In her new photo-filled book, French Country Cottage Christmas, Courtney Allison gifts readers with inspiring ideas for a beautiful and festive holiday — even if you’re way west of France.
You don’t have to be part of the cottagecore set to appreciate Courtney Allison’s French country-cottage vibe. She might look to Paris and the French countryside for inspiration, but she also gets plenty in Northern California wine country, where she lives in a rustic, renovated 1940s cottage. There her imaginative style full of character, patina, and whimsical elegance runs free in her blog, French Country Cottage, and gets wings in her books, most recently, French Country Cottage Christmas (Gibbs Smith, 2023).
Having established herself as a tastemaker with her blog and two previous books — French Country Cottage and French Country Cottage Inspired Gatherings — Courtney Allison now gets into the full cottage spirit for the holidays like the country-charm aficionado she is.
The new book isn’t so much a step-by-step as it is a lovely look at gorgeous photos that will send your mind into blissfully planning your own cozy Christmas. There’s indoor and outdoor décor; flowers, garlands, and wreaths; 25 different themes for doing up your tree; tablescapes, dining, and entertaining; pretty packages; plenty of twinkling lights, and more.
A freelance photographer and author, Allison also works as an editor, brand ambassador, and designer. Her personal bio includes wife, mother of three — plus dog Sweet Pea, along with some goats and silkie chickens.
C&I talked with Allison about cottage life in Northern California, what makes “French country cottage,” and her new book that Publishers Weekly called a festive guide that “would even please Scrooge.”
C&I: You’re in Northern California and have a penchant, talent, and eye for French country-cottage charm. What do Northern California and France share in terms of things that you prize and emulate in your surroundings and lifestyle?
Courtney Allison: I think an outdoor-focused lifestyle is one thing. California weather and landscape are much like the French countryside, and the idea of outdoor living much of the year is something that is kindred. I also feel that the European lifestyle is more about slowing down and savoring, something country living embraces as well. I love to decorate our home with things that I feel are beautiful, that have history and tell a story. Pieces that have a well-loved and worn finish are not damaged in my opinion. I covet that authentic patina and am drawn to pieces that bring memories with them. Maybe that is something you remember from your childhood or a prized heirloom handed down through the family for many generations. It is less about a pedigree and more about what speaks to you or has meaning for you when decorating and creating a home for your family.
C&I: C&I is a magazine of the Western lifestyle. Some of what you showcase has a “farmhouse” or “shabby chic” feel and has a look that would be familiar to and evocative for our readers. I think there’s a lot of room to bring more of that charm to Western interiors. For someone interested in getting this look and feel, what do you advise?
Allison: Much of the authentic farmhouse or shabby chic look is using found and collected pieces, which definitely have a place in Western interiors. For someone wanting to add a bit of that charm, look for classic pieces that have character — like carvings or original chipping paint — to bring into a room. You can bring in a piece that makes a big statement like the antique mirror behind the Christmas tree in my book; that is another way to introduce a softer, feminine touch that brings warmth and charm. A mix and mingle of rustic of elegance together is my favorite in any room. When looking for antiques, shop online secondhand classified websites like Marketplace or Craigslist and look at tag sales and yard sales in your local area. If you’re looking for more French and European options online to add for flair, one of my favorites is Eloquence Antiques.
C&I: What are some basic or essential elements that people can introduce into their surroundings to achieve the look?
Allison: I always say that if your room makes you happy when you walk into it, it is perfect. I would suggest focusing on bringing in pieces that speak to you when decorating. A few ideas to get the look: antique mirrors, carved armoires, Louis-style chairs, and architectural salvage. In our living room, we have a pair of old doors from Europe that are flanking the living room entry. Something salvaged brings character and something to talk about, even in a newly built home. Chandeliers and sconces that are either rewired antiques or reproductions, found décor like wood bowls and the concrete swan planter in the book. Vintage rugs add another layer of warmth. Style is so personal, and a room tells a story about you — about what speaks to you, your travels, your passions, etc. So choose the elements of any style that speak to you. If you decorate your home with what you love, you can’t go wrong.
C&I: We’re coming up on the holidays, and your new book specifically showcases the French country cottage at Christmas in décor and general holiday-making. What are some good ways to bring the country charm at the holidays?
Allison: French Country Cottage Christmas is all about decorating, entertaining, and inspiration for Christmas. I think Christmas décor and Christmas-tree décor or style are really personal. For me, it changes every year and with what is talking to me at the time. Some years I am more bold and colorful with Christmas décor; others, a tree with just some twinkling lights and vintage ornaments. For bringing country charm, I love bringing in some found and rustic elements. For example — and you’ll see this in my book — we created a tree stand using a real tree stump. You can add gathered branches, handmade ornaments to the tree, sprinkle nuts and fruit alongside fresh garland on the table. I also love fresh foliage tucked everywhere and anywhere for a country style charm. Fill a basket, tuck into the branches of the tree or a few sprigs in a bowl of baubles.
C&I: What in the American West inspires you? What “Western” elements might people incorporate and marry with your French country-cottage aesthetic to achieve a beautiful and festive holiday?
Alison: I am drawn to the collected charm, nature, gathered and found objects, and of course, anything with patina. I find those easy to mingle with the elegant look like I love. For Christmas, look around you to see what you have on hand. Use Grandma’s handmade quilt as a tree skirt, a box of vintage ornaments for a wee tree; or set a tree inside a half wine barrel for a simple tree base with rustic charm. I always say the more the merrier when it comes to twinkling trees and twinkling lights. Ambience is a big part of creating magic for entertaining all year long, and even more so during holiday season. When entertaining, set the table outdoors if weather permits or in a shed or barn. Bring in all the fresh clipped greens and natural elements like pine cones, dried oranges, and branches. It is all about the mingle of beautiful Christmas magic with that delightful country warmth and charm we all love.
French Country Cottage Christmas by Courtney Alison (Gibbs Smith, 2023) is available on Amazon and at booksellers everywhere.
Photography: Courtesy of Courtney Alison