It’s hard not to have a love affair with France, even if you’ve never been there. Imagine walks along the Seine, sipping Bordeaux at a sidewalk cafe, eating warm pain aux chocolat first thing in the morning. It would be très magnifique. If finances keep you from jetting to France, however, do the next best thing: Bring France to you. By incorporating a few design touches, like vintage furniture and a French-inspired color palette, you might fall asleep and wake up in France—right in your own home.
French Mood: Beyond Design
The remarkable thing about walking into an apartment in Paris or a chateau in Provence is the feeling it evokes. You immediately feel welcomed and have an inexplicable need to take a breath and enjoy the day either on the divan in the salon or in the garden sipping lemonade at the wrought iron patio table. “It’s a way of life,” explained “Summers in France” author Kathryn M. Ireland. “It’s how you live.”
Elements in French design flirt with extravagance and glamour of times past. “It really evokes nostalgia for the Old World,” said Estee Stanley, celebrity interior decorator.
A French home exudes a refinement that is strangely accessible. You are never afraid to sit down. “A room should look personal and comfortable,” said Ireland, who is a textile and interior designer. “It should be sophisticated and, at the same time, it’s easy to use and somewhat informal.”
Stanley echoed Ireland’s sentiment: “Of course you want your space to be beautiful, but it should also be livable. There is such a thing as too perfect, and if you don’t want to touch anything for fear of messing it up, you’ve gone too far.”
French Palette, Pattern and Fabric
Whether you consider yourself more city or more country, French design is all about subtlety, said Stanley, whose clients include Amanda Peet and Claire Forlani. “Colors should be muted. Grayish blues, muted pinks, colors that look old and a bit worn, but still modern,” Stanley said. “The contrast of black and white is also notably French, more Parisian than Provencal.”
A trick Stanley suggested when choosing your color palette: Avoid any colors you would not find in your garden … that means neon yellow is out.
Color should also be incorporated into your textiles, such as your cushions and curtains. Ireland has a French-inspired quilt-textile collection that incorporates florals and paisleys in hues of greens, reds and blues. Stanley loves using faded damasks and stripes in her designs.
When choosing your fabric, go for rich and luxurious, not synthetic. “If you’re thinking Paris, use fabrics like silks and velvets,” said Katie Fine, celebrity interior designer. “If you prefer French country, use linens and cottons.”
With a myriad of options in color, fabric and patterns, French-inspired design does not shy away from mixing and enjoying them all. Homes are created by layering these intricate patterns and colors. A tip for layering is to start with a bare backdrop, like walls painted in a single color or a white sofa. Once you have your blank canvas, you may start adding pillows and blankets rich in color and patterns.
“This will allow your elements [to] pop rather than get muddled together, said Fine, who has designed for Emmy Rossum and has been featured in “Glamour” magazine.
Authenticity Is Key
Don’t run to the department store for your French-inspired finds. Instead, take a cue from the French. Search for your furniture and home accessories at flea markets or antique shops.
Stanley, Fine and Ireland agree that French-inspired decor should be authentic.
“One must avoid bad reproduction at all cost,” Ireland said. It’s preferable to find genuine antiques. No laminate or faux finishes. Look for real wood furnishings. If it’s distressed, it’s even better. Wrought iron is another great material to incorporate into a room. “It brings that old-world style without being dated,” Stanley said.
To achieve that lived-in feeling that French design evokes, avoid being matchy-matchy when shopping for your furnishings. Stanley suggested finding a big, comfortable couch and two different chairs in a similar color palette to complete the look. Pillows and throws may be used to tie in the pieces. You may also try hanging a group of pictures with different-style frames in the same colors to connect aspects of the room design.
Many small accessories may be found at a local flea market or farmer’s market to complete your French-inspired design. Fine suggests mixing in gilded mirrors or stools to add an element of grandeur. Ireland uses old jam jars as flower vases or even drinking cups. Stanley says fresh flowers are a must in any French-decorated home. Her favorites include white and pink peonies or purple and white lilacs, which happen to smell divine.
From Mason jars to old candlesticks, accessorizing should be done with ease, Ireland said, adding, “It should look like you’ve done it yourself.”
When the search is complete and each find has been carefully placed, the result will be a house, an apartment or even a single room with a French twist uniquely your own.