Parisian Interior Design - At Home With Style (2024)

Parisian Interior Design - At Home With Style (1)

Trying to describe French interior design is daunting—it’s a bit like trying to describe French cuisine or French fashion. Its history is long and varied, its influence is far-reaching, and the variety of substyles is enormous. To get us started, here is an overview of one of the most influential and popular French styles—Parisian interior design.

Formal French style has influenced classic interior design styles around the world for centuries. Understanding the traditional elements helps us create more authentic and compelling modern French style rooms.

Formal French style is the basis for Parisian interior design, and it also underpins French country style, so you can bring elements of traditional urban design into a French country home.

To learn more about French country style (including Provençal style), see my article on French Country Interior Design.

Traditional Parisian Style

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What we think of as Parisian interior design has traditionally been associated with a particular style of residential architecture. It’s helpful to know how and when those buildings came to be so common and popular in Paris during the mid-19th century.

From 1853 to 1870, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann carried out a massive Parisian urban renewal program. Chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to clean up and organize the city, Haussmann oversaw an enormous overhaul of its layout and infrastructure. His city plan included grand new boulevards, parks, and public structures. The plan’s implementation had an huge and lasting impact on the city that lasts to this day. But Haussmann’s overhaul of the City of Lights didn’t just impact the world outside of people’s homes. He established a whole new style of residential architecture that influenced style throughout the world.

Haussmann had countless crumbling buildings and streets demolished and replaced. These improvements made Parisian living more convenient, healthier, and more beautiful. Public parks, streets, and homes were safer. Among the most lasting structures created at that time were the Haussmann-style apartment buildings still found in Paris. Les immeubles haussmanniens still set the standard for Parisian interior design style today.

Les immeubles haussmanniens

These buildings were what we now think of as mixed-use urban properties. The ground floors were usually given over to retailers, including cafes and restaurants. The wealthiest inhabitants took the apartments one floor up. We’d call this the second floor, but the French call it le premiere étage—the first (or main) floor. These were the most desirable rooms. They were bigger, taller, more grandly decorated, and easier to get to in the years before elevators. The more modest apartments just above went to middle-class families. Flats on the top floors were largely reserved for servants.

Parisian style in the 19th century

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Formal French interior design emphasizes symmetry. Furnishings and decor are often paired and balanced, and rooms are carefully composed. The Parisian style that graced Haussmann-style apartments in the 19th century was influenced by earlier French imperial styles, including that of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette a century earlier. The regal Empire style of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte also had continuing influence. The eclectic Second Empire (or Napoleon III) style was in fashion during Baron Haussmann’s heyday. Although the monarchy was abolished during the French Revolution, aristocratic style continued to enthrall well-heeled Parisians.

Classic formal style included detailed and exquisitely finished pieces of the finest woods, stone, and gilded metal. Wealthy French people shared Victorian England’s penchant for intricate decoration, but with a lighter touch. Lavishly carved details of Parisian apartments were often highlighted with gold.

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Parisian Interior Design - At Home With Style (5)
Parisian Interior Design - At Home With Style (6)

Eighteenth century French design has had a huge impact on formal French design for over 200 years. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lost their crowns and their heads, but French royal style lives on.

Haussmann-style apartments

Imagine a glorious Haussmann-style Parisian pied-à-terre of the classic style decorated in the late 19th century. Note the chevron patterned parquet wood floors (which differ slightly from herringbone patterns). You’ll also see impossibly high ceilings, and elegantly carved white wood or plaster moldings. Walk toward the tall white wood French doors opening onto the wrought iron balcony. The room is awash in cool Parisian light. A large antique Aubusson carpet with refined pastel patterns like those found at Versailles is underfoot. Note the Louis XV chairs with down-filled cushions in pale brocades. A gilded mantelpiece garniture and a large chandelier are reflected in the generously sized antique mirror above the fireplace.

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This is the French design that inspired American millionaires who settled along New York’s grand boulevards and Newport’s Bellevue Avenue in the late 19th century. They in turn inspired U.S. ideals of good taste for a half century to come. Echoes of that style still linger throughout Europe and North America.

Some homes decorated in this way in the late 19th century changed little during the following century. Throughout the 20th century, there were always adherents of the style who still wanted to live in the classic grand manner.

20th Century Parisian Style

Grandeur & restraint: 1900 to 1920

In the first quarter of the 20th century, Parisian interior design generally became lighter and less cluttered. In the wealthiest homes, featured artworks were likely to evoke France’s past or its beauty. Neoclassical portraiture or Barbizon landscapes in gilded wood frames were safe and tasteful choices. Each element in the home looked styled, harmonious, and rich.

