4 Ways To Get The 'New French Look' At Home

Our interior design columnist Lauren Li of Sisällä is somewhat of a style chameleon. Her genuine appreciation for many  different aesthetics makes her a versatile interior designer, catering to clients with varying tastes.

But there’s one genre that holds a special place in Lauren’s heart, and that’s French style. So much so, that she’s written a  book about it!

Below, Lauren has summarised the four main ‘styles’ she talks about in The New French Look, and how to channel this aesthetic at home.

Lauren Li

‘The City’ or ‘La Ville’ look is elegant and sophisticated. Design by Studio KO. Photo – Karel Balas.

Lauren Li
25th of September 2023

As an avowed Francophile, I have always been captivated by how the French live in their homes. Many visits spent soaking up that characteristic flair have allowed me to experience the French design aesthetic in various settings, and informed the way I interpret the style in my own interiors.

The appeal of French style lies in how ‘effortless’ the interiors appear, and yet they always look so sophisticated. Their spaces aren’t contrived; it’s not like they are trying too hard and they always look truly ‘lived in’.

I discovered when travelling around France, the regions are as varied as the architecture and interiors. There is not one homogenous ‘French look’ and the chapters in my book reflect that.

Each has its own distinct ambience; La Ville (the city), La Plage (the beach), La Campagne (the country) and Les Montagnes (the mountains). Although each region has it’s own style there are some universal hallmarks that make French style oh, so chic.

Interior spaces in this area are normally clever and compact in their design. Design by Sophie Dries Architect. Photo – Stephan Julliard.

‘The French know a beautiful space elevates the everyday experience and encourages a good time’. Design by Batiik Studio. Photo – Karel Balas.

The French are known for design innovation. In this Parisian apartment, traditional oak flooring meets a contemporary insertion in the form of a wall with a metallic portal. Design Architecture by Heju Studio. Photo – Heju Studio Hall.

A limited colour palette of black and white with gold accents – the epitome of chic that allows the inherent beauty of the interiors to be the hero. Design by Sophie Dries Architect. Photo – Stephan Julliard.

La Ville (The City)

The city of Paris is as elegant and sophisticated, historic and artistic as the most extravagant Hollywood movies would have you believe. It’s no surprise that visitors are inspired to recreate some of that magic when they return home.

‘The City’ look is not about building a themed shrine to Paris. It’s about creating an authentic space — that looks and feels French — without employing kitsch design cues (leave your Eiffel Tower ornaments at the souvenir shops).

In French apartments, we often see kitchens and dining rooms incorporated, creating a functional and convivial space in which families gather. Thus, the kitchen is treated more discreetly in the space. It is less common to see extravagant freestanding ovens and large rangehoods over cooktops. Instead, the appliances are integrated behind cupboard doors with a neat electric or induction cooktop that can function as precious bench space when not in use.

The kitchen-dining room in a French apartment may be compact, however it functions perfectly and more than makes up for its petite proportions in style and elegance. A smartly designed kitchen and adjoining dining area with banquette seating maximises space and is always comfortable. The French know a beautiful space elevates the everyday experience and encourages a good time — a place where baguettes are broken, the wine flows and, most importantly, there is just enough space for the cheese course!

‘The Beach’ or ‘La Plage’ look radiates good taste, but it dials up the personal touches and leans into spaces that are relaxed. Design by Caprini & Pellerin. Styling by Sarah de Beaumont. Photo – Alexis Armanet.

The marble used here is highly figured and imbues an exciting, energetic feeling to the space, with just the right amount of extravagance. Design by Jean Charles Tomas. Photo – Jérôme Galland.

A wonderfully warm travertine stone wraps around the benchtop and kitchen sink, its chunky rawness contrasting with the glossy green tiles. Design by Caprini & Pellerin. Styling by Sarah de Beaumont. Photo – Alexis Armanet.

La Plage (The Beach)

The French beach house is airy and bright. Rooms are flooded with light and there’s an openness and informality that invites relaxation. The colours and materials are based on the surrounding environment: sandy tones of natural stone and warm timbers. They are easy to live with, however, the French have a way of injecting vibrancy through artwork, so they are far from dull.

