As a magazine editor, I’ve shot more “country French” kitchens in the states than I can shake a wooden spoon at. For a long time it was the number one popular kitchen theme in the States, and it’s still a popular option. I myself had what I called a country French kitchen in Charleston before we moved, and we have a version of one here in France as well.
Here is the irony, which I learned shortly after we moved here: what Americans call a “country French” kitchen, the French call an “American kitchen”(!!).
The traditional country French kitchen in the US may be beautiful, but while it may evoke a few French elements, it is often as far from an authentic country French kitchen as you can get.
Stay with me, it’s complicated. This is the main difference: a true French country kitchen is an all or mostly UNFITTED kitchen. There may be minimal base cabinets but almost never overhead cabinets. Any kitchen in France with fitted wooden base cabinets and especially with overhead cabinets is called an “American kitchen”.
So let's take a tour of a typical country kitchen in France. First of all, it will likely not be slick, decorated, and at the center of the home. Kitchens are private family spaces, often banished to a corner of the house visitors might never enter. The main feature will usually be one or more armoires or chests, furniture pieces we would typically put in a living room or bedroom. These will hold dishes, linens, maybe pots and pans. Somewhere, often tucked in a corner where you would hardly notice it, will be a sink, frequently with little or no surrounding counter space. The stove will often be free-standing. A fireplace would not be unusual. Le frigo is frequently tucked away in an adjoining room, out of sight, or there may be a very small fridge, plus a freezer or larger fridge hidden away in a cave (cellar) or a grange (barn). In the main kitchen of the Château where we lived, for example, there were 3 fridges and a freezer, located in an adjoining passageway and in a large pantry beyond that. Number of fridges in the kitchen: zero.
There is rarely an island, this is a truly an American invention. Instead there will invariably be a dining table with chairs in the center, and the table doubles as a big workspace to spread out when you cook.
As a result, the room does not look very kitchen-y. I’ve been in French kitchens where I didn’t immediately realize I was standing in a kitchen!
Now this doesn’t mean you won’t find fitted kitchens in France. They are very popular. But when you do, they are usually modern, and are considered to be in the American style, not French.
Now that we’ve got this straightened out, I’ll share some photos with you. In two parts: this week I’m showing you some photos of real French kitchens, here in France. In a future post I’ll show you some “country French” kitchen in the States, plus mine here in here in France, and we’ll talk about the elements of the American country kitchens that give them French flair.
Photo at Top: In our friends' gorgeous Burgundy kitchen, the table and fireplace are at the heart of the room. An armoire holds linens and dishes. There are a few fitted base cabinets, mainly for the sink.
Photo below: in the main Château kitchen, a large armoire takes the place of cabinets.
The rest of the Château kitchen: a stove (gas, and a wood-burning oven) has been inserted into an old chimney. The sink is off in a corner.
Below, a friend's very European kitchen, with a wonderful marble sink and open shelves above. It's common to see a stucco base cabinet, usually left with open shelves. In this this case, they've been fitted with rustic antique doors.
In the Burgundy kitchen of dear friends, below, stucco bases are left open, and again the table is the center of the room.
In the same kitchen, a fireplace, a stucco banquette with open storage below, and a beautiful Burgundian beamed ceiling.
My beautiful Italian neighbor next door and her lovely daughters turn out the best food I've ever eaten, with fancy dishes that just keep on coming. And yet what you see here IS the kitchen, a little corner of the room where they work their magic.
Here's a quirky and charming kitchen in the small Paris flat of a friend. Here a few fitted base cabinets mix with a vintage armoire for dishes. To the right in the foreground is the requisite farmhouse table. To make the flat feel bigger, there's a glass wall between kitchen and the foyer (which also doubles as a library!).
The interior of a French kitchen armoire.
In the COMMENTS: Christine, I love the story of those lucky kitties! And thank you all so much for your kind words about Domino. Jane, you may be right, Tromper is a word for our time: to "dupe, delude, or fool." And fellow resisters Monty, Michaela, Sandy, Janet, Betty, Dawn, and others who expressed concern, thank you for your support!
Favorite Reads: my Francophone friend Gordon told me about Fat Dogs and French Estates , a series about the adventures of a British couple and their two portly pups who set off to settle in France. Looks fun!