox Antiques and Fine Art. They can be used as an accent chair in a living space, as a desk chair or as host and hostess chairs in the dining room.
The ladder back chair is another popular design for American country furniture lovers. It is identified by a chair back that resembles the horizontal rungs of a ladder and the seat is often made of cane or rush. To satisfy the puritan tastes of the early colonists, most ladder back chairs were free of any ornamentation and were viewed as a functional item, not decorative. This simple yet comfortable chair can be used at the dining room table, as a desk chair in a child’s bedroom or as an accent chair in a den, living room or entryway.
These chairs may be a bit too primitive for those of you who prefer the comfortable designs found in French country rooms. Chairs used in this design style are often carved and painted. The French adaptation of a ladder back chair is called the St. Remy chair based on a painting by Vincent Van Gogh, as shown here. Adaptations of this style feature floral carvings on the chair back and more curvature in the leg design. A cushion is often placed on top of the rush seat for color and comfort. These chairs are perfect for use in a casual dining space such as the kitchen or breakfast room, or as an occasional chair in the bedroom or living area.
Upholstered chairs offer the ultimate in comfort and style. In a country setting, you have many choices. The high back and comfortable side “wings” of a wing chair provide a comfortable spot to read and relax. Upholstered in a colorful plaid or check fabric, they provide color and pattern to any style of country decor. An over-stuffed club chair creates an inviting spot in a living area, den or bedroom. Add a matching ottoman and you will have created the best seat in the house.
There are several types of tables needed to furnish your country home. These include a dining table, coffee table, end tables, and consoles. The style you choose will depend on the country design style you prefer but the finishes can vary.
A wood table that is in its natural state or has been manually distressed will fit into most country styles. Those who prefer a country cottage look may choose to paint the top white and add some distress. Primitive country enthusiasts will most likely prefer to leave the table in its natural state and proudly display the wear and tear of years, if not centuries, of use.
French country design often uses iron as a table base or as accents such as drawer pulls and hinges. These iron pieces can be rusted and distressed or painted black.
Comfort is the hallmark of any country setting and is accomplished through the use of upholstered furniture. Upholstered furniture items may include sofas, chairs, ottomans, settees and bar stools, just to name a few. All of these pieces provide a comfortable spot to sit and put your feet up. The upholstery fabrics add personality, color, and pattern to space regardless of whether you choose the bright primary colors of French country or the soft and subdued colors often used in country cottage decor.
No country home is complete without antiques. Antiques provide a sense of longevity to a country setting. You may be lucky enough to own a beautiful Windsor chair that has been in your family for generations; or an antique settee that you have placed at the foot of your bed to catch the pillows at night. Something as simple as an old footstool that your grandfather used adds a sense of history to your home.
Antiques are timeless. Therefore they are comfortable when placed next to a brand new piece of furniture or in a room full of other antique pieces so display them with pride. This photo from Country Living shows how to successfully combine an antique wicker chair and trunk with more “modern” pieces such as the slipcovered sofa, lamps, and accessories.
Painted furniture is commonly used in all types of country decor. It might be a new piece of furniture being painted to mimic an original piece or it might be something as simple as a whitewash to completely change the look of the furniture. Milk paint, chalk paint and crackle paint are all easy to use products for these DIY projects. A distressed finish on country furniture is almost always desirable so go ahead and beat up your new paint job with sandpaper, nails, putty knives, chains and other sharp objects that will add just the right amount of “authentic” distressing. And it’s a great way to relieve stress! This storage cabinet features the original mustard-colored paint that is so popular today. Photo by Thayer Allison Gowdy and Country Living.
Comfort, function and a sense of history are all important elements of country design. But a house is really just a shell with four walls until you add the country furniture that allows your personality and family history to shine. This is what turns a country house into a country home.