This style is about elevating that feeling of being near the beach and integrating the home with its surroundings. Consider how it feels underfoot to walk on cool stone floors, the same stone that is sourced nearby. Take a moment from the everyday hustle to notice how the light falls across the floor in the afternoon and enjoy the soft breeze through sheer linen curtains. A beach house helps us to exhale and be in the moment.

The colour tones of the furniture pieces are neutral; tan leather, cream linen upholstery and warm timbers. Using a quiet colour palette for the furniture means that artwork and lighting is the hero.

Think about a conversation piece, something that stands out. It can take a room from nice to sensational. A bold artwork or characterful sculpture on a plinth, even a sculptural coffee table, helps to break up formality and give life to the space.

‘The Country’ or ‘La Campagne’ mixes old elements with clean lines and contemporary pieces. Design by Casa Emma Sawko. Photo – Ludovic Balay.

A terracotta floor and wood panelling rich with patina are the backdrop for mid-century furniture and a chandelier that is unexpected yet in perfect proportion to the space. Design by Charles Zana. Photo – Karel Balas.

This 19th-century farmhouse was renovated to reflect the owner’s love of modern design. Crafted from poured concrete, the kitchen island grounds the space within a tall volume. Design by Alix Petit. Photo – Karel Balas.

Dark tones create a cocooning effect in a bedroom. The ancient walls of this chateau belonging to Pierre Yovanovitch have a textured finish that softens the green tones. Design by Pierre Yovanovitch. Photo – Jérôme Galland.

The soft forms of this curved sofa upholstered in wool bouclé are conducive to relaxed conversation in this chateau belonging to Pierre Yovanovitch. Design by Pierre Yovanovitch. Photo – Paolo Abate.

La Campagne (The Country)

The urge to head to the countryside during the global pandemic, and the societal shift that followed, has also occurred in France. Many urbanites in Paris found the relentless grind of metro, boulot, dodo (subway, job, sleep) exhausting, and trips to the country provided a much-needed magical cure.

French country houses may have old bones but that doesn’t mean the interiors must be old and stuffy. Here, the ‘New French Look’ is about combining the old with new, but not in a shabby-chic way. The heritage features of the building are celebrated — this is about living with the place, not living in a museum. Old things are given new life when mixed with the clean lines of contemporary pieces. While we see more antique pieces in the country house, the clean lines of a mid-century chair or a sculptural pendant light instantly elevate the space, creating a fresh feel.

The French countryside is home to grand mansions, chateaux, old stone farmhouses and converted barns. With each type of country house, the ‘New French Look’ celebrates the raw materials and layers of history — and personal objects add meaning. A humble, rustic aesthetic prevails.

‘The Mountains’ or ‘Les Montagnes’ focuses on natural materials. Design by Armel Soyer. Photo – Vincent Leroux.

Consider metal as an alternative finish for kitchen cupboards. With time, they will age, change and gain extra character. Design by Festen Architecture. Photo – Karel Balas.

The wood-panelled walls ground us in the mountain location; however, Pierre Yovanovitch has added playful elements, a patterned carpet and his ‘Mama Bear’ armchair. Design by Pierre Yovanovitch. Photo – Jérôme Galland.

A masterful combination of colour and shape is seen in this bedroom, making it feel at once warm and lively. Design by Pierre Yovanovitch. Photo – Jérôme Galland.


Les Montagnes (The Mountains)

There is a strong connection between the surrounding environment and the architecture. Unsurprisingly, wood dominates inside, be it natural, dark tinted or pastel stained. Used throughout for walls, ceiling and flooring, when it comes to decoration wood is a neutral touch. But often, with an unexpected twist.

While the appearance is rustic and natural, the styling is elevated. There isn’t an antler chandelier or wall-mounted deer’s head in sight, instead, there are simple décor items like ceramic and metallic pieces that contrast with the wood.

Wall-to-wall carpet is beautiful and luxurious in the bedrooms. When it’s cold and windy outside, you’ll be grateful for the plush warmth underfoot. To lift the space, a cheerful patterned carpet adds a sense of joy and delight. In your space, try an un-dyed Merino wool or even an alpaca wool for extra luxury.

Lauren’s new book The New French Look, is out now in all good bookstores!

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