Parisian style decor – interior designers share the secrets of this coveted cosmopolitan aesthetic

Parisian style decor is adored the world round. We talk to the designers to find out the definition of the quintessential style the French capital's iconic apartments

a large living room in a paris apartment
(Image credit: Stephan Julliard. Design: Le Berre Vevaud)

Parisian style decor is synonymous with elegance and cosmopolitanism. Though Parisian design represents a wide spectrum of styles, there's a certain look that comes to mind when thinking about properties in Paris. The city’s arrondissements are home to opulent apartments characterized by tall ceilings patterned with ornate ceiling roses, marble fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows that are flung open to reveal panoramic views. 

It’s a coveted look that is made possible by the architecture of the city, the wide boulevards designed by urban architect, Haussmann, who came to the city and redesigned its narrow medieval streets into something grand, a playground for the flaneur and a brand new landscape to be painted by the newly formed Impressionist artists of the late 19th century. 

Parisian style is hard to define, evoking that certain sense of je ne sais quoi. So who better than French interior designers to give us a rundown of what this modern interior design style is.

What is Parisian style decor?

Haussmann's typical apartment buildings are dotted around the French capital, from the Latin Quarter all the way up to the 18th arrondissement in the north.

‘Parisian homes are marked by a certain elegance which originates from the Haussmannian architecture, the prominent architectural style of Paris, so maintaining the DNA of the buildings is very important to us,’ says interior designer Stéphanie Coutas.

But Parisian style is more than just address, it evokes a timeless quality. It is beyond trends – instead a mood, a feeling.

'When you design a living room you’re living with it for 15 years,' says Pierre Frey of the eponymous French design house. 'It should last, it’s about timeless elegance.'

For those of us who don’t live on the fifth floor of a Haussmann building in the heart of the cosmopolitan capital, there' style a way to capture this mood. We speak to the interior designers in Paris, who fill us in on what the pillars of the aesthetic are that define Parisian homes today.

1. Juxtaposition of old and new

An historic Parisian apartment holds a statement modern sofa

(Image credit: Kasha Paris)

Key to Parisian decor is the celebration of the old and new in the same setting - embracing the ornate ceiling roses, the look and feel of an older apartment, but mixing it with the new and the contemporary. This juxtaposition is an art form, says Kathryn Ivey (opens in new tab) of the American design firm based in Paris, France, who uses her knowledge of the capital in designs for clients in Virginia as well as Paris. 

'Parisian style has a confident and free way of decorating that isn’t restrained by the past but rather celebrates the past by bringing it into the future,' she says.

‘It’s celebrating and maintaining the beautiful, historical bones of a building and then juxtaposing the ornate architectural details with furnishings and finishes that are more contemporary and rooted in early 20th and mid-century furniture. It’s the tension of old meets new that results in an interesting and personal interior.’

‘I like to keep a sense of tradition combined with the comforts of 21st century living in a Bohemian couture and artistic spirit. When working with Haussmannian buildings we like to preserve the crown mouldings to maintain a French look while adding contemporary touches through textures and colour palettes,' explains Stéphanie Coutas (opens in new tab)

2. Elegance meets function

Purple chair provides a functional yet elegant piece of furniture

(Image credit: Idha Lindhag. Design: Kasha Paris)

Another key interior aesthetic that is distinctly Parisian is the way interior designers merge practicality with aesthetic appeal. It’s about carving out a space in your apartment that serves its purpose while it works for your overall interior. ‘For the last two years, there has been a trend for elegant yet functional workspaces within our clients’ Parisian pied-à-terres,’ explains Betsy Kasha of Kasha Paris (opens in new tab), which renovates and restores historic apartments and updating them for modern living. ‘The ideal Paris apartment melds iconic character and elegance with practical luxury, making one feel transported, yet completely at home.’ 

The purple chair in this Parisian apartment, designed by Kasha Paris is from Cassina (opens in new tab), designed with ergonomics at the fore, and with a stool to match, it serves its purpose for laptops, resting - it becomes a diverse and flexible space. 

'The reality of home offices today - certainly in Paris - is that people are not looking to replicate their corporate offices. Instead, they want a quiet place in their apartment with a comfortable chair like this to sit with their laptop, iPad or phone to work,' adds Betsy. 

'The designated work place does not need to be large and complicated. On the contrary, a quiet nook is sufficient and does not interfere with the flow of the interior living space.  People want workspaces that are in harmony with the rest of the apartment.' 

3. Statement lighting

A statement light fixture hangs over a table

(Image credit: Stephan Julliard. Design: Le Berre Vevaud)

With floor-to-ceiling windows letting light in, the way Parisian interior designers use and play with the light is of crucial importance. From the way it filters through curtains, casts a golden glow on the walls and throws shadows off the cornice details and crown moldings, lighting is of critical importance in a Parisian apartment. 

‘We always pay particular attention to the lighting in apartments as a home must be beautiful every moment of the day,’ explains Stéphanie. ‘So the consideration of natural and artificial light is an important part of our job.’

As for statement lighting fixtures, designers go for the extravagant and ornate chandelier, or something modern, as seen in this example from Le Berre Vevaud (opens in new tab), an interior architect and design firm made up of Raphaël Le Berre and Thomas Vevaud—whose firm is located in the 16th arrondissement. Here, Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen’s paper lantern hangs above the table for an interesting dining room lighting idea. The table sits on a Le Berre Vevaud wool-and-viscose rug. The light fixture makes a statement and inspires with its cloud-like presence. 

