The French have a flair for refined, yet effortless, homes and French interior design exudes a certain je ne sais quoi. French spaces are typically classic and timeless with a hint of modern edge. In other words, French apartments are just like the effortless style of Parisians—pared-back, sophisticated, and timeless.
Achieving an aesthetic that looks effortless is anything but, so we sought the expertise of Constance Gennari, Parisian founder of The Socialite Family, a website that features the homes of everyday French families. Here's what Gennari had to say on what makes French décor so covetable, plus TK styling tips for how to achieve the look yourself.
Meet the Expert
Constance Gennari is the founder of The Socialite Family, a website that sells home décor and features the homes of everyday French families.
When we asked Gennari about the fundamental differences between decorating in the U.S. and decorating in France, Gennari replied, “There’s more perfectionism in American style than in France.” The French treasure family heirlooms and pieces that aren’t pristine. They won’t dismiss a chair if the leather is stained and don’t mind a crooked hardwood floor. The result: A space that feels more lived-in than immaculate.
Master the Mix
“The French love to mix vintage and contemporary furniture, whereas there is more homogeneity in American style,” Gennari says. French designers have no qualms about placing a modern chair beside an 18th-century dresser or ultra-modern lighting against an ornate background, for example. It’s all about the dynamic tension that exists between different periods and styles.
Be Audacious - emailed Hotel Panache for photo permission 4/13
According to Gennari, there are three secrets to decorating like the French: Be aware that perfection does not exist, know how to mix different styles, and be audacious in your choices. Don’t worry too much about how pieces will fit together; as long as the proportions are right and you truly love each piece, you will find your own personal style through trial and error.
Draw from Your Personal History
“My style is linked to my personal education,” says Gennari. “I grew up with a father from Milan and a mother from Paris. My mother, who is an artist, has a broad collection of Empire-style and 18th-century furniture. I spent my childhood at Les Puces with her negotiating with the merchants. This is where my style hails from,” Gennari says.
Incorporate pieces that your family collected into your décor—did they have a midcentury penchant, a collection of nautical memorabilia, or textiles from their heritage? Weave these pieces into your personal aesthetic to create a sense of history in your home.
While this may look like an average daybed, a discerning eye knows that this iconic piece was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. If a particular style interests you, read up on its history and get to know the designers that created the movement. “I like Gino Sarfatti’s lights, Osvaldo Borsani’s chairs, Pierre Paulin’s desks, and Alain Richard’s lights,” says Gennari. If these names sound new to you, they may be a good place to start.
When prompted to choose between formal and casual, Gennari spontaneously answered by mixing the two words, “Forsual, of course!” Find the right balance in your space where you can host a formal affair when necessary, while still enjoying your space every day without being too concerned about stains, scratches, and marks.
Follow Your Own Rules
Traditional design rules may advise against using benches and ottomans in lieu of chairs. They may also discourage curtains that pool on the floor, but Gennari recommends following your own rules. Do what feels right for you, not what you were taught is right in magazines—something that she calls her worst decorating faux pas. Just as there is a difference between fashion and style, there is a difference between trendy design rules and personal taste.
Approach design rules as more of a guideline that you can opt-in to follow, or not!
Adopt Contradictions - - emailed Hotel Panache for photo permission 4/13
Gennari believes contradictions characterize a French interior. Want your bedroom to be a mix of French provençal, midcentury staples, and contemporary art? Go for it. Think bright magenta photography will pair well with a bold chartreuse bench? Try it. Want to mix marbleized wallpaper with a powder blue sofa? Why not? Things that don’t obviously pair well together often make for the most interesting interiors.
Don't Throw out the Old
If she had to choose between old and new, Gennari would always pick old, so it’s no surprise that her favorite place to buy décor in Paris is at Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, a larger-than-life flea market. “It’s like being in a museum with the right to buy everything,” Gennari says. “One of the magical sides of Paris is the diversity of décor you can find.” For contemporary furniture, Gennari visits La Boutique Danoise, Maison Nordik, Merci, and La Trésorerie.
Don't Be Monomaniacal
One of the biggest mistakes Gennari notices in American decorating is “monomania for a particular color or style,” Gennari says. Many interior designers have noticed this happening with midcentury modern style, which saw a wild resurgence post-Mad Men. Rather than sticking to one aesthetic, don't be afraid to combine styles for a layered, dimensional look that's full of unique personality.
Below, find 10 more tips to get that French TKTKT.
Go Baroque in Style
For classic French style, lean into Europe's past. And by that we mean going for ornate, decorative embellishments and dramatic pieces, defined by the Europe's Baroque period of the 16 and 1700s. Consider incorporating an oversized, antique mirror, or bold chandelier into your space.
Position Art in Unexpected Places
Another tip for nailing effortless, unfussy French style in the home is to consider placing art in unexpected arrangements. Meaning, one needn't hang artwork on the walls, in a straight line. Gather your pieces and lean them against the wall, or set them on the floor next to an accent chair, for example.
Add a Vintage or Antique Rug - reached out for photo permission 4/13
A vintage or antique rug, even one with a few imperfections, feels lived in. And that's what French décor is all about—it's more casual than polished. Think: The more undone (yet pulled together), the better.
Decorate With Florals
Fresh or dried florals arrangements are easy ways to channel French décor and adds natural beauty to any space. Go with a few buds or opt for a full bouquet. Place them on your entryway console for a calming welcome, in the bathroom, or whichever corner of your home could use a pick-me-up.
Hang a Chandelier -reache dout for photo permission 4/13
Make a statement with an eye-catching chandelier, then keep the rest of your décor casual and eclectic. It's the French aesthetic way. Let in as much natural light as you can too, so the sun's rays will bounce off you chandelier and add visual (and literal) warmth throughout the room.
In our opinion, linen is nearly synonymous with effortless style. And when we're curating a French-inspired look, linen beddings seem like an obvious choice. TKTK
Curate a Home Library
Make your collection of books a focal point in the home as a reference for your own unique personal taste, and as a jumping-off point for interesting conversation when you're hosting guests. The salon, or TK, originated in France and TKTKT.
Display Your Dinnerware
Photo: Katie Hackworth
French décor embraces objects for TKTK. Don't be afraid to expose your prettiest dinnerware out in the open if you've got the space for it. It also makes setting the table easier.
Let a Space's History Shine
Prefer Playful Over Polished
Need permission: Kasha; Nicole Franzen; https://hotelpanache.com/en/contact.html
Add French or French-inspired vintage posters
Mise en place - everything in it's place, tidy
Add a vintage rug - a little bit distressed is ok // https://www.hiboudesignco.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/80648ebaa54a7ecf-28888_GAETAN_LABRECHE_b-17.jpg
Live for Linen - It's casual and relaxed, unfussy.
Decorate with florals?? https://www.duvalreynolds.com/dark-floral-feast (Need permission)
Hang a Chandelier - https://img1.wsimg.com/isteam/ip/600cbd5b-159e-4e90-ac99-4d275abf9e1a/ImaniJames_HabershamLadiesLounge-0001.jpg/:/cr=t:0%25,l:0%25,w:100%25,h:100%25/rs=w:1160,h:774 (Need permission)