Just like French women always seem to be walking down cobblestoned streets so effortlessly with their blue jeans, navy sweaters, and black leather jackets, Parisian apartments have a certain je ne sais quoi. We're not just referring to the flawless homes that have been meticulously designed by the masters of les arts décoratifs or the châteaux that have been passed down through generations. All French homes—even first apartments—seem to have an elegance that can't be replicated by a set of bergère chairs or an antique chandelier.
So how do the French manage to put together interiors that exude elegance and flair? We turned to prolific interior designer Betsy Kasha of A+B Kasha to shed light on the matter. Having designed and sold over 70 apartments in the city of love, this Franco-American knows a thing or two about Parisian décor and what makes them so special. Add French flair to your home today by following (and breaking) these cardinal rules of Parisian décor.
They Pay Attention to the Bones
"The French have a knack for decorating, it's true, but they do have a bit of a head start. They're starting from a blank slate with beautiful bones," explains Kasha—validating what we were secretly thinking all along. While most of us start with literal white boxes, empty Parisian apartments already have serious flair: "Old herringbone parquet floor, double windows that let in lots of light, the signature trumeau—those old original mirrors that adorn the fireplaces of châteaux and apartments." To achieve a similar result, pay attention not only to what you put into your room but also what the frame of your room looks like.
They Decorate How They Dress
"A Parisian apartment is like a black Chanel dress," remarks Kasha. "It only needs a little accessorizing for the occasion. It can be worn day and night, across decades, and always look amazing!" Just like an effortlessly French outfit, Parisian apartments often appear timeless because of a very simple formula: "The French decorate like they dress. They build their wardrobe around a few classics. In the same vein, the French design their homes starting with a few basic pieces. The rest evolves with their personality."
They Let Spaces Evolve Naturally
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are Parisian apartments. Contrary to Americans who like their homes to be decorated yesterday, the French take their time: "It's not a studied strategy, but something that comes together naturally," says Kasha. "French homes have seen a lot of history, and their furnishings and décor can reflect that richness." The trick: "Think about bringing in different textures, colors, and material. At the end of the day, beautiful objects will go together, whether they were made in the same century or not."
They Break Rules
When we asked the designer about her decorating rules, she was more enthusiastic about bending them than following. "Break the rules! Have fun with your décor," she says. The French aren't so concerned with principles of décor, but more concerned about the visceral reaction that happens in front of a truly beautiful piece: "Half the fun is in the search," says Kasha. "Go to flea markets and antique shops. Get to know your own personal style. When an object makes you stop in your tracks and say: I need that 17th-century tapestry—that's your sign."
They Avoid Over-Staging
A pet peeve of the French when it comes to American décor: overstaging. "Your bookcase should look natural, not staged, explains Kasha. "It still needs to feel like a usable library—the French actually read their books, you know," she jokes. That's not to suggest paying no attention to styling at all, but rather to arranging things in a usable and meaningful manner: "Mix new art books with worn, leather-bound classics. Stack horizontal piles next to books leaning vertically. Add in picture frames or vases.
Book jackets are useful, but the physical book cover is usually more beautiful. Remove the jackets (and stash them somewhere) for a more classic, uniform look."
They Don't Worry About Styles
On this side of the pond, we hear these questions over and over again: Will this go with my midcentury console? Can I mix brass and silver? Does this color work with my walls? In Europe, these questions are seldom a concern: "Mix and match," says the designer. "Don't be afraid to combine different styles or time periods, like a midcentury chair next to a Provençal armoire. Think about bringing in different textures, colors, and materials. At the end of the day, beautiful objects will go together whether they were made in the same century or not."
They Make It Usable
Lastly, no matter how many antiques a home has, it doesn't mean that beauty should trump function. "This is your home, not a museum," explains Kasha. "Even an antique should be a usable, active part of the space. For example, place an heirloom Louis XVI commode in the front hall—it's a stunning centerpiece, but it can also hold your keys and mail." The same goes for desks and storage spaces.
Next up: You're saying "armoire" wrong—and 16 other French décor words.
This story was originally published on March 10, 2017, and has since been updated.