5 French Design Rules That Will Help Your Home Feel as Chic as a Parisian Townhouse

We asked Parisian interior designers for the secret to what makes their designs feel so effortlessly stylish — these are the rules they live by

a modern living room with a curved sofa
(Image credit: Yvan Moreau. Design: Juan Fabrice)

There's a magic to French interior design that feels so chic, without trying too hard. It's an effortlessness - a je ne sais quoi - that homes around the world aim to capture. But what exactly is it that sets these spaces apart?

Some of it, undoubtedly, comes down to the types of buildings these designers have to decorate — the beautiful proportions and original features that are hard to match. 'French design, particularly that of the capital, is characterized by recognizable classical décor at first glance,' Parisian interior designer Fabrice Juan tells us. 'Herringbone parquet floors or plaster mouldings and cornices in the style of the 18th century are very common and allow for unparalleled bridges between past and present.'

Without these features to fall back on, is it possible to really capture the spirit of what makes French modern interior design what it is? We asked interior designers based in the French capital what exactly makes Parisian design what it is, and what we can learn from it for our own homes.

1. The power of the understatement

a modern kitchen in a parisian apartment

(Image credit: Heidi Jean Feldman. Design: Lichelle Silvestry)

The secret behind effortless style lies in subtlety. 'Living like a true Parisian goes beyond aesthetics,' explains interior designer Lichelle Silvestry. 'It is a lifestyle characterized by effortless sophistication and refined liveability.'

'At the core of French design lies the understanding that true elegance is about understatement,' the designer adds. It's the essence of quiet luxury — design that's elevated and expensive-looking in its simplicity, not its ornateness. 'Parisians highly value discretion and consider ostentation to be out of touch,' Lichelle says. 'The allure of the Parisian lifestyle comes from the subtle nuances that capture the essence of living well with grace and freedom.'

'Parisians have a natural appreciation for quality over quantity, as well as for craftsmanship and attention to detail,' Lichelle says. 'This is evident in the beloved aspects of Parisian life, such as its food, fashion, and home decor.'

2. The contrast between simple and expressive

a modern french living room

(Image credit: Francis Amiand. Design: Elliott Barnes)

Whether dealing with historic housing stock and classical features, or a more modern property, these are spaces that hang on the balance of contrast between old and contemporary, minimalist, but with flourish.

'I feel much of my work promotes a modern Parisian spirit or aesthetic,' says interior designer Elliott Barnes. 'That is to say the interior volumes are very drawn and precise, which then leaves the opportunity to be quite expressive with furniture, art or other decorative items.'

'This play or contrast between clean spaces and more articulate objects allows the possibility to combine differing styles and even scales,' the designer adds. 'Moreover, the interiors stay fresh because the objects can be easily moved around of changed.'

3. Embracing culture

a modern parisian living room

(Image credit: Stéphanie Coutas)

For interior designer Stéphanie Coutas, French interior design is informed by its setting. 'I think we have a “French touch” through our culture, love for art, and our beautiful Haussmann buildings,' Stéphanie says. 'Our architecture is unique and the way we design spaces is inspired by the DNA and history of the city that surrounds us.'

French design is exported all over the world, so if you want to bring a sense of authenticity to channeling decor that encapsulates this DNA, keep an eye out for designs and pieces from heritage and modern French brands.

4. Respecting symmetry

a dining room with symmetrical lamps

(Image credit: Yvan Moreau. Design: Juan Fabrice)

For some modern interior designers, asymmetry is a tool that separates modern from classic interior design. However, in Parisian design, symmetry in interior design is something that bridges the old and new. 'There's a certain symmetry quite unique to Parisian decors where every element is carefully thought out, such as the design of the ceilings,' Fabrice Juan explains. 'There can also be theatricality or perspective play with the presence of tall double doors that can be kept fully closed, open, or slightly ajar.'

5. Entertaining spaces

a hotel sitting room in a parisian hotel

(Image credit: Stephane Julliard. Design: Aline Asmar d’Amman)

Parisian design isn't without its exuberance either, and part of how culture influences design in the city's home is in how homes are designed to accommodate guests.

'Entertaining with elegance and a zest of irreverence are natural attributes of French attitude and interiors,' says Parisian interior designer Aline Asmar d’Amman. 'French art de vivre is all about the festive feeling and lifestyle, mixing the old and new.'

'I had this on my mind when I interpreted the Salon Marie Antoinette at Hôtel de Crillon during the palace’s epic renovation, inspired by the audacity and joy of the irreverent queen,' Aline adds. 'Her best attribute is said to be ’the first Parisian’, a legend who still inspires the world from fashion to design.'

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Luke Arthur Wells
Freelancer writer

Luke Arthur Wells is a freelance design writer, award-winning interiors blogger and stylist, known for neutral, textural spaces with a luxury twist. He's worked with some of the UK's top design brands, counting the likes of Tom Dixon Studio as regular collaborators and his work has been featured in print and online in publications ranging from Domino Magazine to The Sunday Times. He's a hands-on type of interiors expert too, contributing practical renovation advice and DIY tutorials to a number of magazines, as well as to his own readers and followers via his blog and social media. He might currently be renovating a small Victorian house in England, but he dreams of light, spacious, neutral homes on the West Coast.