Chic alors! The Art Deco era

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Parisian Interior Design - At Home With Style (9)

The 1920s and 1930s brought moderne style to Parisian nightlife and fashion. Interior design grew sleeker as well. Decor became more pared back. Decorative items in the geometric Art Deco style replaced the swirling Art Nouveau forms of earlier decades. Smooth, rounded wood furniture and upholstered furnishings without exposed wood provided soft, sensuous curves.

Electric lighting and chrome finishes sparkled in rooms once accustomed to gold leaf and chandeliers. Parisian interior design inspired early Hollywood films. In turn, the Hollywood Regency style of the 1930s and 1940s with its lacquered, mirrored, and satin-covered furnishings inspired Paris. Flowing botanical patterns in textiles and wall coverings gave way to geometric patterns or solids. The works of iconoclastic Dadaist, Surrealist, and Expressionist artists appeared in tastemakers’ homes. These began to replace classical representational art. Traditional bourgeois French apartments were still the norm. However, some wealthy collectors introduced shockingly modern elements to their tasteful, sedate pieds-à-terre.

The World War II years, & post-war Paris

Like the rest of Europe and North America in the 1930s, France went through hard times even before World War II began in 1939. Paris was occupied by Germany during the war, and fashion and interior design were pushed to the back burner. Survival was at stake, and goods were rationed. Manufacturing turned toward supporting the war, and designers lost business or went under. Austerity wasn’t just necessary—sacrifice was seen as patriotic.

After the war, midcentury modern style found popularity throughout Europe, including in France. This democratic and casual style was at odds with the formality of traditional Parisian interior design. But some always stuck with classic, traditional French style, no matter the tides of fashion.

The 1970s and 1980s brought more dramatic style. Wealthy Parisians might display sleek Pop Art, Neo-Expressionist paintings, or exuberantly colorful sculptures. The formal 19th century architecture of Haussmann-style apartments was out of step with modern bold and geometric modern furnishings. By the 21st century, a simpler, more spare aesthetic reemerged. Today, gracefully aging 19th century architecture is treated as a neutral backdrop that doesn’t compete with furnishings. Peaceful coexistence between styles allows harmony between antique and modern elements.

Contemporary Parisian Style

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Today’s variations on classic style often incorporate classic and contemporary furnishings.

The ideal modern Parisian home may still be a gorgeous Belle Époque-era Parisian apartment with 19th century architecture. But let’s envision a fun mix of old and new furnishings and decor elements to give it a modern feel.

Don’t have a fin-de-siècle (end-of-the-19th-century) home to decorate? You can still incorporate Parisian-style elements in your own surroundings.

It’s a mélange, cherie

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Modern Parisian style is often a delicious mixture—a mélange, if you will. It embraces contemporary, midcentury, a touch of Art Deco, and some Belle Époque style. Let’s start with a large Persian rug in faded pastels. You could go with a plush grey carpet the color of Parisian skies, if you’re pattern-averse. However, giving a nod to Paris’s history with some faded elegance feels more French. Top it with a low-slung modern sofa upholstered in grey velvet with chromed legs. Balance the sofa with timeless but surprising seating. I like this pair of pale pink velvet upholstered Art Deco armchairs that harks back to the era of Streamlined Moderne architecture.

In the center, between the sofa and chairs, one could add two modern, square, glass-topped tables. Translucent glass keeps them from taking up too much visual space, and adds sparkle. Tables with black bases (like those in the hotel room shown above) would ground the room. To keep the room lighter and add drama, replace the black bases with gold or chrome. Place an oversized creamware jug, a silver pitcher, or a simple glass vase of peonies on one table to add color and sensual curves.

Why not flank the chairs with a pair of lucite side tables for even more translucent elegance? (Side tables are also practical.) Again, I’m partial to vintage ones. However, simple modern lucite tables with surprising curves or angles would also work well. Small pedestal tables topped with white marble also fit.

What to do with the walls?

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If you have an in-wall fireplace, hang a large mirror above it. A traditional Parisian-style gold-framed mirror with an undulating curved top is chic. A big square, rectangular, or even round one in a simple metallic frame is effective. Some rest a large mirror on a mantel for a bit of devil-may-care rakishness. For safety, I’d hang it securely from studs. No mantel? Hang a large mirror over a console table, and decorate the console like a mantel.

