Who among us hasn’t dreamt of having our own Emily in Paris moment and living in a 5th arrondissement apartment with a view? While moving to the city of love isn’t in the cards for most of us, we can bring a little Parisian flair to our homes no matter where we are.
In fact, 2023 could be the year of French-inspired design, says Jade Joyner, co-founder and principal designer of interior design firm Metal + Petal.
“There are so many design trends coming in 2023 that are French-inspired,” Joyner tells Evie Magazine. “From the use of marble, to the gilded antique mirrors, to heirloom pieces mixed with off-the-shelf items, French interiors are really in right now. I also love the charm that French interiors bring by incorporating new and antique pieces to add character and appeal."
But what makes French decor more than adding a gold mirror and some vintage furniture to an already-existing space? American author Danielle Postel-Vinay delves into this question in her 2018 book Home Sweet Maison.
“Every French living space is an expression of French culture and, consciously or unconsciously, follows certain rituals and rules,” she writes. “From city apartments in Paris to country houses in Brittany, to ancient structures in the Languedoc, to prefab houses in Provence, these qualities are evident in all the homes I’ve visited in France. The result? Beauty, calm, purpose, sensuality, and order. After living in a French home, and experiencing the pleasures of the French way of life, I was forever changed.”
Keep reading to find out how you can bring a little French magic to your space.
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Know Each Room’s Purpose
The French value two things above all: good food and good times with family and friends. Their homes reflect that. A French home isn’t just meant to give each family member space to do their own thing under one roof – it’s designed to bring everyone together.
Part of knowing what each room is for is knowing what each room is not for. The kitchen is not for entertaining guests – it’s for preparing the meal. The bedroom is not for watching television – it’s for sleeping or connecting with your partner. Americans tend to make each room all things to all people, and that’s the opposite of the French mentality.
“There is a connection between the room and its essential purpose,” Postel-Vinay writes. “Each space has its own particular raison d’être, a reason for being that no other room has. Living in accordance with the function and purpose of each room creates a harmonious environment.”
If you feel like your space is too cluttered or disjointed, take this advice to heart. Begin to think of your living room as the room that brings your family or friends together, and go from there, even if you’ve been treating it as a combination office-gym-playroom. You’ll soon figure out which elements to eliminate and which to keep.
Gild the Lily with Gilt Mirrors
This second tip may be the quickest way to French-ify your space. You’ll need mirrors, mirrors, and more mirrors! In Home Sweet Maison, Postel-Vinay recalls her French sister-in-law’s first visit to Postel-Vinay’s New York apartment. The Frenchwoman was nonplussed by the lack of mirrors. Postel-Vinay realized that the French are used to an ample amount of mirrors in their homes, both to check their appearance and give the space a lighter, roomier feel.
“In every restaurant, in every home, mirrors upon mirrors upon mirrors. And while I had never seriously thought of the mirror as particularly French, the traditional gilded mirror is perhaps one of the most recognizable French objects, aside from the baguette and the Eiffel Tower. One look at the carved scrolls and acanthus rosettes, at the silvering of the glass, and you know you are standing in a French salon,” Postel-Vinay writes.
So scout your local thrift store or flea market for an ornate mirror – the more antique, the better. A large mirror can serve as the focal point of a vignette over your mantel or couch, or you could even collect mirrors for a unique gallery wall. The possibilities are endless!
Neutral Colors and Classic Prints Are the Way To Go
Neutrals are anything but boring in a French home. French style is, in a word, timeless, says Artem Kropovinsky, founder of interior design studio Arsight.
“Another important aspect of French design is the use of natural materials and finishes,” Kropovinsky tells Evie Magazine. “Consider incorporating wood, stone, and marble into your space to add texture and depth. Soft, neutral colors are also a staple of French design, so consider using light, airy shades like whites, beiges, and grays throughout your space.”
You could quickly tire of brightly colored couches and walls – after all, trends in home decor change almost as fast as trends in fashion. But an understated yet sophisticated living room, or salon as the French say, can stand the test of time.
“The walls in your salon should be soothing, natural colors – cream, linen, bone, pewter, Parma gray, eggshell blue – and the texture of the emulsion should be chalky or matte, never glossy or reflective,” Postel-Vinay writes. “One finish that gives the highly chalky texture of a French wall is found in Farrow & Ball’s Estate Emulsion. The point is to keep distractions to a minimum, unless those distractions are planned. Every choice you make should be in service to the purpose of your living room, which is to bring you closer to the people in your life. There is nothing more important about the salon than that.”
