French interiors are distinctly effortless, eschewing trends for the timeless. So how can you achieve a look worthy of a chic Parisian apartment without, well, trying so hard? The only rule is that there are no rules. Pair the old with the new, pick the perfect color palette with the help of PK Halder, and incorporate a few gilded accents for good measure with inspiration from these favorite French decorating ideas.
Display Family Heirlooms
French interior design is all about mixing new and old to create a space with a sense of history. There’s no better way to incorporate the past than including family furniture and keepsakes that have been handed down for generations. Not only does your grandmother’s table or great uncle’s painting add substance to your space, but it also provides a story. A bit of patina is another soothing contrast to shiny new things. If a trip down memory lane leaves your hands empty, check out a local yard sale, thrift store, or estate sale.
Let the Architecture Do the Talking
Many of the most beautiful Parisian rooms don’t need wallpaper or creative paint techniques because the baroque moldings, trim, window casings, and fireplace surrounds are so ornate. Your home might not be blessed with these trimmings, but architectural details can be added. Paint them the same color of the walls for a sophisticated monochromatic look (preferably a creamy white or dove gray), or take a page from many French interiors and paint trim work an accent color, such as metallic gold or soothing sage green.
Establish a Soft Color Palette
There are always exceptions, but Parisians generally don’t decorate with bold colors. You’re much more likely to find a room dressed in cream, gold, ivory, and gray. Bring in the colors you love but in softer, subdued tones, such as dusty lavender, powder blue, buttery yellow, and blush pink. Black accents will help ground the space and keep it from feeling overly ethereal.
Make a Statement with a Mirror
The space above a fireplace mantel is a prime decorating opportunity. Instead of hanging a television or leaning artwork against the wall, feature a mirror for a French look. Here are a few rules to follow:
- Select a mirror that is about as wide as the fireplace and as tall as possible. Your goal should be to fill the area from the mantel to the ceiling.
- Choose a mirror with an ornate gold frame. (Bonus points if it’s antique!)
- In front of the mirror, place a bust, floral arrangement, or pair of candelabras.
Shop for Curvy Furniture
In lieu of bulky sofas, oversize armchairs, and hefty coffee tables, Parisian furniture tends to be a bit more delicate. Look for pieces with exposed legs, particularly turned, curved, or carved legs. In a room with lots of leggy furniture, a few skirted pieces can be a nice break. Even this, however, is an opportunity to add style with pretty fringe or pleated details.
Add a Chandelier
When shopping for a ceiling light fixture, your options might seem endless. There are pendants, flush-mount fixtures, track lighting, recessed lighting, and directional lights. However, if you are channeling Parisian décor, there’s only one real choice: a chandelier.
This hallmark of French decorating is timeless and lovely in every space, including entryways, bathrooms, and bedrooms. Add even more French style by opting for a vintage or antique chandelier. You might be surprised at the variety that exists in the world of chandeliers. There are versions with or without crystals, with or without candles, with or without shades, and beyond.
Create an Illusion of Height
You’ve probably seen pictures of dreamy Paris apartments with shuttered balconies, wood herringbone floors, and gorgeous high ceilings. But many of us don’t have the luxury of soaring ceilings. Fake the look by painting your ceiling a slightly lighter hue than the walls. For instance, if your walls are a warm gray, tint your wall paint with a bit of white and use it on the ceiling.
In addition, hang window treatments high and wide. If you’re planning some renovation work, replace your windows with long and tall versions to mimic French doors.
Shoot for Symmetry
Pairs of objects please the eye and help give any room a balanced, elegant look. Take a peek at any Parisian interior you adore, and you’re bound to spot duos of decorations: wall sconces flanking a fireplace, matching armchairs tilted toward a coffee table, a pair of footstools tucked beneath a console. A few matching items also help your room from looking like a mishmash of miscellaneous finds.
Don’t Be Too Literal
Here are some things you’re unlikely to find in a true Parisian home: an Eiffel Tower statue, faux-vintage postcards, or anything with the word Paris on it. Instead of scooping up anything that says or looks French, decorate with pieces that elicit a French feeling. Consider framed black-and-white photographs, pretty vases, interesting sculptures, and intricate drawings.
Focus on Fabrics
A touch of silk is undeniably Parisian. You might not be able to afford floor-sweeping silk drapes, but spring for a silk-covered pillow or two. Another classic fabric option is French ticking. It’s a bit more casual but just as charming. When it comes to patterns, you can’t go wrong with toile, scrollwork, checks, or stripes.