Design Dilemma: Finding that “je se ne sais quois”
When many people think of “French” decor they imagine baroque and rococo details, gilded furniture, bistro tables, heavy brocades, vintage French posters and tchotckes imprinted with images of the Eiffel Tower.
But if you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit a real French home (and particularly a Parisian one) you’ll quickly discover that there’s a whole lot more to French interior design than the well-worn cliches. The true spirit of French decor has less to do with a specific furniture style or “look” and more to do with an approach that manages to be whimsical, elegant, artful and simple, all at the same time.
The key term is insouciance, suggesting an unstudied decorating style that puts the emphasis on originality and personality over polished, flawless design. It’s the same approach that French women take to fashion — less emphasis on make-up and artifice, more on natural beauty and letting one’s own personality show through. Here’s what we’ve observed when visiting the homes of our French friends:
1) Matching is unimportant. You know how many Americans buy matching furniture sets imagining it to be the height of sophistication? In France, matching sets of anything is not the goal. It’s boring, whether it be matching pillows, living room sets, or paint chips to rugs. It suggests effort that does not reflect one’s true personality but rather fashion dictates with an unwillingness to take risks — and that’s not good. Objects are chosen for their beauty, interest and utility, and never simply because they “match.”
2) Mixing vintage and the latest in design adds a sense of timelessness. One reason so many Parisian apartments are so appealing is that they often don’t feel trendy.Â And that’s because the French have a tendency to mix pieces from all periods, lending their homes a feeling of embracing theÂ past, present and future. The key is in how you put elements — often quite unexpected — together, not acquiring whatever the latest trend happens to be.
3)Â Beauty is found in the imperfect. The French seem to have borrowed the wabi-sabi aesthetic from the Japanese. They find true character in objects that are well-worn and a bit dented. Every home seems to incorporate a battered table, a worn chair or a threadbare rug.
4)Â Highlight beautiful architectural details by not hiding them. If you are lucky to live an a wonderful old home with 12-foot high ceilings, crown molding, ornate carved paneling, and fireplaces, highlight all that old beauty by keeping interiors relatively simple and clean.
5. Embrace the exotic. Perhaps it is France’s colonial past that gives the country an interest in exploring looks that have originated in other places. Moroccan poufs and textiles, Indonesian chests and beds, African sculptures and stools, often find their way into modern French decor.
If you’re looking for true French style, your goal should be to let loose, have a little fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, and to allow your individual quirks to stand out in all their glory. Joila! You’ve got French style.
Images: via Apartmenttherapy.com, Marie Claire Maison.com.