Vintage and Personal Details Are Everything
Replicating French style isn’t as simple as a trip to your local furniture store. French homes are often generations in the making – filled with items passed down from parents or grandparents, as well as meaningful objects that the inhabitants themselves have acquired over a lifetime. The American tendency to pick out a bunch of decor at Target or Hobby Lobby and call it a day is anathema to the French.
So, what do you do if you don’t have a family collection of heirloom furniture or a home with all the details of a quaint 19th-century cottage? You get creative, that’s what!
“Recently, I've been seeing a return to more classic interiors, focusing on spaces that have traditional pieces paired with contemporary elements,” Metal + Petal co-founder Joyner tells Evie Magazine. “I think this is more on trend right now because people are looking to add a little age to their homes, a bit of history. With new furniture in high demand and less pieces readily available, antique and vintage pieces incorporated throughout a bedroom design are more attainable and add so much character. This is a great way to add a touch of French inspiration into your design.”
So take Joyner’s advice and start secondhand shopping – you never know what you’ll find on Facebook marketplace. If you’re a DIY-er, there are also ample ways to salvage furniture as well as elevate your home with details like wall paneling or ceiling medallions. TikToker Johanna Hamilton is a great example of this. She and her husband transformed their townhome into a Parisian dream, taking the time to install ceiling medallions (like this one), chandelier light fixtures, and paneling. Now they’ve moved into a new home and plan to share its transformation process as well. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can find Hamilton’s account here.
Follow These Rules in the Bedroom
If you use a duvet cover on your bed, you’re already a little bit French! Nearly all French bedrooms share a few basic characteristics – a duvet cover for cleanliness, no matchy-matchy prints or patterns, and a focus on simplicity and serenity.
But most important is the bed!
“In the French chambre, the bed is the centerpiece of the room,” Postel-Vinay writes in Home Sweet Maison. “Modern beds tend to be simple, without elaborate headboards or frames, while antique beds (which I personally love and owned in my home in the south) are more elaborate, with carved wood decoration. As this kind of old-fashioned furniture is not à la mode at the moment, I found my antique beds – three demi-corbeille tapestry beds in which the headboard was framed with carved wood and decorated with panels of patterned fabric – at the equivalent of a Salvation Army in Montpellier.”
“Along with the Provençal boutis quilt, antique bed frames are my favorite French bedroom pieces. I particularly like how they look in a modern home – the mixture of old and new gives a bedroom a unique texture. Reproductions of antique beds – everything from sleigh beds to four-poster beds to carved gothic beds – are available, as well as the rarer originals.”
For the Really Committed… Get Rid of Your TV
One thing that defines French homes isn’t something they have – it’s something they don’t have. Walk into a traditional French home, and there’s no way you’ll find a prominently displayed television like you would in the U.S. Many French people refuse to have TVs in their living rooms or bedrooms, and if they do, they’re nestled in a cabinet behind closed doors. This is because the French value connecting with each other when they’re at home – opening a bottle of good wine with friends, or reading a good book with their spouse beside them in bed. There’s simply no room for a conversation-killing television. If you’re really interested in having a French-inspired home, you may want to consider putting away your TV.
“My feeling is that if you want to create the feeling of a French salon in your home, it is time to get rid of the television,” Postel-Vinay writes. “I am not telling you to throw it away or only read books for entertainment. I love television as much as anyone. But the TV is at odds with the purpose of your living room. The flashing lights and colors and sounds of the television will throw the room off balance. Even if you’ve turned it off, the black screen will annihilate your ambiance. That black screen will become a great black hole whose gravity pulls every bit of good energy from the space. At best, it eats the space where something beautiful might live. At worst, it will poison the environment.”
A good solution to this is to invest in a Samsung Frame TV if your budget allows!
There are many reasons why French design is often emulated around the world. Its timeless simplicity points to its underlying purpose – to bring people together in a space that’s an expression of the homeowner herself.
Author Postel-Vinay shares about her first time in a French home, her friend Jacqueline’s house, in her book.
“Every room – from the entryway to the salon to the reading nook to the dining room – felt foreign yet intimate,” she writes. “The house was filled with furniture and objects, plants and books and statues, and yet it felt spacious and elegant. There was nothing minimal or severe about Jacqueline's house. In fact, the very idea of minimalism – that heartless discarding of the past – was the opposite of what I found there. The rooms were formal yet bohemian, orderly yet casual, with oil paintings on the walls and Joni Mitchell albums stacked on the couch. The air smelled clean, fresh, and yet there was dust on her old books and the silk of a spiderweb in the corner of a window. Her house, it seemed to me, was not just a place where she ate and slept, but also a vessel for her vision of life.”
So make your home more than the place where you eat and sleep. Allow yourself to enjoy the process of displaying your favorite objects and buying furniture and art that speaks to you. Create a home that knows its purpose the way a French home does.
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