Have we grown weary of all the glossy magazines advising us on how to replicate French style, French cooking, French kissing? Zut! What is it about this culture that makes everyone so covetous? We may have some ideas…
Clockwise: Cover of ‘L’amante’ by Marguerite Duras, ‘L’arret De Mort’ by Maurice Blanchot, Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot, Serge & Jane Birkin, Francoise Hardy
If you ever question the love of France get comfy and google ‘Paris Syndrome’. Of particular susceptibility are young women. Apparently, the afflicted hold an idealized view of the country (Paris in particular) and when they travel there for the first time they’re struck when the chimera is revealed.
For us, this obsession with all things French began with literature. Did you go through that very earnest existentialist phase while making your way through the French classics? No? I thought I had the French culture figured out solely through their authors. It’s an obvious mistake, but a funny one at that. I wonder if the opposite is true for them? Are there any young French kids reading Emerson, Ginsberg or Fitzgerald and thinking they have a handle on American culture? Too bad society can’t be summed up in such a way. If only we could be as good or as complicated as the words of our lauded writers. Lately, a culture seems to be perceived (and maybe judged) more by what’s popular on television or the news. Yet, at least to me (an outsider) the French still seem like they’ve mastered this “art” of living well. And, although maybe a dream, perhaps we can still savor what we can from it. To that end, this entry is for all the happily seduced Francophiles. We’ve distilled a list of some of our favorite French interior designers and included tricks of the trade we think are exemplified in their work.
Resist over-styling. Sometimes in an effort to achieve a desired look we can throw in our full arsenal and to our misfortune end up with a contrived look that feels somehow fraudulent, like the space has been staged for a set display. With any artistic endeavor, it’s vital to know when a lighter touch is required. If true luxury is education, then realizing the history or quality of a piece and editing out whatever tries to obscure that message is the place to start. If you have a quality antique or you’re working with a gorgeous slab of marble maybe see if the piece wants to stand alone? Sometimes the beauty of an item can be swallowed by all the tchotchkes or elaborate ornamentation. There is an exception to all this and it begins and ends with your eye. Trusting yourself is a learned skill that becomes easier with practice.
Keep your favorite heirlooms center-stage. These are the instruments that invite questions. I think a room without a question is stale. We love when we see a space and our critics eye darts from accusation, to wonder to admiration. Be bold and keep Uncle Bob’s weird taxidermy if you like it. You have to sense when you should strike out with irreverence and hold solid as you weather the passing trends.
Preserve original architectural details whenever possible. The French teach a master class in this and yes, they do have a much larger pool to draw from but don’t let that discourage you. We in South Louisiana, and New Orleans, in particular are a bit more spoiled than the rest of the country in terms of architecture but even if your home looks like a Mies Van Der Rohe workshop, keeping classical architecture as your framework yields high rewards. We have immense respect for homeowners that properly restore classical architecture, It’s not without its’ pitfalls, to be sure but these historical relics are worth preserving to the very best of our capabilities.
Embrace contradictions. There is seldom a fully realized period home we see that we find noteworthy. It’s not that a period room can’t be lovely it just does’t smack of a ton of forethought. The careful accruing of your favorite pieces whether antique or otherwise feels more honest to us. Find furniture that strikes you and then let it be your template. You’ll be surprised at the seemingly discordant pieces that can work together harmoniously.