How to Get French Style at Home

By Abbe Wright

Photos: Jonny ValiantGive an Old Piece a New Home

"French style is all about being creative and incorporating some surprise into a room," says Erin Swift. For instance, you could bring an armoire-like this Napoleon III bibliothèque from 1860-into the bathroom, where it can serve as a linen closet to hold toiletries and extra towels.

Box Yourself In

"A plain room can really benefit from decorative molding," says Swift. If crown molding along the ceiling gets pricey, add molding to the walls. "Measure out squares or rectangles on your walls and have a home-improvement store cut thin molding to your specifications," she says. "Some people choose to paint theirs white, and the wall a darker color, but I like everything the same. It's easier to execute-and visually interesting without being distracting."

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Go a Little Wild

In France, taxidermy is considered an art form, and some of the finest examples come from Deyrolle, a famous Parisian taxidermy shop that's been in business since 1831. If exotic mounts aren't exactly your thing, Swift suggests other wildlife inspirations, such as plaster casts, stone sculptures or, in this case, 19th-century Japanese metal cranes.

Find Your Balance

Swift says the way the French collect and arrange objects comes down to one fundamental principle: Balance. As she notes, it's related to symmetry but isn't quite the same thing. Start with objects of similar visual "weight." In this case, that's a lamp opposite a marble bust, with the remaining objects (books, plants, architectural fragments) arranged in between.

Bring the Outside In

"Café chairs or wooden tables look just as great in a kitchen as they do on the patio," says Swift. The overall feeling-as with these art nouveau wrought-iron dining chairs-is unexpected and brings a bit of the Parisian café indoors.

Lean In

"Not all art must hang on the wall," says Swift. You can achieve a looser look by leaning an artwork against a wall (whether it's on a table, mantel or even the floor). You'll want to cluster smaller pieces to keep them from looking haphazard, and secure them with museum wax, double-sided tape or a hook.

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Steal the Parisian Sun

"The light in Paris is of a particular quality," says Swift, "in part because the city sits on a latitude that's north of most of the US, and in part because it bounces off the many limestone buildings. To get that je ne sais quoi, she suggests choosing cooler paint colors that have a grayish tint.

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