This French Architect Has Designed for Valentino—Here Are Her Decorating Secrets
When it comes being fearless with colors and patterns, India Mahdavi is the undisputed queen. The Paris-based designer’s knack for mixing textures, colors, and patterns has landed her a slew of high-profile jobs, from retail spaces for Valentino, Givenchy, and Ladurée to pieces for Louis Vuitton and Ralph Pucci to iconic restaurants and hotels such as Sketch and the bar at The Connaught in London—not to mention private residences all over the world, from East Hampton to Bombay.
One could attribute her affinity for color and pattern to her heritage. Born in Tehran of Iranian and Egyptian descent, she grew up moving between America, Germany, and France, and her worldly style reflects that well-traveled flair—something her clients seek internationally. We chatted with Mahdavi on all things color and pattern, decorating faux pas, and the difference between French and American decorating styles. Get ready for a lesson in refined décor to please the most discerning fashion designers. If it’s good enough for Valentino, it’s good enough for us.
Structure the Space
According to Mahdavi, the roles of an interior designer in France and the U.S. are two entirely different things: “A decorator in the U.S. is expected to choose everything from furniture, bedding, tableware, and artwork—clients rely on our expertise. Whereas in France, the country of art de vivre, the clients tend to think they don’t need anyone for the final touch, so our job is more about structuring the space.”
Try this at home: Focus on the structure of the space—the ceiling, moldings, floors, and layout—before thinking about the finishing touches. A good foundation goes a long way in making a space feel complete.
Mix Cultures and Colors
“French interiors are polyglot and polychrome—in other words, they feature a rich mix of cultures and colors,” says Mahdavi. “When decorating a space, use a minimum of three to four colors. Adding black and white always works.” The dominant colors in this bedroom are a combination of a bright yellow and seafoam green—and this is complemented with a touch of black, white, and warm camel tones found in the rattan armoire and headboard.
Try this at home: Count the number of colors you have in one room, and add or remove as necessary. Aim to have three to four dominant colors—including black and white.
Limit Your Contrast
When we asked Mahdavi how to perfectly blend styles, periods, and patterns every time, the designer had one simple rule: “The secret is to keep the contrast in styles relatively close when mixing vintage and modern. With patterns, there shouldn’t be too much contrast in the scale of patterns and colors.” That said, she assured that mixing geometrics and florals was completely fine—necessary, even.
Try this at home: Try decorating in similar monochrome tones, and you can mix as many patterns, periods, and styles as you want. In this French hotel, Mahdavi kept the tones in a palette of warm neutrals from cream to darker brown—and was able to mix original weathered walls with traditional terrazzo, midcentury rattan chairs, and a contemporary table and wall sconce.
Focus on the Essentials
Through designing hotels, Mahdavi has learned to focus on the essentials—she’s also noticed the irony in the briefs she’s received over the years: “When designing hotels, I used to hear Could you design this hotel like a home? Now I hear Could you design my home like a hotel? Designing a hotel is like decorating an abstraction of a home—you need the essentials but not the specifics.”
Try this at home: Take a room and focus purely on the absolute essentials in that space. Remove everything else to get that pure hotel feel. Then, slowly add back items that are meaningful to give the space a personal touch.
Don't Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
“The worst faux pas anyone can make when decorating is trying too hard not to make any,” says Mahdavi—who is known to be fearless when it comes to colors and patterns. “When every thing is so perfect, it doesn’t reflect life. A home is to be lived in—it should reflect the taste and personality of the owners.”
Try this at home: Forget about whether things will match or not, and decorate with things you truly love. With this philosophy in mind while decorating, you’ll see that things will come together naturally and truly reflect your taste.
Consider all Senses
When designing, Mahdavi focuses less on current trends and more on the five senses that contribute to experiencing a space to its full potential: “It’s less about trends and more about color and textures—anything that can seduce the human senses: sight, touch, taste, smell—it counterbalances the virtuality we are living in.”
Try this at home: Try to experience your room one sense at a time—it should, of course, have eye-pleasing moments to look at, but it should also feature a variety of textures to feel and an enticing smell such as a candle or a luxe hand wash.
Next up: how to decorate like a Parisian, according to the dreamiest French hotels.