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What is ‘French Style” interior design anyway?

I’m sure the actual French have a different name for it beyond style de Francais. But, from where we in Anglo North America are concerned, this style we’ve come to know as French style is something of an mix of different traditions, including the curly-cues of rococo, and  even rustic European country styles.

French style interior design – aristocratic, and ornate

I suppose this tradition is called French because it reminds us a bit of of how we imagine pre-revolutionary France to have been, at least for the upper classes. More specifically, a word that is closely associated with French style interior design is aristocratic.  Another word might be ornate.

And what if you were looking to create a French-style living room? Well, take a look at this graphic to see some basic suggestions.

As it’s been established when talking about establishing a style in any room, including living rooms, it’s all about the subtleties. Sure, with a French Style living room, it helps to get your hands on some vintage furniture with all of the decorative flourishes that are associated with this design approach.  But, the basic principles here are about varied shapes and lines – lots of straight lines contrasted with curves, for instance.

French style living rooms  – color, shape, depth, light, and shadow

Color is also pretty important. With  French style, one dominant color is the best approach, with some detailing of a secondary color to help define it.  Often, that color is something of a bold choice, like periwinkle blue. But, at other times, it’s a stark color that is higlighted by a bold one – like a white room with gold trim.

French style is also about a sense of depth. That’s why wall paneling is a go-to choice in a French Style living room. The bevel patterns of a wall panel create these variances of depth, and interplay between light and shadow.

Flamboyance, indulgence, and the rule of subtlety

Yet another aspect of the French style design is driven by a sense of flamboyance, or indulgence. Intricate patterning of wall paper, of area rugs, and flourishes on table legs, wall sconces, and free-standing accessories is all about having it and flaunting it.

This exists on a spectrum, of course. Sometimes that rule of subtlety – letting the details do the work for you, that is –  can help to balance this off, with a single piece communicating this artistocratic, ornate visual effect. Sometimes, things like picture frames, or mirror frames, can help you get that effect. Consider what these subtle additions can lend to your French style living room space, before you start installing Marie Antoinette-style wall paneling.

Some questions for you

  • What associations do you make when you think of French style living rooms, or any rooms?
  • How would you balance the ornate with the subtle?
  • What elements of French style have we missed above?
  • What are some cost-effective ways to achieve French style ambiance?
Illuminate me, and other readers, in the comments section!

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Cate Morgan-Harlow

Cate Morgan-Harlow is an all arounder, writing about how-to, DIY, and design with gusto. She is a shadowy figure with a mysterious past.