Decor We Adore: French-Inspired Design Ideas

From Parisian palace to country cottage, French aristocrats and peasants alike set trends for fabric, furnishings and a sophisticated approach to decorating a home that still inspire us today.

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December 29, 2014

Photo By: Thibaut ©Image Courtesy of Thibaut

Photo By: Dovetail Furniture

©Image Courtesy of Thibaut

Photo By: HGTV fan Tetbury

Toile de Jouy

This seemingly ubiquitous fabric pattern has a much more storied past than you may imagine. Literally French for "fabric from Jouy" — short for Jouy-en-Josas, the riverside city where it was first manufactured — bleached cotton printed with pastoral or figural scenes has been popular as a wall covering, bedding and upholstery fabric since its introduction in 1770. The pattern was a technological revolution of its time, the fine lines and intricate design made possible by the recent introduction of copper-plate printing technology. Image courtesy of Thibaut

Paris Meets Provence

This chic living room combines the best of relaxed French country style with sophisticated Parisian panache. A trumeau mirror, properly placed between the room's two windows, visually expands the space and reflects the adjacent dining room while a pair of linen-covered bergeres defines the seating area. Image courtesy of Marian Parsons, Miss Mustard Seed

Bombé Not Bombay

Typical of the flamboyant rococo style, bombé commodes add a sexy, feminine touch to any room. All the rage during the reign of Louis XV and his royal mistress Madame de Pompadour, rococo style can be summed up in one word: curves. Highly skilled furniture makers of the time, known as ébénistes, developed methods that allowed them to shape wood panels and trim into the serpentine forms that are still popular today. Image courtesy of Eloquence

Tradition Meets the 21st Century

Inspired by a stay in a posh Parisian hotel, this luxurious master bathroom takes its design cues from the ornate paneled walls and cabinetry prevalent in the south of France during the 18th century. The look is period but the amenities such as a radiant heated floor, a flat-screen TV concealed behind the mirror and piped-in music are all 21st century. Design by Ken Kelly

Boomerang Style

American postwar prosperity in the 1950s saw a dramatic rise in the popularity of French country — aka provincial — style as young, newly affluent families embraced formality and a genteel lifestyle. Combining classic elements such as columns, cabriole legs and rosettes, French country style is essentially a rustic take on furnishings popular in the 18th-century courts of Kings Louis XIII, XIV, XV and XVI. Image courtesy of Dovetail

La Cuisine

Combining rusticity with refinement, French country kitchens continue to be the go-to style for designers and homeowners alike. To get the look, opt for painted cabinetry that has been distressed and aged for a timeworn look. Choose handmade hardware over sleek pulls and top cabinets with a countertop that will stand the test of time like marble, granite or butcher block. Design by James Howard

Wealth on Display

We most often attribute the manufacture of silver to England and Ireland, but France has historically been both a consumer and producer of quality silverwares. French aristocrats coveted silver for both its utility and inherent value — an out-of-style candelabra could be sold for the value of the metal. In fact, very little early French silver remains today because both Louis XIV and XV decreed that all silver be melted down to replenish the state's depleted coffers, including the solid silver furnishings that once graced Versailles.

Luxurious Silk

Silk-weaving in France began in Tours in the 15th century. By the late 1700s, the majority of production had moved to Lyons where more than one-third of the city's population was employed in the trade. Always trendsetters, French nobles were the primary customer of fine woven textiles. Damask, a pattern originally invented in the Middle Ages by Islamic and Byzantine weavers and named for the city of Damascus, was a favorite of French nobility who used it to adorn their homes' walls and furnishings. Image courtesy of Thibaut

Glamorous Gilt

Gilding, the process of covering an object in a thin layer of gold, is a prominent feature of French design. An ancient technique, gilt objects predate the rise of French culture; early examples existed in ancient Greece, Egypt and China. Ormolu, from the French or moulu, meaning ground gold, is the process of gilding bronze decorative mounts that ébénistes (cabinetmakers) used to embellish exquisitely crafted furnishings and clocks. Image courtesy of Eloquence

Chic Storage

An encoignure, or corner cabinet, is a useful feature of both formal French design and its country cousin, provincial. HGTV fan Tetbury uses hers to display a collection of basket-like 19th-century French purses. This encoignure's primitive design complements the room's cottage charm.

Stylish Service

French porcelain has long been considered among the finest in the world. Kings and courtiers such as Napoleon and Marie Antoinette sampled delicacies served on dinnerware created in the Limoges region of France. By the mid 1700s, French porcelain dominated the European market, toppling the artistic leadership of Germany's Meissen, the leading manufacturer of the time.

Go Country

Rustic yet chic, French provincial continues to be a popular choice for creating a room that combines sophisticated touches with casual fabrics and accessories with a timeworn patina. To create her farmhouse-style dining room, HGTV fan LuluD paired a French sideboard with whitewashed candle stands and pastoral framed paintings for a look with timeless appeal.


Panels of intricately carved wood, known as boiserie, once graced formal gathering rooms throughout Europe. Created by layering hand-carved wood with applied molded or carved details, boiserie panels were most often painted or gilded. When HGTV fan LuluD couldn't find just the right headboard for her bedroom, she re-created this centuries-old look with wood trim, cast details and a carefully applied paint finish.

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