The ultimate style guide to French interior design

Although French home design is continually evolving the style is based on fundamental principals that don't change. A liveable space with character is the essence of traditional French interior design. I have lived in France for over eight years and believe that comfort and personality are at the heart of the most beautiful French homes. 

Jean-Louis Denoit French interior design ideas

Days of effortless beauty

The most important principal of French interior design is l'art de vivre: making daily habits special. This is expressed through activities to do with enjoying where you are, like merging the great outdoors to your intimate world. For example, taking time over a meal outside or putting fresh-cut flowers throughout the house gathered from a local walk. The quotadian French style means being surrounded by beauty. But necessary for appreciating beauty is some time and things that encourage one to take time. Design choices that keep this in mind enable the French to create homes they love. An effortless en plein air breakfast involves some forethought: ideally comfortable outdoor settings, foraging baskets within easy reach, vintage and handmade ceramics on the table, and quality table linen. Fundamentally at play in French interior design are these three factors: comfort, practicality, and beauty.  French terrace climbing rose

Age-old time

Furnishing a home à la française happens over generations. It's not a project with an end-goal in mind, but rather a deep, life-long process that is felt and enjoyed as an end in itself. More often than not, objects in a French home once belonged to the current occupants' ancestors and will remain there to be passed on to future generations. The French home favors furnishings that the inhabitants have developed relationships with and in which past relationships are held so are likely to be vintage and antique pieces. These kinds of objects bring a depth and detail that reproductions can't. The pieces are crafted with expertise and love and have already lasted for generations. Classic décor such as gilded mirrors, antique commodes and Louis armchairs bring pleasure for years to come and in their effortless way, work in both modernised or traditional interiors.

Chandelier bathroom

Making everybody happy

Je vous en prie. Although your own taste primarily might guide your search, there is a high chance you will also be considering the preferences of others - your partner,  family members such as children, or a client. You most likely also will be deliberating how the object will work with the current furnishings (possibly your relatives' tastes), but also the interior in which it will be placed. It is often at this stage that the expertise and experience of an interior designer is called on.

Louis XVI armchair French interior decorating ideas

Stories you make

If you are passionate about outfitting your home yourself, however, those who follow French taste search until they find their dream décor. Often finding the perfect piece happens by chance while window-shopping and you intuitively fall in love. But how to find a large range of French furniture when you are not in France? Strolling through the online collections at Chez Pluie is a way to develop connections between you and an eclectic mix of beautiful objects and to start conceiving of possibilities for furnishing down the track. You can choose to stop by and recreate the antique and vintage treasure hunt via the collections on the Chez Pluie website whenever you feel like it, or the latest finds can drop into your inbox weekly if you subscribe. Consider the "Notable Pieces" as the equivalent of ambling through a local French village market. The antique and vintage pieces you will discover there all carry stories in them. Meaning comes from this and the connections you make with them, not only the stylish appearance and high quality of their production.

Vintage cutting boards antique pottery French kitchen decor


One fallout from acquiring vintage and antique items often is a strong desire to collect more of them. Juxtaposing the textures and patterns of different pieces of vintage pottery, or studying the unique traces and ranging shapes and sizes of old cutting boards can quickly become an obsession. It is no surprise to learn then that collecting is a favorite pastime in France. Objects displayed throughout the home reflect the personalities of the inhabitants past and present. It is as if ongoing conversations are happening amongst these old pieces and across the generations. I encourage you to explore open shelving in particular: bookcases and niches full of precious books, curios, or antique glassware, and discover their narratives to tell!

Helmkampf dining room

French Interior Design Inspiration

Beyond the big names, Jean-Louis Denoit, Joseph Dirand, Francois Catroux and Chahan Minassian - who all have left their permanent impression on French home style - there are many contemporary French interior designers who create beautiful, timeless, domestic spaces.

I have drawn inspiration from many local decorators here in Provence and further afield in Lyon, Paris and Belgium, including:

Royal Roulotte

Parisian interior design firm Royal Roulotte has a bohemian-chic style. Their welcoming homes expertly blend antique, mid-century, and modern furnishings. Trendy and super chic, this firm is concerned with creating visual harmony through balancing textures, motifs, and colors between furnishings and maintaining these connections throughout all the rooms of a home. The company is conscious about selecting furniture that is not only the most fashionable, but also the most comfortable and versatile for formal and informal usages. The bohemian interiors of Royal Roulotte favor strong contrast, for example: a sublime bedroom dominated by dark-hued walls to induce sleep, a white marble mantelpiece to break the dark and the wall behind the master bed covered in patterned tiles in shades of white, black, and pale browns, to bridge the dark walls and light fireplace. The bohemian-chic style is a blend of sophistication and classic furnishings from different epochs: modern, vintage, and antique carefully selected so they work together harmoniously. I have devoted a whole article to Royal Roulotte, see end of this post for more.

Marion Alberge

Paris-based interior designer, decorator, and set designer Marion Alberge is renowned for her restrained style and selection of antiques - she places one in each room. Alberge loves objects, their history, and assembling them to build new ones. Her zen interiors are created often by having white or pale painted walls and giving generous space for each furnishing. This both maintains a relaxed atmosphere and allows the inhabitant to appreciate each amazing vintage item or antique piece as a feature within a harmonious whole.

Marie-Laure Helmkampf

Born and raised in the South of France, Marie-Laure Helmkampf has a distinctly modern French style with beautiful earthy undertones. Light and the effects of light on objects is of primary importance to the designer. With a general vision of the overall project in mind, Helmkampf lets her projects evolve from there. She favors objects that suggest warmth and uses their colors and textures to link and contrast to the architectural elements of the house. Helmkampf creates elegant yet rustic French homes mostly in the French countryside, including modern farmhouses, village homes, and country cottages. Being a huge admirer of her projects, I have written an article just on her work, see end of this post for a link.

Walda Pairon

Walda Pairon is an influential Belgian designer whose interiors and gardens are tranquil and meditative. Pairon balances serene and lively colors to create a totally contemporary interior. She has a gift for combining colors and objects of curiosity. Translating her own words from the Dutch: "I work with materials, colors, shapes, objects and light with which I create new spaces. Light is very important in my work, it gives life radiance. I choose all my objects myself, they speak a clear language and become carriers of my soul. Furnishing homes is an intense form of communication with people, this is the essence and source of all my creations for me." Pairon looks for beauty in simplicity and timeless things, not in innovations for the sake of being new. For more inspired ideas visit our article, to which there is a link at the end of this post.

Dominique Lafourcade

The classic gardens and landscapes by Dominique Lafourcade will have you reaching for your secateurs faster than you can say topiary! Lafourcade describes himself as a passionate artist-landscape gardener. He has the native landscape in mind when he creates gardens in the south of France, but his color palette is guided in part by the mood and hue of the homestead's facade, doorways, and windows. His style is to combine the simple with the grand, visible in his geometrical garden beds and the sculptural forms that inhabit and echo them. His design principals are ones we can all follow regardless of whether our abode is a chateau or rustic cottage!

Marion Alberge Louis Philippe mirror bathroom demijohn

For more ideas on creating your French interior design style, browse the collection of timeless one-of-a-kind French furnishings and décor at Chez Pluie and subscribe to our newsletter for articles on lifestyle, homes, and design à la française


Image credit: Marion Alberge, Jean-Louis Denoit, Architectural Digest, Alec Hemer, Joe Schmelzer, Segreto Finishes

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1 comment

Lovely styling and decor guide… Thanks for sharing this post.

Aarsun Woods May 29, 2020

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