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How to create French-style interiors that don’t look gimmicky

The French are known the world-over for their impeccable taste and style – especially when it comes to fine wines, haute-couture fashion and brilliant cuisine.
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But their amazing good taste also extends to the world of interiors, where their traditional-meets-modern approach has been copied in homes right around the globe. Here we’ll explore the do’s and don’ts for injecting some Gallic glamour into your home, and creating an effortlessly chic French-style interior that doesn’t feel too gimmicky or forced.

What is French-style décor?

If someone asked you to describe a French-style interior, the chances are your answer might be slightly different from the next person’s. Maybe it makes you think of a gorgeous Houssemann-style Parisian apartment with tall ceilings, bare walls and priceless antiques. Or maybe it conjures up images of a bohemian house with a decadent mix of Moroccan style cushions and beaded curtains. For others, it’s rustic Provence style homes that come to mind, full of large rooms with whitewashed walls, traditional furniture and decorative crockery.

Whatever French interior style you like most or want to re-create in your home, there’s one common element throughout, and that’s a subtle, but classic feel. The French are all about a modern-meets-traditional look with a hint of new and old sprinkled throughout. So, if you’re looking to re-create that much sought-after look, follow these tips for getting the balance just right.

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Doing up your home the French way

While there’s no magic formula for creating a French-style interior, there is a certain approach you can take to create that Gallic je ne sais quoi. Whether you’re decorating the living room, kitchen or bedroom in your house, first identify any original features in the room you can show off – in typical French style. Then plan your furniture around the room’s best features.

And while American interiors are all about perfectly matched furniture sets, the French take a more laissez-faire approach. They’re famous for mixing vintage and modern pieces to create an effortless look, so don’t be afraid to do the same. Why not browse chic fabric armchairs as an option, placing one beside a period dresser in your bedroom, or a vintage trunk alongside a minimal, super-sleek sofa in your lounge. It’s all about creating an exciting tension between the different items and styles. Don’t stress too much about how the pieces fit together, either. As long as the proportions are right, and the pieces feel personal to you, your European-inspired room will start to come into its own.

You can also take a leaf out of the French style book by using gorgeous textured rugs and knitted throws to dress up furniture, and add a feeling of warmth. Charmingly faded table-tops and vintage chairs will also give a truly lived-in feel and a sense of heritage that’s such a common feature of French homes.

When trying to nail French-style decor, it’s all about making it look like you designed it yourself, so don’t be afraid to decorate the room with photos and personal ornaments from your recent trip to Scandinavia or South East Asia. Don’t go overboard on the personalisation though or decorate the room with a million different items of furniture as it can leave the room feeling cluttered, gimmicky and over the top. Less is more and a few well-chosen items will give your home that air of sophistication you’re aiming for.

Don’t throw away old pieces of furniture too soon….

Just moved into a new home, and don’t know what to do with that old sofa or chest of drawers? Since French-style is all about mixing styles and periods, don’t be in too much of a hurry to throw them away. Have a think about whether that well-worn sofa could still work in your new modern-meets-traditional interior, and provide a nice contrast to that new dressing table or vintage armchair you’ve had your eye on.

Similarly, if you’ve been handed down treasured heirlooms like a sculpture or a beautiful collection of memorabilia, think twice before hiding it away in your attic. French-style is all about creating that a sense of history and a timeless appeal. So, have a quick think about how you can arrange that hand-me-down item alongside the rest of your newly bought, or treasured pieces. Scatter any heirlooms around the room sparingly to avoid the space feeling old and musty, and lacking any modern feel. And remember, it takes a bit of trial and error to create that effortless French style. So, have a play around with the contrast between old and new and don’t worry – you’ll crack it in the end!

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Get minimal with walls, floors and ceilings

It’s not just the furniture and furnishings that create a French-style interior, but the walls, ceilings and floors too. Adding tall shutters and blinds to your living room or bedroom is an easy way to let the light flood in, creating that natural, light and airy look.

Can’t decide how to decorate the walls? Neutral colours work best. Sure, when you think of a bohemian Parisian apartment you tend to think of ultra-white and bare walls, but don’t forget the French like to add a splash of colour too. Think white-washed walls with a dash of pink. Other colours you’ll typically find in French homes include cream, ecru and ivory. Country houses from the rural areas of Provence tend to borrow more from the landscape, so if you’re decorating a country home, incorporate natural colours such as dusty sages and lavenders, sunny yellows and sky blues and brick reds.

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Alternatively, try decorating your walls with Art deco monochrome wallpaper or Cubist inspired paintings. You won’t find many gallery walls in French homes. Instead one singular painting or piece or artwork hung and centred on your wall is the go-to preference. And remember to avoid extremes. Completely bare walls, or so much artwork you can barely see your wallpaper is not the French way. Aim for something in between and you’ll have a stylishly decorated French room starting to take shape before your eyes. The same approach applies to flooring, don’t give in to the temptation of covering your floors with carpets and rugs from wall to wall. Instead leave beautiful wooden floorboards and tiling exposed for an authentic, charming appeal.

Nailing a French-style interior can seem tricky at first. But as long as you strike the balance between old and new, and take a ‘less is more’ approach, finding your inner-chic will come much easier than you think.

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