Six Secrets of French Style

Six Secrets of French Style

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Eleanor Büsing
Aug 12, 2015

Some of you will have seen the title of this post and rolled your eyes in disgust, and I get it: the fetishization of French style can be a tad ridiculous. To take such a large, varied country and attempt to distill its aesthetic into a formula to be duplicated the world over is futile. Regardless, it's a game the rest of the world loves to play.

And you can hardly blame us: from uber-chic apartments in Paris to cozy country homes in Provence, France has style in spades. But what I think most people who claim to love "French style" are really after is that particular modern-meets-traditional-meets-glam look so often found in Parisian apartments (or the ones that turn up on the internet, at least).

So while the real list of secrets for achieving that look might read something like be a millionaire, live in a beautiful Haussmannian building on the Left Bank, don't have kids, decorate with a mix of priceless antiques and irreverent finds from les puces, etc, I'll do my very best to give you some more practical advice.

(Image credit: Submitted by Ariana)

Use the Right White
Generally speaking, you don't see a lot of bold color on the walls of French homes. Particularly in Paris, it's all about white. But this isn't a cold, blue-based white, and nor is it an overly yellow one. Parisian white sits just warm of center: picture a creamy white that's had an almost-imperceptible dose of pink added, and you've got it.

I love Farrow & Ball Pointing for recreating this glow, and I've heard that Benjamin Moore Mascarpone is a good dupe Stateside.

Make a Feature of Your Features
The main reason we go gaga over those prewar, whitewashed Parisian apartments? All the lush architectural features, of course: soaring ceilings! Cornices! Wall panelling! Parquet floors!

Not every home has these assets, and adding historic trim to a 1980s house would surely look a little odd. But if you are lucky enough to have some original features or epic proportions in your home, show them off! Make sure your lighting shows off the moldings you've got, hang curtains high to show off vertical height, and avoid covering up panelling with busy gallery walls.

Embrace Negative Space
Speaking of gallery walls, you'd be hard pressed to find one in a "typical" Parisian apartment. The French know the value of minimalism, and aren't afraid of empty space, on their walls or their floors. Art is often large and singular, or simply not there at all. They'll often forgo an area rug where others might automatically place one (maybe they just want to show off those fantastic parquet floors), and furniture is given room to breathe.

So rather than filling up your home for the sake of it, try applying Coco Chanel's famous quote about removing accessories to the home: less is more.

(Image credit: Laplace & Co)

If It's Not Broke, Don't Fix It
North Americans often suffer from a preoccupation with new, while the French don't seem to. Shiny kitchens and bathrooms aren't the be-all and end-all, and older, worn pieces of furniture are placed next to newer pieces and antiques with little concern. Try moving some of your older items around your home to see them in a new light, or "cheat" by finding some vintage pieces at a flea market, another thing the French have going for them.

Go a Little OTT
Let's face it, the French know the value of indulgence (those two-hour lunch breaks and all that delicious cheese), so learn a little from them. Let your curtains pool luxuriously on the floor, reupholster something in a fabulous jewel-toned velvet, put a huge bust of someone you don't know in your entry hall. Pourquois pas?

Add Some Jewelry
For the finishing touch to any perfect Parisian apartment, you'll need a touch of glitz. Whether it's a vintage chandelier, a traditional gilded mirror over the fireplace, a commanding metallic coffee table, or even a golden skull, make sure something in the room grabs the eye and reflects light around the space.

More posts in Discover Your Home Decor Personality: Classic Glam
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