Elements of Style

Parisian Chic

Parisian Chic
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The French literally invented chic—the word is a French one that the English language imported, seeing as elegant and stylish didn’t quite capture its essence. Parisians in particular are said to have chic embedded in their DNA. Fortunately for those of us not born and bred in the City of Light, many of the style elements that make Parisian homes so enviable can be translated to our abodes. Below, a primer to Parisian interior design and how to make it work for you.

The Parisian home is the ultimate mix of high and low, new and old. Here, the tight color palette allows the complementary textures—fluffy Moroccan rug, sleek gold and glass—to be the star. Special shout-outs to the majestic mirror, the herringbone wood floor, and the striking moldings, all hallmarks of Parisian decor. Photo by Leslie Unruh.

The Parisian home is the ultimate mix of high and low, new and old. Here, the tight color palette allows the complementary textures—fluffy Moroccan rug, sleek gold and glass—to be the star. Special shout-outs to the majestic mirror, the herringbone wood floor, and the striking moldings, all hallmarks of Parisian decor. Photo by Leslie Unruh.

Whites, creams, and golds are the only colors, and the striped upholstery the only pattern, but this space is engaging nonetheless, thanks to the layers of textures and tones. Photo courtesy of Julie O’Neill.

Whites, creams, and golds are the only colors, and the striped upholstery the only pattern, but this space is engaging nonetheless, thanks to the layers of textures and tones. Photo courtesy of Julie O’Neill.

It’s All in the Mélange

Many, if not most, Parisian apartments are blessed with high ceilings, herringbone wood floors, and exquisite moldings. Even if you can’t add those elements into your own home, you can incorporate another major facet of Parisian interiors: the seemingly effortless integration of new and old, high and low. The provenance and the period of the individual pieces don’t matter; what matters is that they’re beautiful in the eye of the beholder.

That said, to tie together the disparate elements, Parisians often stick to a narrow palette in which white plays a prominent role. And you won’t find the overlapping of busy prints common to, say, English country style. A gently faded Heriz rug or damask upholstery on a bergère might account for the only patterns in a room.

This allows for the airiness that might be the most difficult to pinpoint yet the most important aspect of Parisian chic. Known to design pros as white space or negative space, it is an absence of distractions that ensures attention is paid to what remains.

The glossy turquoise flowerpots on the table provide a pop of bright color. Even without them, though, this dining room would be far from monotone, thanks to the fanciful wallpaper panels and the coordinating green velvet upholstery.

The glossy turquoise flowerpots on the table provide a pop of bright color. Even without them, though, this dining room would be far from monotone, thanks to the fanciful wallpaper panels and the coordinating green velvet upholstery.

Beyond the Pale

Parisian chic isn’t all ivory on white, however. Splashes of dark, even bold color are often found: chartreuse velvet on a Louis-style chair, a Persian rug overdyed in red, classic gourd table lamps in brilliant turquoise flanking a white sofa. At times a rich hue serves to emphasize a piece’s sculptural silhouette.

In particular, Parisians appreciate well-placed curves in a room, from cabriole legs to gourd lamps. A voluptuous round tufted ottoman, for instance, might be upholstered in a lush jewel tone, while the sinuous embellishments of a rococo mirror are likely highlighted with gold.

Flowers also bring color and curves into a Parisian abode. In movies set in Paris, inevitably a character will be seen carrying a baguette or a bouquet of flowers as a way of establishing the location. It’s a stereotype that holds an element of truth. Fresh flowers are of course preferred, but lifelike faux blooms have fooled many a guest. And of course, there are lyrical botanical wallpapers, used as panel insets or murals.

The ruby velvet upholstery calls attention not only to the tufted bench but also to the art above it. Photo by Tony Vu; room by Amanda Nisbet.

The ruby velvet upholstery calls attention not only to the tufted bench but also to the art above it. Photo by Tony Vu; room by Amanda Nisbet.

Though small in scale, this crystal chandelier adds a hefty dose of glamour to this bedroom. The mirrored nightstands are petite enough to complement rather than compete with the chandelier; the satin coverlet provides additional sheen, while the curtains and the rug prevent an overload of shine. Photo by Seth Caplan; room by Ariel Okin.

Though small in scale, this crystal chandelier adds a hefty dose of glamour to this bedroom. The mirrored nightstands are petite enough to complement rather than compete with the chandelier; the satin coverlet provides additional sheen, while the curtains and the rug prevent an overload of shine. Photo by Seth Caplan; room by Ariel Okin.

The antique mirror over the mantel, the gilded frames of the art and the Louis chairs, and the brass 1940s bar cart contribute quiet but unmistakable glamour. Photo by Lesley Unruh; room by Nina Farmer.

The antique mirror over the mantel, the gilded frames of the art and the Louis chairs, and the brass 1940s bar cart contribute quiet but unmistakable glamour. Photo by Lesley Unruh; room by Nina Farmer.

Shimmer and Glimmer

Subtle but unmistakable glamour is part and parcel of Parisian élan. In decor it takes the form of shimmering surfaces and glints of gold. Silk curtains puddling gracefully onto the floor are glamour at its most sophisticated; chandeliers dripping with glittering crystals represent traditional glamour; mirrored side tables and vanities epitomize Art Deco glamour (and French Deco, especially chairs with oversize curved arms, cabinets with lustrous burl wood, and mirrored nightstands, remains wildly popular in Parisian homes).

Two mottos differentiate French glamour from, say, Hollywood glamour: “Less is more” and “Moderation in all things.” And that makes it fairly easy to bring Parisian chic to your space. Start with one showstopping glamour piece—a six-foot ormolu mirror, a daybed with a lavishly carved wood frame, a pillow covered in an ornate Hermès silk scarf. Edit out excessive patterns and all but your favorite tchotchkes. Bring in a few gold-framed artworks, a Louis chair, and/or a vintage bar cart. Add flowers, and voilà! You have your own little slice of Paris.

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
Bar carts, preferably metallic
Art, ideally in gold frames
• Silk curtains
• White, cream, or ivory upholstery and linens
• Herringbone or parquet wood floors, topped with a Persian, Savonnerie, or Aubusson rug
• Decorative crown molding, baseboard, picture rails, and other wall molding
Flowers

Shop our Antiquing in Paris curation >

Photo by Lesley Unruh; room by Danielle Rollins.

Photo by Lesley Unruh; room by Danielle Rollins.

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