Avoid a dark frame if you want a Parisian feeling. The Parisian tradition of a slender gold frame around a large mirror high on the wall creates the illusion that the room goes on forever. It reflects sparkle into the room. A bold dark frame fights that illusion. It also keeps the eye from floating upward—a pity, because the spacious, airy feeling is part of the Parisian ambience.

On the left side of the mantel, place a pair or a cluster of white bisque porcelain vases. I’d go with contemporary or midcentury. Matte bisque porcelain has a modern feeling, and contrasts well with the reflectiveness of the mirror. Fill the tallest two vases with long branches of greens. Leave the right side of the mantel empty; a bit of asymmetry in the room’s focal area brings a room to life. A stylish, modern room like this feels a bit playful, and anything but bland.

Add more art

You may like the simplicity of empty white walls. I think a modern French room benefits from a shot of bold color in the form of modern art. Stick to formal French tradition by hanging a pair of paintings or prints on either side of the fireplace. (Of choose a focal point that takes the place of a hearth in your home.) Now break the rules and shatter the formality by choosing energetic artworks. Pieces by French artists Sonia Delaunay or Fernand Léger would bring color, curves, and exuberance. These contrast with the room’s more formal elements. Bolder abstract expressionist work—or even minimalist works with saturated colors—could also be marvelous.

Do you prefer a more minimal palette? Or do you choose photography over painting? Consider a pair of black-and-white photos by your favorite 20th century French photographer. Set them off with wide white mats and simple black wood frames.

Skip the clutter

Note the lack of decorative pillows and throws. You might find an occasional accent pillow or two, maybe a cashmere shawl neatly folded over a chair—but you may not. Parisian interior design, whether traditional or modern, isn’t big on casual coziness. It doesn’t add a lot of decor just for the sake of decoration. That said, a bit of the unexpected is welcome—just keep it sophisticated in style.

In the mid-to-late 20th century, Parisian homes often had tables piled with antique books or arrayed with elegant collections (think glass paperweights or porcelain boxes). However, contemporary Parisian style tends to be simpler and sparer. Each element has more punch to it.

Though Parisians are known for having strong opinions, the modern Parisian design world is more forgiving and inclusive than ever before. There’s always been room for the rebel who mixes styles and uses layer upon layer of decor to build something exciting. As always, it’s all about having the courage to create an environment that feels right for you.

Getting a modern Parisian look

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Contemporary Parisian interior design styles tend to be less curvy than traditional formal French design—not so many French provincial tables and swirling candelabras. Still, it does mix traditionally softer, more delicate elements with geometric or dark pieces. Like traditional French style, current Parisian style focuses on using elevated materials.

Keep your home airy, open, and uncluttered. Use white, pastels, and grey generously. Emphasize height and verticality by hanging curtains near the ceiling and taking them all the way to the floor. Traditional curtains might be smooth silk or silk brocades. Modern ones tend toward linen, though the sheen and texture of Dupioni silk would be an elegant choice. Fresh flowers or cachepots of orchids invite the outdoors in.

Add sparkle to keep it lively. Lucite side tables, a grand mirror, or a shimmering chandelier will do. Include some saturated color to show passion. To create contrasts, add touches of black (like a table with thin black legs, or black picture frames). As veteran designers often say, a bit of black grounds a room.

A Parisian-style home tends to blend old and new. It should have a sense of being curated over time. A feeling of history is important to all varieties of French style.

Don’t forget to have fun!

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Parisian style, whether traditionally formal or casually modern, isn’t about copying anyone else, and shouldn’t be 100% serious. True French style incorporates the individual and unique. That means including elements that are meaningful to you personally, and maybe being a little playful, non? Include elements that speak to you and bring you joy. Unapologetic celebration of all that you find beautiful, exciting, or important should find a place in your home. You’re anything but boring, and your home should reflect that. So enjoy your adventures in the world of French design.

At top:

“The Floor Planers” by Gustave Caillebotte, 1875 (Public Domain), shows men painstakingly refinishing the floor of a Haussmann-style Parisian apartment building

Parisian Interior Design - At Home With Style (2024)

FAQs

How do I style my house like a Parisian? ›

"The hallmarks of a quintessential Parisian apartment are decorative applied molding on the walls, herringbone floors, marble fireplace mantel with a gilded mirror above, and usually a statement pendant or chandelier,” says Melissa Sanabria, founder and principal of Sanabria & Co., which specializes in historic home ...

What is Parisian by design interiors by David Jimenez about? ›

The book contains a how-to section sharing Jimenez's tips for decorating in the French style, including chic paint colours and setting an elegant table, along with inspiring entries on where to soak up the best design in Paris.

