It's no secret that the French have a knack for all things personal style and decorating, and we can usually turn to them for some of the best interiors and furnishings, from classic trumeau mirrors to iconic Charlotte Perriand furniture. It's not only that the French create beautiful things, but they also take great pride in assembling them together to create beautiful and comfortable interiors.
The best part is that they don't just focus on what's expensive. Just like French women can effortlessly pair a vintage scarf with a shirt from H&M and a Chanel bag, they have a talent for blending family heirlooms with budget pieces from IKEA and flea market finds. Want to know a few secrets to help you decorate like Parisian women? We rounded up 26 French-style living room tips to inspire your own décor projects.
Contrast Decor Styles
The French are all about contrast when it comes to their decorating style. If the architecture of a room is very traditional and ornate, chances are they'll swing more modern in their furnishings. Some of their favorite modern staples: club chairs and pendant lights.
Lean Into Classic Artwork
True to their roots, you can usually find some form of classic artwork in French homes. Incorporating a vintage-style portrait in an ornate frame or an antique vase on your bookshelves can add that subtle touch of French charm. Keep an eye out for these kinds of pieces at thrift and antique stores to save a few bucks.
The first thing that comes to mind when we think of Parisian interiors is the stately, ornate molding adorning the walls, doors, and ceilings—a sign of status from days gone by. Replicate the look (albeit, in a less opulent manor) using affordable trim painted the same color as your walls.
Rediscover Your Floors
Rugs are great, but people can forget about the flooring underneath that deserves some time in the spotlight, too. If you've got floors with character, uncover those beauties and let them shine—they've earned it. You might find you like how open your room feels.
Embrace Open Space
What you won't find in French interiors are rooms crammed full. There's beauty in some ambiguous open space, and French designers know this better than most. Group your furniture together to create zones, but leave some open space around these zones for an airy feeling. In other words: Less is more.
Set the Right Mood
The French always know how to set the mood for entertaining—even on a casual Tuesday night with the family. This includes a multitude of dimmed light sources and deep lounge-y sofas that are ultra-comfortable but also look and feel tailored. A velvet tuxedo or English roll-arm sofa is a staple in French living rooms, as is a chandelier with multiple light sources.
Show Off Your Books
You've gone through all the trouble of curating an impressive book collection (we won't ask whether you've read them), so show it off! For a très French vibe, get those books out of their boxes and display however you can—on a shelf, in a cabinet, or on the floor if you have to.
The controversial trend of displaying your books with the binding to the wall has become more acceptable, at least in the world of interior design. So if you're not loving the way the colors of your book collection are coming together, flip them for a more subdued look.
Don't be Afraid to Go Dark
Dark and moody interiors have earned their spot in nearly every respected design aesthetic, and French style is no exception. Embrace the darkness with deep paint colors on the walls (and ceiling) for a bold but cozy effect. Take it one step further and create faux paneling beforehand to add a touch of elegance.
Warm Up With Wood Tones
With their reputation for going au naturel, it's not really surprising that the French love showcasing natural wood tones. Mix and match different wood tones for an eclectic French countryside feel, or keep your wood tones in a similar range (but not necessarily matching) for a more streamlined look.
Create Cozy Corners
The French have a knack for creating cozy corners that feel effortlessly put together—and they're not afraid to mix and match styles. For instance, it's not uncommon to see an antique chair paired with a stool or side table to create the perfect little reading nook.
Go Bold With Tile
French designers will often lay a bold, graphic tile to contrast the antique wood floors found in their historic homes. Remember, though, when you have such an eye-catching floor, simplifying the elements throughout the rest of the room is usually recommended. Select an antique pattern for a more traditional feel, or mix it up with a modern print.
Hang a Pendant Light
Pendant lights are incredibly versatile, which is probably why the French (and everyone else) can't get enough of 'em. The key to a successful pendant light is size—too big and it'll overwhelm the space; too small and it'll get lost. Your eyes will be the best judge.
Incorporate Gold Gilding
Lavishly decorated gilded frames have a long history in France and throughout Europe, so it's not surprising that we often see gilded decor incorporated into French living rooms. Frame your pictures in vintage gilded frames or seek out a gilded mirror to brighten your space.
Balance the Budget
Because many French interiors are so traditional, Parisians often have a penchant for more modern pieces. They also know how to mix and match items of varying price points. For instance, it's not uncommon to see a high-end sofa next to more affordable framed prints or other inexpensive accents.
Slap Up Some Wallpaper
Graphic wallpaper is yet another tool French designers use to contrast very traditional architecture. A bold, large-scale print makes a great statement and allows for minimal styling throughout the room, while a smaller-scale print can be a subtle complement to other attention-grabbing pieces.
Let the Light In
Large floor-to-ceiling windows are a staple of French architecture, allowing for as much natural light as possible. It's also not uncommon to see interior windows between rooms for even more light penetration. Opt for large windows and glass doors when possible, and choose window treatments that let the light in.
The French don't typically miss an opportunity to add architectural interest to a space—including on the ceiling in the form of decorative molding, medallions, or antique beams. If you aren't lucky enough to live somewhere with this kind of character, you can always add a little architecture of your own with prefab ceiling medallions, crown molding, or faux beams.
Contrast Trim Work
Another way you'll find French interior designers playing with contrast is through woodwork. Get the look by painting your walls a bright, fresh white and your trim a deep, contrasting color like black or navy. For a more subtle effect, try a creamy beige or gray on your trim.
Fall Back to Black
Have you heard the good news? Black is the new black, but the French never lost sight of that, of course. When choosing colors for furniture, accents, and decor, you can't really go wrong with black. It goes with everything and it ages well, so when in doubt, stick to the classic color.
Add Some Character
Though many homes feature beautiful French doors and intricate plasterwork, some skew a little more on the modern side. In these instances, it's not rare to see the French reverting back to a very traditional interior to give the space a little character. Vintage furniture and ornate chandeliers can give architectural detailing to a room that's on the simpler side.
Successfully mix styles and periods by combining new-to-you finds with pieces you already own and love.
Change Out Your Hardware
While we've discussed gold gilding, it's also worth mentioning how prominent ornate gold hardware and metalwork are in French design. Try swapping out your door handles or furniture pulls with something in a golden hue for a subtle French vibe, or go more authentic with it and source some decorative vintage hardware for the full effect.
Use Natural Stone
Nothing screams classic French quite so much as an ornately carved stone fireplace. And while you may not be able to afford spending several grand on an authentic marble mantel, you can incorporate stone in other ways as a nod to the French hallmark. Consider using stone tile around your fireplace for a more modern approach and incorporating carved stone accessories like candle pillars, vases, and sculptures.
Dress the Mantle
Speaking of fireplaces: If there's one thing that the French know how to do better than anyone, it's styling a mantel. It doesn't hurt that their homes often come with the most beautiful fireplaces and original trumeau mirrors already in place. But even if you have to source your own classic French mirror to hang over your fireplace, consider complementing it with anything sculptural, like a vase or a work of art that can offset the classic nature of the mirror.
Put a Bust on It
Vintage busts will always be in style, especially for the French look. Incorporate one among your bookshelves or on your mantel or sofa table for maximum impact. Tip: Scour flea markets and thrift stores and you may just score the perfect bust on the cheap.
Keep a Little Clutter
Something else we love about French interiors is how utterly lived in they look. While the ornate architecture and soaring ceilings could contribute to a formal atmosphere, the casual (but tasteful) placement of clutter brings it down to a comfortable and realistic level for a very pleasing effect. Play around with organized piles of "stuff" to see if you, too, can master the look.