Born in Chicago, French graduated from Williams College in 1917, and earned his MLA from Harvard University in 1921. He spent three years with the Olmsted Brothers firm then taught for a year at the University of Massachusetts. For the following two years, he was employed by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers at the recommendation of John Nolen, planning the new town of Venice, Florida. A park named after French was later established to honor his work for the city.
In 1927, French married architect Helen Douglass, beginning a long personal and professional partnership. Between 1928 and 1932, the couple operated their practice in Boston and Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Their Stockbridge office was located near Chesterwood, the home of French’s uncle, celebrated sculptor Daniel Chester French. In 1932, shortly after his uncle’s death, the couple moved into the studio on the estate.
Moving to Sarasota, Florida, the pair went to work with architect Clarence Martin. During World War II, French was enlisted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which later employed him as consultant on projects in California, Alaska, and Colorado. After the war, the Frenchs moved to the San Francisco area where they operated a firm from the late 1940s to the 60s. Their commissions were primarily private, residential properties in Northern California and Florida. French’s independent work included landscape designs for Harvey Mudd College and the University of Alaska. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society awarded French their Gold Medal in 1949, and in 1977, he was appointed a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects.