Your Ultimate Guide to French Girl Decor
Consider it your Parisienne starter pack.
Published Sep 23, 2018 5:00 AM
What is it about French it-girl style? In any other setting, the compilation of half-burnt candles, dead flowers, and random collectibles would be seen as clutter and potential grounds for calling the health department—but we can’t get enough of the bric-a-brac.
A constant balance between design that says, “I literally could care less about decor; in fact, I fished this chair out of a dumpster” and “I may have stolen this antique mirror from Versailles,” the careless elegance that we’ve come to know as definitive of Parisian cool girls is fascinating.
Scrolling through the picture-perfect living spaces of some of our favorite Frinfluencers (French influencers, for the unindoctrinated) a general pattern emerges: There may be a seemingly random assortment of items—you won’t find strict color palette adherence or undying devotion to one specific style in these homes—but everything feels personal and curated. Even if a piece came from a French girl-approved shop that’s widely accessible, it looks like it’s bespoke, hailing from some tiny hole-in-the-wall boutique.
Things are left undone. Artwork is frequently propped against a wall on the floor, or if it’s framed, it’s done in an assortment of different colored and sized frames that look like they cost about 50 cents at a thrift shop. Throw pillows are mismatched, as are accent chairs. Walls and windows are often left bare so as to let the architecture of older buildings shine. Maybe that’s why we’re so obsessed with French girl design: It effectively gives us permission to be messy and imperfect.
So how can we plebeians achieve the same look when the closest we’re getting to France is the brie selection at our local Trader Joe’s? “Buy a ticket to Paris” is absolutely terrible advice, so instead we looked to some of our go-to retailers (and a few you might not have heard of) and scoured the selection for pieces that seemingly every cool French woman owns.
Starting out strong with one of the more blatantly opulent pieces on the menu, gilded mirrors seem to be a mainstay in practically every Parisian apartment. The shape may vary, as does the level of detail, but generally speaking you’re looking for something oversized that can lean against the wall. This dresses up an empty corner perfectly, and adds just the right amount of flair to balance out what is, generally speaking, an otherwise casual look.
A massive gilded mirror is also a necessary tool for any self-respecting fashionable French woman, whose daily mirror selfies would be in mortal peril without something to frame them.
Step two is acquiring an assortment of vases—typically glass or ceramic, in a range of colors and shapes for a collected feel. This sunny yellow piece will brighten an empty mantel or bookshelf, and should be complemented only with a couple sprigs of a dried flower like lavender or larkspur to keep it from feeling too curated. Better yet, keep it empty. The bright citron hue is enough on its own.
No French femme apartment is complete without a healthy little fire hazard. Be it pillar candles left precariously half-burnt on the ground—nothing says “carefree” and “exciting” like the perpetual potential for flames—tapered candles, or seasonal scented candles, these decorative pieces add a cozy touch that makes any space feel instantly more lived-in. Try something a little unexpected, like these twisted yellow beeswax candles, for a more unique feel.
Preferably something you picked up on a recent Sunday morning jaunt to an artisanal flea market with your lover, Jean Claude; but if that isn’t in the cards for you, there are a slew of companies that sell vintage and antique rugs. Look for something shabby chic and faded, like this subdued mauve handwoven rug from Turkey.
As long as you regularly care for your antique rug, you’ll be able to preserve the original charm and feel of this piece for years to come. Keep it in your sitting room to anchor the space and warm up hardwood floors in the colder months.
You’ll need something to contain your fancy new candles, right? Look for something in an antique brass finish or a clean silver—it should have some detailing so as to look vintage, even if you purchased it from a retailer like Pottery Barn. Stagger the size of your candlestick collection for some visual intrigue, and maybe even keep one or two empty to really communicate that carefree “je m’en fous” quality we have come to expect from the coolest Parisiennes.
Rustic Farmhouse Table
The art of entertaining à la Française is carefully balanced. Decadent, delicious meals that inexplicably seem to require no effort, tablescapes that look simultaneously thrown-together and perfectly styled… the French dinner party is about elevated simplicity, and the starring role is held by the large rustic table that acts as the underpinning for every get-together. Something sturdy and unfussy that already looks broken in and will seat several guests is the way to go.
For the French girl, minimal attention seems to be paid to decorating the bedroom. There’s a bed, because air mattresses are decidedly not chic, but other than that this particular room appears to be one that’s generally left uncomplicated.
One thing that is emphasized, however, is splurging on bedding. It might look messy and undone, but really luxe bedding that doesn’t look expensive (stay far away from intricate patterns or textured accoutrements like tassels) is the way to go. The answer to mastering this lies with linen bedding—relaxed, stylish without being over the top, and meant to last. Opt for subdued tones, like a pale stone color or even a blush pink, for a timeless look.
An of-the-moment, trendier piece like a yellow velvet sofa, helps to balance out the older, more antique-looking items in a Frenchie’s living room. Plus, this golden yellow hue is particularly topical (haven’t you heard? Yellow is the color of the moment!) and instantly lends an opulent touch to any space. Adorn with a couple of mismatched throw pillows for a pop of color and modernity. With a sleek mid-century silhouette and plush material, this particular sofa is both cozy and sophisticated.
Search your Instagram feed: There is some variation of a demijohn (also called a carboy bottle) in literally every French it-girl’s home. Often left empty, sometimes containing strands of straw—which begs the question: Where is every Parisian finding these dried reeds? What does a French Lowe’s look like?—they’re situated in empty corners, on top of dressers, and in any area that needs a little finishing touch.
You can generally find these at an antique market, but if you’re more inclined to shop from your sofa, Etsy sells a few in different sizes and colors. Go classic with a deep green vase, or look for an amber-colored bottle if your personal style tends more towards warmer tones.
Some Form of Dried Plant
According to the French, live greenery can take a back seat. Instead, they’ve fully bought into the pampas grass trend, filling empty vases with dead plants of every variety and the occasional wildflower for a pop of color.
If you live near the countryside or somewhere where you can scavenge for your own natural decor, this is great news for your wallet. Pick your own wildflowers or feather grass for the grand price of $0, and dry them yourself. If you don’t happen to reside in provincial France, an online nursery (or the endless treasure trove that is Etsy) can help.
It appears that a penchant for mid-century modern furniture is an affliction that has extended to the other side of the Atlantic; the odd sleek, mid-century piece crops up in different forms in several French apartments, most commonly, in the form of a console. The perfect way to hide your unsightly necessities in style—even the most stylish of Parisians must have a secret trash drawer, right?—it’s an investment piece worth the splurge, for its timeless design.
We love a gallery wall, but the cohesive look and extensive planning required of a perfectly symmetrical display goes against every part of the nonchalant French girl doctrine. Instead, they tend to display anything from expensive artwork to sentimental mementos (like postcards or polaroids) in mismatched fashion.
Head to your local Goodwill or thrift shop to find a truly eclectic mix of frames, or pick up a melange of frames at Ikea and get creative with a DIY—try spray painting frames of different sizes and styles in one uniform color for a more personalized feel. Alternatively, head to Etsy to pick up a set of similarly hued frames and take the grunt work of the hunt out of the equation.
See more ways to live like the French: This French Girl-Approved Trend Is Actually Super Affordable Effortless Morning Routine Secrets We’re Stealing from the French Where Do French Girls Get Their Home Goods? We Investigate