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Country style home decorating ideas and tips

The country style of home decorating remains popular because the suggestion of rural life can seem to offer simplicity and a refuge from urban pressures. Country-style decorating can draw its inspiration from French, English, Swedish, American, and other cultural influences. However, pieces from different periods and traditions can be blended in one home as long as comfort is the principle ingredient. No country-style room should be too studied, for it is meant to be lived in. The beauty of country-style decorating is that you may have inherited some great heirlooms that can give you the impetus to start a collection of appropriate pieces. You may have a flair for picking up great flea-market bargains or for crafting quality items that can be incorporated into your scheme.

Start a notebook or file to help organize your search. Remember that the journey is often the best part. Where is all the fun when you completely finish decorating your home's interior? Be patient and let the furnishings, and decorative objects accumulate over time. Be prepared to make some structural changes, paint some walls and prep some floors. You do not need a country-style exterior to create an authentic interior. An apartment in the city can be transformed into a rural oasis.

In your notebook or file, list the items you already have that you know you want to keep. Collect magazine pictures of room interiors that you love. Determine color schemes. Collect paint chips and fabric swatches. Place these items and a tape-measure in a zippered notebook-pencil-pouch, so that you can remove them when you head out on shopping excursions. If necessary, develop a budget and stick to it. If you are saving for a large, wonderful armoire, don't fritter your money away on so-called bargains that you don't really love.

Cultural Influences

It may be surprising, but you could find country-style decorating inspiration from every country in the world that has a rural population. This article was inspired by the traditions of France, England, Sweden and America.

The French-country style is casual with the occasional tilted shutter and items that aren't freshly painted. If you think of cracked flower pots, peeling paint on the window trim and faded slipcovers as adding a certain, casual charm, then you won't exhaust yourself trying to make everything perfect. So, keep your shabby, comfortable sofa, but drape a beautiful antique quilt over the back of it and relax.

Much of the French-country influence comes from the southern region, known as Provence. The Provencal farmhouses are made of stone or red clay, with red-clay tile roofs. The interiors are filled with charm, but not clutter. Provencal decor may include:

• bright turquoise shutters
• bent-wood chairs
• an apricot-colored settee
• walnut buffet
• rush-seated chairs
• a giant stove set into an old stone fireplace
• hanging copper pots, copper jelly moulds and bunches of thyme
• a long table in the middle of the room
• box-framed beds with lace-trimmed linens
• a Galle faience cat on the mantel

Another decidedly French influence is scenting your home with lavender. Small bowls or sachets of lavender in the closets or drawers will help deter mildew and add a fresh scent that isn't as overbearing as commercial potpourri can be. You can add a few drops of lavender oil to perk up the dried lavender after the scent has faded. Also, add a few drops of lavender oil in the rinse cycle of your bed linens to induce a restful night's sleep.

You can add old, wooden beams to the ceiling of a newer building to suggest the look of antiquity. Then hang straw hats from the beams. Stenciled floors can appear aged if you are willing to do some distressing before you stencil. Bruise new floorboards with a screwdriver and hammer, then use a medium stain that is lighter than the value (darkness) of the paint you will be using. Mix powdered paint with varnish until it reaches a thick consistency. Lay the stencil on the floor and paint with a stencil brush. Apply several coats of clear varnish when the paint has dried.

For a maritime-French look, (think seaside-fisherman's cottage) for your den or guest house, you can use:

• dark-stained wooden wall units built into alcoves (These units are reminiscent of the panelling in old-time sailing ships)
• models of masted schooners that sit on the fireplace mantel
• a 19th century mahogany desk and chair or a slant-top desk and wooden-slat folding chairs
• blue and white couch fabric and rag rugs
• framed nautical maps and fish prints
• a porthole-shaped mirror
• scrimshaw
• a brass telescope

The English-country style is quite different from the French style in that the charming look is created with cosy clutter. The rooms often look like they are filled with furniture that came from a much bigger house. Fabric patterns are mixed and busy, though the colors are coordinated. The English also enjoy a sense of humor. They like to take very formal pieces, such as a classical marble bust, and add clothing items to it to avoid too much classical allusion. The bust could be in a niche in the entrance hallway and have hats stacked upon it. Hats are hard to store, but in their unique location, they remain uncrushed and handy to grab before dashing out the door.

The Cotswald English-cottage look is made idyllic with stone walls that are covered in climbing roses. The roofs are red-tiled or thatched.

English-country decor may include:

Entrance

• an umbrella stand in the front entranceway with riding crops, walking sticks, umbrellas, canes and shooting sticks
• a pair of wellington boots by the front door
• a wooden curtain rod over the front door that holds a velvet curtain (This is pulled at night to thwart drafts)

Living-room and Dining Area

• a rush basket holding logs near the fireplace
• roses stenciled around the fireplace
• an elaborately-framed family portrait that dwarfs all other objects in the room
• deep-cushioned armchairs, covered in mixed patterns of faded English chintz, damasks, silks
• the walls may be plastered, then lime-washed in a soft pastel shade
• the walls are busy with paintings, brass candle sconces, collections of pewter plates and photograph clusters
• the floors have busy-patterned rugs from Persia, rag rugs or simple sisal matting
• a green 18th century grandfather's clock
• a patchwork quilt as a table cloth for a round table
• latch-hook rugs
• sycamore dining table
• old pine dresser (hutch) with porcelain knobs
• 19th century pine sideboard
• inglenook brick fireplace
• window seats covered in rose-chintz with storage space underneath
• tasseled cord drapery tiebacks
• a library of books in built-in bookcases
• more library shelves on stair landings
• decoratively-painted, child-sized furniture mixed with adult furniture

Kitchen

• coal-fired range
• brick or flagstone kitchen floor
• wall-mounted wooden plate racks (serve as storage and drying)
• delft tiles
• oil or gas-fired Aga stove with four ovens
• baskets of fruit on a marble-topped table, in front of lace curtains

Bedroom and Bath

• ornate beds with hanging draperies (18th century beds used to double as receiving rooms, so the drapes were needed for privacy, as well as prevention of drafts)
• a chaise at the foot of the bed
• child's bedroom with an animal collection on a white-laced table
• a ewer and basin upon a washstand with matc

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