8 Must-Know French Interior Design Lessons
From choosing a color palette to incorporating accessories and French-style fabrics, use these design ideas to create a Parisian space that is distinctly effortless.
1. Include Family Heirlooms
When it comes to French interior design, a big part of it is mixing old and new so that the space has a sense of history. To this end, think about incorporating your past by including special family keepsakes like furniture or other treasures that have been handed down through the generations. Use Grandma’s bench or Aunt Margaret’s sculpture to not only bring substance to the room, but also tell a story. Contrasting new with old brings a soothing balance, like adding a bit of patina in with shiny new items. If you find that you don’t have any family heirlooms, consider heading out to your local thrift store, yard sale or estate sale to find some vintage treasures.
2. Embrace Architectural Details
If you start looking at pretty Parisian-style rooms, you’ll often find that wallpaper and special paint techniques aren’t necessary. The gorgeous trim, baroque moldings, fireplace surrounds and window casings are so elaborate that they can stand alone. Does your home have these trimmings? Probably not. But the good news is that architectural elements can be added. For an elegant monochromatic look, try painting them the same hue as your walls (dove gray or ivory white make ideal choices). Another option is to mimic other French interiors by choosing an accent color for trimwork, like gold or a comforting sage green.
3. Choose Soft Colors
For the most part, Parisians don’t choose bold colors when they decorate. While there are always exceptions, it’s much more probable that you’ll find a room outfitted in ivory, gold, cream and grey. A good way to tone things down is to incorporate the colors you love, but to choose softer tones such as blush pink, powder blue, dusty lavender, and buttery yellow. Use black accents to ground the room and prevent it from having an overly delicate feel.
4. Opt for a Mirror
Wondering what to do with the space above your fireplace mantel? Rather than using this prime spot for artwork or a television, go with the French favorite: a mirror. Here are the rules you need to follow:
• Choose a mirror as tall as possible and roughly the width of the fireplace. You want to completely fill the wallspace between the mantel and the ceiling.
• Find a mirror that features an elaborate gold frame. Even better if it’s an antique.
• Decorate the mantel in front of the mirror with a pretty floral arrangement, a bust, or a pair of candelabras.
5. Seek Out Curvy Furniture
Nix the oversized armchairs, hefty sofas, and bulky coffee tables; Parisian furniture has a more delicate look. Try to find pieces with exposed legs — curved, turned and carved legs all work well. Skirted pieces can be used to break up the room if you have a lot of leggy furniture. Just be sure to make the most of the opportunity by incorporating pieces with stylish pleated or fringe details.
6. Add a Chandelier
It’s true that between pendants, track lights, recessed lights, directional lights, and flush-mount fixtures, the options available for ceiling lighting can seem endless. However, if your inspiration is French decor, then a chandelier is your only real choice.
A hallmark of Parisian decorating, chandeliers are classic and beautiful in any space, including bedrooms, bathrooms and entryways. Want even more French style? Find a vintage or antique one. The variety available in chandeliers is actually quite surprising. You’ll find versions with or without shades, with or without crystals, with or without candles, and much more.
7. Stick with Symmetry
Give any room a balanced, sophisticated look by decorating in pairs. Find a French interior you admire and it’s likely you’ll be able to find decor in duos. Some popular ones include matching armchairs turned toward a coffee table, wall sconces flanking a bed or fireplace, or twin footstools stashed under a console. In addition, having a few matching pieces brings cohesiveness to a design, preventing it from coming off like a jumble of assorted items.
8. Find Fabulous Fabrics
Adding a bit of silk is quintessentially Parisian. While you may not be able to find room in your budget for ceiling-to-floor silk drapes, a silk-covered throw pillow or two is probably doable. French ticking is another definitive fabric option. It has a more casual look, but exudes charm. As far as patterns go, stripes, checks, toile, or scrollwork are all appropriate choices.