Understanding French Accents

Check your listings for these buyer-pleasing details inspired by France.

October 1, 2004

Do your listings speak français? Ever since colonial days, Americans have looked to France for ideas about beauty and design. Early American architects often studied in France, and many contemporary designers still draw upon French ideas. Eye-catching features like French doors, made with many small panes of glass, can become strong selling points and may add to your listing's value.

Any home, regardless of its age and style, can have French accents. However, some North American house styles were directly inspired by buildings found in Paris and the pastoral French countryside. To find out whether your listings have a French heritage, look for the telling features of these styles:

French Provincial

One of the most distinctive characteristics of many French buildings is the tall second story windows, often arched at the top, that break through the cornice and rise above the eaves. This unusual window design is especially noticeable on America's French Provincial homes. Modeled after country manors in the French provinces, these brick or stucco homes are stately and formal. They have steep hipped roofs and a square, symmetrical shape with windows balanced on each side of the entrance. The tall second story windows add to the sense of height.

French Normandy

In Normandy and the Loire Valley of France, farm silos were often attached to the main living quarters instead of a separate barn. After World War I, Americans romanticized the traditional French farmhouse, creating a charming style known as French Normandy. Sided with stone, stucco, or brick, these homes may suggest the Tudor style with decorative half timbering (vertical, horizontal, and diagonal strips of wood set in masonry). The French Normandy style is distinguished by a round stone tower topped by a cone-shaped roof. The tower is usually placed near the center, serving as the entrance to the home. French Normandy and French Provincial details are often combined to create a style simply called French Country or French Rural.s carved or embossed on moldings, sconces, and banisters.

View pictures and learn more about the French Normandy style at HGTV.com.

Second Empire

During the mid-1800s when Napoleon III established the Second Empire in France, Paris became a glamorous city of tall, imposing buildings. Many homes were embellished with details such as paired columns and elaborate wrought iron cresting along the rooftop. But the most striking feature borrowed from this period is the steep, boxy mansard roof. You will recognize a mansard roof by its trapezoid shape.

Unlike a triangular gable, a mansard roof has almost no slope until the very top, when it abruptly flattens. This nearly perpendicular roofline creates a sense of majesty, and also allows more usable living space in the attic. In the United States, Second Empire is a Victorian style. However, you can also find the practical and the decidedly French mansard roof on many contemporary homes.

Beaux Arts

Another Parisian trend rose out of the legendary École des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts) where many American architects studied. Flourishing during the early 1900s, the Beaux Arts style was a grandiose elaboration on the more refined Neoclassical style. Symmetrical facades were ornamented with lavish details such as swags, medallions, flowers, and shields.

These massive, imposing homes were almost always constructed of stone and were reserved for only the very wealthy. However a more humble home might be said to show Beaux Arts influences if it has stone balconies and masonry ornaments.

View pictures and learn more about Beaux Arts at About.com

French Creole

During America's colonial days, French settlers in the Mississippi valley created homes that were especially suited for hot, wet climates. Borrowing ideas from the Caribbean, they built tall porches supported by narrow wooden poles. These porches were not decorative afterthoughts; sheltered by the steep hipped roof and covering the façade on all four sides, they provided passage between rooms—often in place of interior hallways. Few original French Colonial homes remain today, but the unusual building tradition—known as French Creole—remains popular in Louisiana and other areas along the southern coast.

View pictures and learn more about French Creole styles from the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation.

Creole Cottages

Wrought iron has been used in many cultures since ancient times. The fancy ironwork found in the French Quarter of New Orleans is a Victorian elaboration on a Spanish idea. French Creole cottages and townhouses often have intricate wrought iron balconies that extend across the entire second story.

More French Details

Over the past 50 years, architects have borrowed freely from a variety of French details, creating a composite style known as French Eclectic, or simplyFrench Inspired. Hallmarks of the French Eclectic home include:

  • Very tall hipped roof, sometimes with a slight upward tilt at the eaves
  • Instead of sliding glass doors, hinged French doors leading to balconies or patios
  • Paired casement windows hinged at the side and opening at the center
  • Functioning shutters, often with working louvers


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