Interior Design Lessons from France

Interior design lessons from France: Get 10 tips for classic french interior design inspired by the elegant architecture of Parisian apartments and ancient chateaux.

large stone fireplace and crystal chandelier at Chateau de Chambord

I’ve always been a bit of a francophile, but my real love for French style and culture was solidified when my husband and I lived in Paris for two years and had our first child there. That child is now a teenager (how did that happen?!), and we took him back to France for the first time recently.

The trip was utterly magical for lots of reasons: french history, french language, memories of our time and friendships there, local cuisine (bonjour, tartes citron!), and so much more. But it also came at the perfect time to inspire the style in my new home… And I am so pleased that it did.

As I considered the interior inspiration and design principles I found there, I thought you might enjoy seeing how French architecture and style influences my creative process.

10 Interior Design Lessons from France

1. Doors – First impressions matter.

I simply adore Parisian entryways. Tucked into beautiful Haussmann buildings, the door stands alone as the creative element facing the street, calling you in to explore, challenging you to imagine what other architectural beauty awaits behind.

Whether it’s a retail store, a posh apartment complex, or a national monument, the gravitas of Parisian doorways never ceases to appeal.

arched double doors parisian entryway doorway
arched wood double doors

2. Checkerboard – It’s not just a game.

So many different black and white or black and gray patterns graced the hallways of churches, castles, and apartments… And I am here for all of them. My favorite floor pattern had to be the classic checkerboard, which I put to use right away in our guest bathroom.

stone checkerboard floors in Chateau de Chenonceau
black and white stone floors
black and white checkerboard flooring in parisian apartment stairwell landing
tile checkerboard floors

3. Trim – Always say yes to moulding.

Elegant trim work is simply stunning. Box trim, picture frame molding, chair rails, wainscoting, crown moulding, and more… In all the color schemes. I’ll take it all. It brings substance to the interior architecture of any space.

library with elegant trim, paneling, and moulding
library with delicate trim work
elegant french clock and beautiful wall paneling with decorative moulding
elegant wall molding

4. Wood – Embrace every color (but orange 😉 ).

Rich mahogany, deep walnut, aged oak, and more. The beautiful natural tones of antique woods were so inspiring. The only thing I didn’t see anywhere was the orange-y tones that we often see, especially in 80’s homes… So I have some work to do in our new house.

5. Gilding – Go for the gold.

I recognize that not all of us (ok, none of us) live at Versailles. But that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace a little gilded glory. Whether it’s doors or furniture or paneling, gilded accents provide an extra layer of interest and elegance. The delicate motifs remind us that there’s beauty in the details.

gilded wall paneling
gilded wood paneling
gilded beams in french chateau
gilded wood beams

6. Fireplaces – There’s no such thing as too big.

Despite the small Parisian spaces, the elegance of marble mantels and fireplace surrounds has always charmed me. But this trip I was particularly struck by the grandeur of the stone fireplaces in the palaces and country homes. They instantly produce images of a warm, welcoming lifestyle filled with comfort and joy.

elegant renaissance great hall with large stone fireplace
giant renaissance fireplace
large stone fireplace from Chateau de Chenonceau
huge stone fireplace

Whether surrounded only by stark stone or by intricate tiles, giant fireplaces grace any dining or living room with the instant juxtaposition of dramatic coziness.

7. Furniture – Functional can be beautiful.

I’ve always been drawn to vintage and antique furniture design. It’s longevity, history, and beauty. And I was particularly inspired by the elegant touches added even to simple items, like these kitchen tables.

intricately carved wooden table with marble top
wood and marble table
large wood and marble kitchen work table
wood and marble kitchen table

Or this incredible chest that was intended for grain storage.

ancient grain storage cabinet with beautiful carved motifs
carved wooden grain storage trunk

8. Beams – Offer so much more than support.

I love the way that beams add character to a room. The old, gnarled ones reveal depth and substance. The delicate painted ones are like art on the ceiling. All of them add a geometric element to the living spaces of buildings.

9. Ceilings – Draw the eyes upward.

The ceiling moldings get me every time. Whether it’s an intricate plaster chandelier medallion, simple but elegant crown moulding, or an elaborately carved stone motif, I love the romance it brings to interior spaces.

ceiling stone carvings french architecture
carved stone staircase and dome
carved wood ceiling french architecture
intricately carved wooden ceiling
crown molding in Parisian apartment
simple, elegant crown molding
elegant column and intricate stone carvings on chapel ceiling
delicate carved stone ceiling

10. Staircases – Capitalize on the curves.

Whether it’s stone or wood, the almost sensuous curve of an elegant staircase is hard to beat. It makes me miss our curved staircase in our last home!

curved stone staircase from Chateau de Chambord
curved stone staircase from Chateau de Chambord

French Design Inspiration

There is something about French design that seems to me to embrace a beautiful quality of life. An appreciation for both elegance and comfort. And visiting France always inspires me to do the same. I hope these little interior design lessons from France can give you a practical approach for incorporating that beauty into your own spaces and lives.

curved old wooden staircase with overlay: interior design lessons from france

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