What is the French style of interior design? ›

The French style of furniture is dominated by wood and original fabrics. The equipment has numerous decorations and carvings. Tables, chairs, chests of drawers, armchairs or consoles are equipped with bent legs. The French style is one of those styles that incorporate all decorations and plant ornaments.

How to get a French look in home? ›

Use light blues, warm whites or pastel yellows for your walls and combine this with gold accessories and large mirrors. Incorporate wood furniture which is modern yet still fits with the French accent style. Less is more, so choose one piece of artwork or one feature piece in the room such as a decorated fireplace.

What is the key to Parisian style? ›

The real key is timeless elegance, and French women achieve this by anchoring their wardrobes with simple, neutral pieces that are well-tailored and high quality. Read on for the 13 outfit ideas that will infuse a dash of Parisian flair into your daily style.

What are the elements of Parisian style? ›

No restrictively tight clothing or sky-high heels here. Instead, Parisian fashionistas reach for simple pieces with straight or slightly tailored silhouettes. Their color palette thrives in shades of black, tan, white and muted blues. They collect quality, easy to mix and match pieces with an evergreen appeal.

What is French country house design? ›

French Country homes typically feature steep roofs, asymmetrical facades, and a mix of natural materials like stone and wood. They often include elements such as wrought iron accents, exposed beams, and decorative shutters.

What is avant garde interior? ›

Avant-garde is known as an edgy, artistic style that breaks through traditional style genres. Avant-garde is frequently characterized as innovative, daring and breaks all design rules. In interior design it sculpts a house's design and transforms a home into art.

What is De Stijl interior design? ›

De Stijl is one of the most recognizable styles in all of modern art. Consisting only of horizontal and vertical lines and the colors red, yellow, blue, black, and white, De Stijl was applied not only to easel painting but also to architecture and a broad range of designed objects from furniture to clothing.

What is Parisian chic interior design? ›

Hallmarks of Parisian Chic

• Vintage pieces mixed among newer furnishings. • Crystal chandeliers. • Large antique (or antique-looking) mirrors, especially those framed in gold. • Louis-style chairs (learn more about the different types here) • Mirrored tables.

What does a French bedroom look like? ›

The bedroom should be decorated in lavenders, pale lilacs, creams, soft sky blues and sage greens. If a bolder, more rustic style is preferred, try burnt orange tones, browns and yellows. A French-style bedroom would not be complete without a stunning window treatment.

What is French chic decor? ›

Rarely flashy, French interiors often boast a sense of lavishness with hints of brilliance via jeweled accents, ornate filigree detailing, antique chandeliers and wall sconces.

How to make your home look like a chic Parisian apartment? ›

  1. Paint Your Walls White.
  2. Add a Gold-Gilt Mirror.
  3. Incorporate Art and Culture.
  4. Opt for Velvet and Linen.
  5. Balance Old and New.
  6. Mix In Something International.
  7. Go for Greenery.
  8. Light It Up.
Mar 7, 2024

How do you get a Parisian style? ›

The Golden Rule of French Style

Practically speaking, this casual-chic style is often achieved by mixing casual affordable pieces with more tailored items. It's never about things being overly precious or fancy (except maybe when it comes to handbags).

What does a typical French house look like? ›

A French-style home, also called a French provincial home, is a stone, brick, or stucco house with a steep rooftop and large windows. Often featuring courtyard gardens, iron gates, and gravel pathways, French-style homes are known for their rustic appeal.

How do French people decorate their houses? ›

Although the French does have an attraction for chic all-white interiors, color is how they can connect the old and the new gap. In french interior design, the only rule is that… there are no rules. Combine colors, time periods, and any design style that speaks for you.

What is the style of the houses in Paris? ›

The Haussmann style of architecture, which is also known as Haussmannian, is the architecture that has defined modern-day Paris. In the 19th century, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, a Parisian official with no architectural background, revamped the city at the request of Emperor Napoleon III.

What makes a house French style? ›

Tall, slender windows with decorative shutters, arches, and rounded openings are indicative of the ornate windows and doors favored in French home styles. The Entryway is an important feature. Popular during the Renaissance, Porte cocheres, a type of passageway, allow entry to a courtyard or driveway.

What are the Parisian colors for interior design? ›

At the heart of Parisian elegance lies the neutral palette, a carefully curated selection of whites, creams, pale grays, and beiges. These colors are not merely background shades; they are the canvas on which Parisian chic is painted.

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