When Trudy, our head designer, suggested that I write a blog on French inspired interiors, I had to laugh because of all the Frenchiest interiors we’ve done, the apartment that she worked on in Paris (Paris Perfect's Conti, above) encapsulates all the Frenchiest examples in one room! “So why don’t you write the blog?” I suggested, disingenuously. “Ha!” she replied, knowing far well that I’d never give up a topic that I am kind of passionate about!
We have always been un peu Frenchie focused at Huff Harrington for the obvious reasons that we love going to France, we adore French food and wine, we marvel at the scenery, covet the furnishings, envy the style and are devoted to our French vendors and hosts. The plus is that we think a little bit of French savoir faire is just the key to making every room a little bit more chic – kind of the way an Hermes scarf tossed casually with “insouciance”, dresses up a French woman.
So what are the elements that make up a Frenchy interior? Here are our top 10 tips accompanied by the caveat that unless you have an apartment in Paris, you shouldn’t do all 10! Our cardinal rule of interior design is that it should always be about the mix, so you shouldn’t just adhere to one “style.” Ironically, of all the 10 tips, that one is probably the Frenchiest! Because the French love to mix: Modern with old, Louis with lucite, sleek with crusty, high with low.
One gorgeous crystal chandelier. If your ceilings are lower, go for something wide with lots of crystals or a Marie Louise Italian style. With higher ceilings, choose something larger and airier. See how this charming Paris apartment came to life with the touch of crystals and light.
- Gorgeous tall antique Louis XVI Mirror:
Something for the gorgeous crystal chandelier to be reflected in. We love the decorative pieces on top of a Louis Philippe gilded mirror, what the French call “fronton” which is typically in a shell shape that allows the mirror to bend away from the molding. For a living room, you’ll want something with embellishments. We prefer old mercury glass if possible and are picky about the gold patina, like in this Paris Perfect apartment, "Cairanne."
- A piece de resistance antique furniture:
Although the good old gorgeous Louis XV style armoires lost their popularity as the perfect hiding place for ugly TV’s when sleek new flat screens came about, they’re making a comeback for their functional storage space. Not to mention their beauty, as in this gorgeous antique Louis XV style walnut armoire from Meg's dining room, below.
Nothing says Hausmann style Parisian apartment like a herringbone patterned oak floor. Note that for the real French look, they shouldn’t be too wide and although we love dark floors in general, for this particular style, we opt for natural wood color or bleached. (The beautiful original floors were kept in the Beaune apartment, below, and new ones put in to Conti, below.)
Old French country houses tend to have low ceilings and gorgeous hand-hewn beams. Ironically, one of the tricks of the trade is to that adding old beams to low ceilings will actually make the ceilings look taller. Beams won’t work everywhere but in the right house, if you use them sparingly, they can be gorgeous, as in the warm and welcoming kitchen of Les Murets.
- Repurposed sink:
This is something so fun for a powder room and you can go to town with wallpaper, lighting and mirrors. We took this delicate pine console, plopped a modern sink on top and voila: l’élégance!
- Fireplace and mantel:
We could go with the gamut here from marble to stone, with herringbone brick backsplash to darkened iron. The key to us is to keep the shape simple and elegant, and keep the color neutral. (Yes, we’ve been known to paint over a grainy pink marble mantel in a pretty neutral grey - look closely, under the orchid!)
As always, we recommend buying what you love. But if you want to keep it Frenchie, mix contemporary with traditional. Use crunchy old antique frames with modern pieces and marry simple floating modern lucite frames with antique canvases. Here we paired a painting by one of our contemporary gallery artists with an antique frame we found in Paris. Below, a Kelley Ogburn painting complements antique elements in the Cairanne Paris apartment.
A great way to Frenchie up your walls is to add simple molding. In France, we call them baguettes, and they can be added inexpensively to any flat surfaces, as we did in this Paris Apartment. Adding wallpaper the inside of the moldings with a subtle contrasting color is a simple way to to add a layer of sophistication and glam to the room.
- Fresh Flowers:
A beautiful French home typically has fresh flowers all the time. Just walk down any street in Paris and within five minutes, I guarantee that you will pass several florists. In the country, they grow their own or buy them at the local markets. Always buy what’s in season and to add filler with found branches and grasses from outside.
So, unless you're doing a Paris apartment like the Conti one below, drop a few of these elements in to your home and we promise you more than a soupçon of joie de vivre!
The final tip is do this all effortlessly and don’t aim for perfection! You don’t need a room full of antiques or molding in every room. One or two fabulous antique pieces in every room are plenty. Marry them with modern or rustic or Swedish or plastic! Because to be truly Frenchie means a home that is welcoming, comfortable, a little bit sassy and fun.