Getting The 'New French' Look

What is it about the French? There is surely no nationality more stylish. Do they teach ‘Style’ at primary school level? It takes a special combination of luxury and casual-cool to achieve that sense of timeless, and seemingly effortless je ne sais quoi. And we’re not just talking about fashion!

Blending history with the contemporary, our interiors columnist Lauren Li takes a look at how you can achieve the ‘New French’ look, at home.

Lauren Li

Designer Emilie Bonaventure’s home in the 9th arrondissement. Photo – Nicolas Mathéus.

Designer Emilie Bonaventure’s home in the 9th arrondissement. Photo – Nicolas Mathéus.

This serene living area of a holiday house in Biarritz is decorated by Atelier Delphine Carrere and captures the casual elegance look with the pink Bishop table by India Mahdavi adding the twist. Photo – Antoine Huot.

Design Karine Lewkowicz. Photo – Gaelle le Boulicaut.

Lauren Li
27th of September 2018

Geographically speaking, we have the ‘serious Scandinavians’ to the north with their finely crafted mid-century classics. Down south, the effortlessly cool Mediterraneans love their expressive, dramatic and creative designs. After all, they have been setting trends since the Roman Empire! In the centre of it all are the French, who have what I think is the perfect blend of ‘the serious’ and ‘the fun’. For me, a Francophile tragic, I feel right at home.

Recently, design from France has come to the fore. There is something so effortless about French interiors. Where the Danes have their ‘hygge’ (ie ‘cosy’) way of life, the French have their own ‘Art de vivre’ – best described as ‘The Art of Living’. It’s a joyful sort of mindfulness, where they stop to enjoy lunch in the afternoons (not eating at their desk) and fling open the windows in the morning to welcome the day. I’m still not sure how they stay so gorgeous and chic whilst enjoying delicious cheese, wine and croissants!

The French surely possess a kind of ‘style magic’ that alludes the rest of us. There is often a ‘twist’ to their designs – an element of the traditional and at the same time something theatrical and sculptural. Joris, the founder of Youth Éditions, explains the French style has an ‘elegance and craziness, with a touch of down to earth sophistication.’

To me, the French style is full of life; the spaces tell a story and have soul. They are exciting spaces to be in. There’s an abundance of gorgeous colour and pattern, which is often set within an incredible historical space. French style doesn’t take itself too seriously, and c’est très cool.

It’s a difficult style to describe or emulate, but here goes!

Casual Elegance

The French adopt a laissez-faire attitude like no other – they practically invented the idea of casual living. We have the French to thank for the sofa and occasional table as we know it. A casual French home is one in which the (incredibly chic) owner has put the look together themselves, with slightly quirky and unusual pairings. The French interior is never too curated or too perfect, but always elegant.

Designer Emilie Bonaventure’s own home in the 9th arrondissement is serene and elegant, allowing her to find some peace in her busy life. The colours are neutral and the walls are white, however the space is anything but boring. She trawls Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (flea markets) in the north of Paris for pieces to add to layer in the space. The French are able to pull of this eclecticism, and elevate it to create an elegant and sophisticated interior.

This Haussman apartment has parquet oak floors, classical wall moulding details, a carved marble fireplace, whilst being extremely welcoming and warm. Sound French enough for you?

The designer, Laurence Simoncini, believes that white walls look ‘unfinished’ and to colour all of the walls like this is his form of ‘radicalism’. And extra points if you spotted the Australian wall light by Christopher Boots! Photo by Romain Ricard courtesy of Christopher Boots

The epitome of casual elegance. Photo – courtesy of La Chance.

I want to know the people that live in such a cool space like this. The furniture looks like a serious French antique and combined with some pretty crazy wallpaper equals a magical space. And how amazing is this Pierre Frey Shaman wallpaper?! Photo – courtesy of Pierre Frey Shaman.

The French sure know how it’s done! Photo – courtesy of Pierre Frey Shaman.

Incredible layers of texture fused with contemporary styling. Photo – courtesy of La Chance.

Layers of History

Being sympathetic to history comes naturally to the French. Unfazed by trends, their interiors show a nod to other time periods yet are never ‘themed’. They are always perfectly balanced, serene and elegant. French style combines classicism, boldness and irreverence, as seen here is this incredible space by Laurence Simoncini. The room is saturated with colour, which gives this Haussmannien interior a whole new dimension. It’s more than just a colour, it’s the application that enlivens and empower a space.

