For centuries, the French have been revered for their innate sophistication, style and taste in all the decorative arts. French interior design styles are no exception, and Parisian decor is particularly chic. French decorating can be spare or lushly layered, but it is always attractive.
Basic Principles of French Interior Design Styles
Architectural Elements – Exquisite architectural elements make French interiors lovely before they’re graced with a single stick of furniture. Details like crown and cornice molding, raised wall panels, pilasters and pediments, mullioned doors and casement windows are fairly common. Emulate the look by adding stock and specialty moldings, French doors and new hardware, such as decorative door plates.
Floors – French interiors have beautiful floors—gleaming hardwoods or cool expanses of elegant marble. There’s no need to cover every inch with rugs and carpets. Remove all but your finest rugs. If you have a hardwood floor, wax it until it glows. Pull up that wall-to-wall carpet and faux paint large marble squares on the concrete sub-floor or install wood in a herringbone or parquet pattern.
Colors – Color schemes vary, but classic combinations include black and white, white on white, and the pale palette of white, cream, light gray, pale butter yellow and French blue. For deeper color, use combinations of deep rose, red, bottle green, ochre, peacock blue and black.
Furniture – French furniture spans many styles and periods. French interior design styles often include pieces from a number of periods, including Baroque, Regency, Rococo and Empire—perhaps even with a bit of Art Nouveau and Art Deco tossed in the mix. Collect antiques, or good reproductions, in historical French styles. Mix them all together, as if you inherited several centuries’ worth of family pieces. Don’t be afraid to add a few modern touches, like a contemporary sofa covered in plush velvet or an abstract painting.
Lighting – Interior lighting is crucial for any room. In France, it’s an art form. Scour antique stores and online auctions for chandeliers, wall sconces and candelabra in historical French styles. Look for shapely branches, gilt and crystal baubles. For even more ambiance, add black, red or bottle green shades to your table lamps.
Details – Ornate gilt, carving and ormolu are common details in French decorating. Mix them with sleek lacquered or mirrored finishes. Use lush, opulent fabrics on your upholstery, pillows and windows. Replace plain hardware with antique or reproduction pieces.
Accessories – Complete your French inspired interior with the right accessories, from fine antiques to those you might have picked up for pennies at a Paris flea market. Hang gilt-framed mirrors and paintings. Toss a pair of plump silk pillows on the sofa. Invest in an antique clock or a marble bust and pedestal. Place an elegant screen in a corner. Fill a fine porcelain or crystal vase with fresh flowers.
French interior design styles are enduring aesthetic, typified by solid, well-made materials and hand-crafted accessories. An entire home may be devoted to French design, from architectural elements to a garden inspired by the lavender fields of Provence.