How To Achieve French Interior Design, According To The Pros

Open up an international design magazine, and I bet you can spot French homes. There’s just something about French interior design that’s instantly recognizable—a certain something I do not know what. While you can’t import views of the rooftops of Paris or the Provencal countryside, there’s plenty you can do to give your home a French interior decorating feel. We called on three Paris-based design professionals to ask them about the top characteristics of French interior design and how to create the look in your own home—even if you’re miles away from the Republic.

embrace the past

Photo by Jessica Antola, from Joy: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life

In France, there is an acceptance of the history of design, says Aguirre Ake, founder of Madame de la Maison, a French lifestyle brand, and author of the new book Joy: A Parisian Guide to Celebrating the Good Life. “The French appreciate the design of the past,” Aki says. “They respect the bones of space and then apply their contemporary life.”

Say “yes” to templates

Photo by Xavier Béjot, from the book Parisian By Design

The three experts we spoke to pointed out that historical moldings are a staple of French interiors. “You can’t recreate French interior style in a drywall box,” warns Penny Drew Baird, an interior designer with offices in New York and Paris and author of two books on French interior design. Fortunately, adding templates is a relatively easy and affordable update that you can do yourself or rent. It doesn’t need to be decorative, Bird says, “it can be just roof molding and basic crown molding.”

fake stove

Getty Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Another architectural element that appears in many French rooms is the fireplace. While adding a working fireplace would be a major renovation, Bird suggests you can simply “add a mantle and dress it up,” noting that it becomes “almost architectural.”

Make magic with mirrors

Photo by Jessica Antola, from Joy: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life

Above those French fireplaces, you’ll often find gilded interior mirrors. “Any antique mirror and gilded wood mirror definitely add French style,” says Aki. Placing a large mirror above the fireplace will not only reflect French interiors but also bounce light around the room.

pssst…If you currently have a TV in that main spot above the mantle (or on the primary wall in your living room), try finding a new location for it: Design pros say the French prefer not to make the TV the focal point of the room.

Weave in antiques, especially French ones

Photo by Xavier Béjot, from the book Parisian By Design

Even the most modern French home is likely to have a few antiques in the mix, says David Jimenez, the Paris-based interior designer who wrote the book. Parisian by design. For the most iconic French style, look to Louis XV and XIV furniture. “This is furniture that was created three hundred years ago and still looks fresh today in many environments,” says Jiminez.

Incorporate popular French styles

Getty Images/Lillibois

When it comes to patterns that are a hallmark of French interior style, Bird refers to toile de Jouy, a slang term for fabrics that feature romantic, pastoral scenes and motifs. Printed tapestry was originally Irish, but became popular in France in the 18th century, and “never went out of style,” says Beard.

However, if you prefer something less traditional, Jiminez suggests classic parachute tape. “You see it everywhere – the royal palace, the awnings in the street, the drapes, the tapestries on the chairs – it’s very uniquely French,” he says. But not any wide tape will do. Consistency in tape width is key: Jiminez says: 7 centimeters wide is classic French tape.

Display some copper utensils

Getty Images / Esperanza33

While a large La Cornue or Lacanche range is the hallmark of a French cooking space, it’s beyond most people’s budget. Instead, “if you want to give your kitchen a quintessentially French feel, hang some copper pots,” says Aki. Jiminez also points out that they can often be found used for very little money – you just need to do the work to improve them.

Use good china

Photo by Jessica Antola, from Joy: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life

According to Aki, the French don’t save their best for special occasions: they use it every day and the best things are usually old. “There are a lot of mixed and matched dishes in French homes,” she says. “Every flea market, there are pieces that have been passed down, and they don’t need to get everything shiny and brand new.”

Hang your art like the Louvre

Photo by Xavier Béjot, from the book Parisian By Design

“Anytime you hang up your art salon style, it makes you feel a little bit more European,” says Jiminez. (A salon style hanging is essentially a clustered, cluttered, intentionally mismatched gallery wall.) So, to really nail this look, you don’t have to buy a salon wall set at a big box store. “The tires are intentionally mismatched,” says Jimenez. “The more mixed the gathering, the more interesting it is.”

Shop at the flea market

Getty Images/Digital Imagination

“The French I know are very happy not to spend a lot of money: there is a deep appreciation for going to the flea market,” says Jimenez. Of course, who wouldn’t choose to shop in the Paris markets, which Jimenez describes as “unlike anywhere else in the world?” But even in the United States, flea markets are a great source of antiques on a budget, including brassware, fine china, and antique art.

Make your bed the French way

Getty Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

“French beds have a looser style, and there’s some ease in how you pull a bed together: Think of a great-looking quilt that isn’t perfectly tucked in,” says Jiminez. Experts also say that the French often prefer classic white or solid bedding — not a bold print, and Aki says she sees a lot of linen sheets in French homes.

Splurge on fresh flowers

Photo by Xavier Béjot, from the book Parisian By Design

Perhaps the easiest way to add French style ever? Display a beautiful bouquet of flowers. All experts note that the French never hesitate to treat themselves to flowers – always fresh and never fake!

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