How to Style Your Home Like a Parisian, According to a Major French Designer

Updated 11/10/16
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There are only a few designers that evoke collective oohs and ahhs from the MyDomaine team whenever we view their interiors. A very physical and emotional reaction occurs upon viewing the work of famed French architect and interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot. His impeccable attention to detail goes beyond mere aesthetics into emotive territory. Deniot has an incredible knack for crafting interiors that move you and transport you to another world. For his clients, that world happens to be their home.

So what is it about a French interior that captures our hearts and imagination so much? They're always incredibly pretty but never pretentious, stylish but not overly stuffy, and cool but never too trendy. The French have perfected the art of nonchalance that's both refined yet effortless at the same time. To discover the secret to achieving this chic Parisian look once and for all, we tapped Deniot at the launch of his Baker Furniture collaboration at the Pacific Design Center. In this exclusive chat, he reveals the top qualities every room should have, the most common decorating mistakes, and why natural is his favorite interior palette.

Courtesy of Baker Furniture

MYDOMAINE: What’s the first thing you think about when decorating a room?

JEAN-LOUIS DENIOT: I start a project by considering the location, the site, the clients’ expectations, the natural light, the new layout, and the volumes; all this defines the future style. I like my projects to be like scenarios—unique stories that are custom designed to suit the imaginary story. 

Most of the initial inspiration happens in my head. I visualize the finished space. Then I take loads of notes on all the details, and I share the lists with the office to help define the direction of the vocabulary and aesthetics. It is very instinctive. I look at the foundation and consider how I can implement the interior architecture, figuring out the ideal circulation, furniture layout, views, and natural light.

MD: What are the top qualities every room should have?

JLD: A high ceiling. It is never too high for me. I generally try to figure out how to give the illusion of height (if the space doesn't have it). Good natural light. I sometimes have to play with electric light when there is a lack of the natural, and at night, I like to create mysterious and atmospheric lighting to add character.

MD: The French have mastered that perfectly imperfect look. What is your secret? 

JLD: There is no secret. Just a truthful, confident, and convivial way of life.

Courtesy of Baker Furniture

MD: What are your favorite paint colors?

JLD: Any colors found in the natural landscape, from tree colors to water, earth tones, or any hue from nature. You rarely find strong colors in nature, only touches of bright colors, so I try to do the same in my work. I love any sort of gray too. It is bright and fresh during the day, and moody at night.

MD: What are your favorite ways to add texture to a room?

JLD: I generally like the materials and finishes to reflect the context of an interior, so there is a direct relation between the location and the décor. I would never design a flat in New York the same way I would design one in Moscow or Hong Kong. It is crucial that the interiors are in tune and correspond to their environments. 

I mostly use natural materials, soft colors, tarnished gold accents, and lush layered fabrics. I really enjoy using natural materials transformed by skilled artisans. I enjoy juxtapositions of diverse materials and finishes, as this is what creates layers of interest and texture; discreet finishes blend in and louder ones stand out. 

I systematically use plaster details for ceilings, molding profiles for walls or architraves, and wood or marble for floors. I love it when the finishes are 100% part of the real estate as natural finishes age beautifully with time. 

MD: What are some things a room should never have?

JLD: I do not like it when there's just a pile of boring stuff overlit by recessed lighting.

Courtesy of Baker Furniture

MD: What are your favorite designers to work with? 

JLD: I love every type. The best kind are collaborations between artists and manufacturers when they create unique pieces for specific uses and specific sites. I use vintage, antiques, collectibles, family pieces, and commissioned pieces. I really use every type of furnishing as possible.

MD: What tips do you have for adding that Parisian touch?

JLD: A certain dose of drama and nonchalance at the same time. That je ne sais quoi mix of cool and stiff, between formal and low-key, academic and artsy, with a dose of every style period to reflect an eclectic mix.

French furniture proportions are smaller. There are probably more chairs, lighting, and art in French interiors to accommodate small or large groups. French style is also all about the balance between the interior's architecture and the décor.

MD: What are the common decorating mistakes you always notice in a room?

JLD: Most of the time, the biggest mistakes are due to a lack of curiosity, culture, and personality. It is a shame.

"Most of the time, the biggest mistakes are due to a lack of curiosity, culture, and personality. It is a shame."

Xavier Béjot for Jean-Louis Deniot

MD: What makes an interior French and unlike anywhere else in the world?

JLD: France has been one of the main engines of interior style throughout history. French style is all about the right compositions, the right amount of ingredients, balance, and tuning. It's a simultaneous sense of grandeur and of deeply sophisticated simplicity. I love 17th-, 18th-, and 20th-century French design‎, as these centuries were very pure in their styles and larger-than-life atmospheres.

I am less crazy about the 19th century, as the décor was too baroque and opulent. The French mentality at that time was too stiff and hypocritically puritanical. French is a historical heritage; since childhood you are surrounded with many various styles, periods of buildings, arts, and furnishing. Every family has antiques, so you get used to it from an early age. There are very specific proportions for everything and when you start working on interiors, you realize very quickly if the proportions are right or wrong.

MD: How would you describe your own design style?

JLD: High-voltage French style! I create atmospheres that have an osmosis between all elements, by choosing specific finishes, working deeply on the architectural background, the circulations, the lighting, sound systems, so the place takes on a real identity when complete. I love good vibes; good, fun energy; and when cool, fun, chic groups get together and share the best time.

My décor always reflects its surroundings to maximize the experience. I am also an eclectic aesthete. I need to be surrounded by magic and beauty, and my work is a perfect harmony between all these elements.

Courtesy of Baker Furniture

MD: What are your tips for decorating a small space?

JLD: Use large adequate furniture scaled to play with proportions. A smaller sofa will always give room to more armchairs, and more armchairs give the illusion of a larger space. I also recommend more electric lights, such as picture lights, table lamps, reading lamps, and floor spots. Use oversize art, rugs, and mirrors as well.

MD: What is the secret to mixing different eras/decades in one room?

JLD: The mixing is like a painting composition. It is all about the sculptural quality (or not) of each of the pieces. You need stately pieces as much as you need good basics. If too many pieces are sculptural, then they will delete each other in the room. 

MD: How do you bring a sense of fun and whimsy into a space?

JLD: It's about not being scared to make mistakes. In France, people always accumulate curious pieces through the ages, from historic to poetic, sometimes even ethnic with many different patterns and textures. Then we put them all together. It's like a grand and elegant version of chic Bohemia.

"It's that je ne sais quoi mix of cool and stiff, between formal and low-key, academic and artsy, with a dose of every style period to reflect an eclectic mix."

Courtesy of Baker Furniture

MD: What is your personal design philosophy?

JLD: Comfortable, dreamy, lively, magical, chic, and fun with good wine, good music, good friends, and family. Interiors aren't made just for the pretty pictures. It's about creating that ideal backdrop for very special moments to be shared. 

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