As Audrey Hepburn said in her hit movie Sabrina, “Paris is always a good idea.” And living your life like a Parisienne? Even better. At MyDomaine, we’ve never shied away from our admiration of cool French girls; they seem to master everything from fashion to dating to entertaining.
We believe you should put your best, French-inspired foot forward in every facet of your life—and your home is no exception. Simply put, your home is your happy place, so there’s no better place to embrace the effortlessly cool French spirit.
To help master chic French decorating, we turned to interior designer Laurence Carr for her best tips on bringing a certain “je ne sais quoi” to your home.
Meet the Expert
Laurence Carr is a French interior designer living in New York City, where she is CEO and Creative Director of her award-winning firm, Laurence Carr, Inc.
Read on for Carr's pointers on achieving that effortless French look along with some of our favorite French-inspired living spaces.
Start With the Sofa
As arguably the most trafficked room in your entire space, the living room is the best place to show off your eye for French design. According to Carr, a Parisian living room starts with a great sofa.
“Pick your statement sofa,” she says. “Look for a textured fabric that you are drawn to and colors you love.” From there, you can accessorize with a coffee table, accent lighting, and, of course, art.
Mix and Match Fabrics
Whether you settle on a small settee or a large sectional, the fabric you choose for seating can either make or break the space. Instead of opting for one fabric type throughout the space, Carr encourages you to mix and match.
“Make sure [to use] contrasting fabric textures,” she says. For example, “mix jute or rattan and linen with wool and velvet.” While you can certainly add a fun pop of color, integrating different textures in a similar color palette will add a sophisticated depth to your space.
Focus on the Fireplace
This one's a no-brainer, really. The French love a good fireplace, so if you're lucky enough to have one in your home, center your designs around that element. And if you aren't blessed with a hearth of your own, consider DIYing a faux fireplace or mantel to decorate.
Embrace the Old
When it comes to renovations and interior design, too often people turn to the adage, “out with the old,” but we think this can be a grave error. French interiors are all about embracing classic architecture and original features. With a little TLC and elbow grease, vintage interiors can unfold into the most beautiful and storied rooms.
Add Architectural Interest
On the other hand, if you live in a starkly modern adobe, you may need to add some extra character. Many French homes are brimming with classical architecture like intricate millwork, embossed plaster, wood paneling, and ceiling medallions. A specialized carpenter or contractor can help you replicate this, or you can DIY a similar (if less detailed) look.
Stray to the dark side of French interiors by opting for a deep, moody paint color on the walls, and maybe even on the ceiling. You'll love the bold but cozy effect and how your furniture pops against the dramatic walls. Just be sure to bring in extra light sources for adequate brightness.
If you're looking for a touch of drama à la carte, invest in some eye-catching wallpaper. While there's no hard and fast rule, traditional patterns like florals and brocades will be right at home in French-inspired interiors. Keep things fresh and unexpected by pairing with modern light fixtures.
Opt for Black and White
The French aren't exactly color shy, but we have noticed they tend to gravitate towards black-and-white color palettes (ahem, Breton stripes). Taking on this classic color combo may seem simple enough, but you'll want to incorporate plenty of pattern and texture to keep your space from falling flat, and maybe even introduce subtle accent colors to liven things up.
Did you know houseplants count as an accent color? They're such an easy way to incorporate an additional hue without throwing off the vibe of the entire room.
Incorporate Metallic Accents
If there's one thing we know, it's that French girls love a touch of bling just like the rest of us. Bring in touches of metallic through accent pieces like lamps, furniture, or art. While gold and brass are traditionally the gold standard in French interiors, chrome and silver can be just as striking if that's more your speed.
Choose Lighting That Contrasts
There is a delicate art to choosing light fixtures, and the French have mastered it. The trick? Opt for fixtures that create contrast. For example, if your space has modern architecture and furnishings, choose something traditional like a crystal chandelier. On the other end, more traditional rooms will benefit from the fresh addition of a modern fixture with clean lines (sputnik chandelier, anyone?).
Combine Old With New
As any Francophile knows, the key to la vie en rose is knowing how to strike a balance. When it comes to interior design, Carr says the juxtaposition lies in blending old and new.
“Approach design that’s anchored in cultural history,” she says. “I choose intentionally to mix antique pieces to blend with contemporary choices to create a unique space that fits the client's taste or style.”
Show Off Your Floors
While we love a cozy rug underfoot as much as the next person, we've noticed that French interiors often forgo the extra cushion in favor of a more au naturel approach. This look is especially stunning when patterned wood or intricate tile floors like those commonly found in Parisian apartments are involved.
Let the Light In
Natural light is a key element in any room, but this is especially true of French interiors, which often feature sleek, oversized windows. Keep shades and blinds light and sheer to let in as much light as possible, or ditch the window treatments altogether for a more streamlined look.
Just because many Parisiennes take a minimalist approach to decorating doesn’t mean you have to kiss your favorite accessories goodbye. Instead, it’s all about putting your editor’s eye to work.
Add-ons like plants and throw pillows aren’t out of the question—Carr even recommends placing some leafy greens on your window sill—you just don’t want to overdo it. Sometimes, one stunning, strategically placed piece can create more of an impact.
Accessorize With Books
You'd be hard-pressed to find a Parisian pad that doesn't display books in at least one room. Who knew the French were such big readers? But we can't blame them. There's nothing quite so impressive and cozy as a wall of books. While your collection may not span an entire wall, you can get the look on a smaller scale with bookshelves.
Not loving how your book spines play together? Try turning them around and exposing the pages instead for a more muted effect.
Include an Antique Mirror
If there's one accessory you can count on finding in nearly every French home, it's an antique mirror. Whether it's hanging above the mantle or on the floor leaning against a wall, a decorative mirror adds that quintessential French flair and brightens up your space. Look for something in Trumeau or Rococo style, though anything gilded is generally a safe bet.
Don't Over Style
When it comes to styling, don't overthink it. Casually leaning frames, stacked piles of books, and haphazardly tossed throw blankets are all fair game in French interiors. When necessary, corral unsightly items on trays and in baskets, and keep in mind that the simpler the better.
Break the Rules
When it comes to interiors (and fashion), it's no secret that the French love to do what's least expected of them. Follow suit and break a few rules in your interiors. Want to turn your art on its side and lean it against the wall? Go for it.
As far as we’re concerned, minimalism versus maximalism is the longest debate in design history. Every design enthusiast has their own opinion but if you ask a typical French girl, she’ll likely say less is more.
“Choose quality pieces over quantity,” Carr advises. “Less can make more of a statement.”
If there's only one lesson you learn from the French, it's this: Don't be afraid to take risks. When you're outfitting your home, be tongue-in-cheek, risqué, bold, or whatever else you want your interiors to embody. Remember that your surroundings should make you happy—after all, vive la vie!