The bold colour all over this apartment, even on the classical moldings, gives the space a completely fresh and modern interpretation. The designer, Laurence Simoncini, believes that white walls look ‘unfinished’ and to colour all of the walls like this is his form of ‘radicalism’. It’s a rebellious thing to do to an historical room. No one can pull this off like the French.

Project by  Desjeux Delaye. Photo – courtesy of Desjeux Delaye Salon.

The colour yellow is repeated as an accent in this apartment and it adds a beautiful element of surprise. Photo – courtesy of Desjeux Delaye Salon.

In her own apartment, designer Emilie Bonaventure has selected a tight geometric pattern to the walls above the dado panel. It might sound intense however the colour palette is limited and it creates a wonderfully layered space. Photo – Nicolas Mathéus.

Roch Hôtel. Photo – Francis Amiand.

Studio KO recently designed the Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakesh. Stop what you’re doing and check out their incredible body of work. Photo – Gaelle le Boulicaut.

Pattern & Colour

The French live life to the full; they enjoy the finest champagne, cheese, art, fashion and bring this exuberance for life into their interiors. A life filled with colour is free and exciting. Mix in some interesting pattern, then you’re really having fun!

The French embrace unusual colour combinations, and they don’t worry about choosing furniture because it’s ‘safe,’ or won’t date. Their interiors aren’t guided so much by trends, rather than what feels good. There is a certain freedom and casual elegance that results from this approach.

There are a number of French designers known to have a signature colour. India Mahdavi is famous for the pink she used at Sketch in London. Sarah Lavoine is known for her signature turquoise blue with green overtones.

Drawing on inspiration from the Art Deco era, Meilichzon has reinvented key features such as the curved forms resulting in a brand new aesthetic. Photo – courtesy of Dorothee Meilichzon.

Henrietta Hotel by Dorothee Meilichzon. Photo – Karel Balas.

Hotel Panache by Dorothee Meilichzon. Photo – Romain Ricard.

Henrietta Hotel by Dorothee Meilichzon. Photo – Karel Balas.

French Art Deco

The French balance playfulness with sophistication; the work of Dorothee Meilichzon is case in point. She’s known for her signature ‘modern art deco’ hotel room designs in France and London. The curved form is repeated for bedhead designs, bathroom vanities and furniture, which echos the forms seen in the art deco period. This paired with unexpected colour combinations is a mix made in Pinterest heaven.

The careful combination of multiple small scale and large scale patterns, and knowing the limits before it becomes ‘too much’ creates such an exciting atmosphere. Her designs are so unique in a world of ‘safe’, that it’s no surprise she was named Designer of the Year at the 2015 Maison & Objet fair in Paris.

The generous proportions and shape of this modular sofa paired with these light fittings also designed by Desjeux Delaye is simultaneously pared back, yet opulent and luxurious. Photo – courtesy of Desjeux Delaye.

Youth Éditions Buffet. ‘My pieces are French in the way they research elegance and craziness with a touch of down to earth sophistication’ says Joris, founder of Youth Éditions. Image – courtesy of Youth Éditions.

La Chance Rocky credenza. Even a storage unit becomes a totally unique work of art in the hands of the French!

The beautiful apartment Une Suite a Vannes in Brittany captures the casual elegance of French style, and its available to stay in (!) – the perfect French getaway! Photo – Gaelle le Boulicaut.

The incredible hotel, Une Suite a Vannes. Photo – Gaelle le Boulicaut.

Living with Art

In a culture centred around art, it’s no surprise that the French have a penchant for living with sculptural forms in their homes. Furniture that is sculptural, and has personality is like living with functional artwork.

French furniture brands produce sculptural pieces like no one else. Ligne Roset have been producing the Togo settee since 1973 and it remains a totally original design. It’s an example of a highly sculptural shape, however comfort is definitely not forgotten.

The final images in this section in Brittany belongs to Gaelle le Boulicaut and captures the essence of casual elegance. This gorgeous apartment is actually available to stay in! The images of the Une Suite a Vannes will make you want to jump on a plane immediately. You’ve been warned!

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