4. Art Deco inspiration

Art Deco references in a Parisian apartment

(Image credit: Francis Amiand. Design: Stephanie Coutas)

The Art Deco design movement was one of the most stylish design oeuvres in the 20th century and Parisian interiors takes their cue from this style, known for glimmers of gold, rich colors and bold geometry. 

'Our designs are strongly influenced by the vivid colours and curved shapes of the Memphis movement with a reminiscence of Art Deco flair, paying particular attention to the interplay of precious textures and materials,' say Raphaël Le Berre and Thomas Vevaud of Le Berre Vevaud.'

'We tend to furnish our apartments with vintage pieces by French designers of the 1950s and 60s alongside designs from our own collection.' 

5. Luxurious materials

A marble kitchen

(Image credit: Francis Amiand. Design: Humbert & Poyet)

From kitchen countertops to bathroom walls, materials with an opulent feel, like bronze and marble are key to bringing that indulgent Parisian apartment feel. ‘I also work a lot with gypsum to add curves and softness to spaces as well as matt brushed marble stones,’ says Stephanie Coutas. ‘Brushed marble stones seem to be trending now and add a natural yet sophisticated element to the space.’

In this example from Humbert & Poyet (opens in new tab), a Monaco-based studio consisting of local Monegasque Christophe Poyet and Parisian Emil Humbert, the Asterios ceiling lamp marries bold geometry and frosted glasswork, shining a light on the countertop. A mostly marble kitchen is accented with touches of terrazzo, wood and copper, creating an avant-garde palette.  

'The kitchen’s design is classical in its essence with a clean and modern aesthetic,' Christophe says. 'The marble brings richness and presence to the space; the terrazzo flooring serves as an accent; the copper taps and cabinet handles highlight the other materials while delivering a sense of warmth.' The result is simple, elegant and refined.

6. Natural fabrics and textures

Fabric in a Parisian apartment

(Image credit: Pierre Frey)

Eco-friendly materials and sustainably produced soft furnishings are at the forefront of modern Parisian interior design. 

‘When I talk about Parisian interiors I think about textures and comfort more than anything else and even more than ever people are asking for textures  - mohair and jacquard, wool and linen, because sustainable living is in the mind of everybody,' says Pierre Frey of Pierre Frey Paris (opens in new tab), a design brand specializing in fabrics. 

'Clients want the natural feel too so when you touch the fabric it's soft and delicate and warm from the natural fibres. It’s about a call for nature in terms of warming up your interior and making it more welcoming. So many people realise that sitting in your living room for months at a time looking at your white walls, they want to have a more comfortable and welcoming interior. That’s about a reaction to the moment.' 

Yves Delorme (opens in new tab) is a French luxury linen brand that also has quality and natural fibres as a core focus. ‘We’re always about connecting with Mother Nature,’ says Richard Boyle, CEO of Fremaux Delorme. ‘From organic cotton bed linens, towels and robes to the designs featured on them. The spring/summer collection evokes freedom and bringing the outdoors in.'

7. Embracing wall space

Wall space is used as a canvas for blue paint in this Parisian apartment

(Image credit: Stephan Julliard. Design: Le Berre Vevaud)

Parisian apartments are characterized by tall ceilings and walls that act as blank canvases for an interesting mural, tapestry, clever paint ideas, or - an enduring inspiration for the city of Paris - piece of artwork. Embracing wall space is key to Parisian design, insists Pierre Frey.

‘There is also a playfulness that Parisian design welcomes whether it’s using a graphic wallpaper on the ceiling or painting the original Louis XVI paneling in a daring color,’ says Kathryn Ivey.

'Wallpapers are a big trend all across. More than anything we are seeing a lot of requests for murals or panoramic wallpapers. A strong wallpaper and a beautiful textured sofa and rug and warm colors work really work together,' adds Pierre.

8. Antique finds

A Parisian room is filled with trinkets

(Image credit: Thibault Pousset. Design: Kasha Paris)

Decorating an apartment using a mix of antique heirlooms - coffee table books, vases, lampshades - sourced at a Sunday flea market like the famous Porte de Clignacourt market in the north of the city, is another hallmark of the Parisian aesthetic. 

'Parisian interior designers are good at mixing their furniture,' says Pierre Frey. 'In Paris, it’s something that reflects the beauty of the architecture and the city. It’s about mixing the family furniture, mixing it with antique dealing and finding flea market finds for a reasonable price mixed with high-end pieces. It brings an elegance to a home.'

How to recreate Parisian style decor at home

It's hard to achieve without the framework in the architecture of a building, but recreating the mood of a Parisian apartment is something you can try at home.  To add this French flair to your interiors involved three key purchases, according to Betsy. 

'A large gold leaf mirror is quintessentially French. It can be placed over the fireplace (very traditional), hanging on the wall, or even leaning against the wall. If you can find an antique one with the original mercury glass intact, that’s even better!'

Next, a crystal chandelier. 'Antique, if possible. The best have a soft gilded finish, rather than a shiny, highly polished finish.  It can be an eclectic style, and anything with a lovely patina will work.'

'Once you have the beautiful mirror and chandelier, mix it with contemporary pieces. For example, an elaborate chandelier over a modern dining table is considered quite chic. Parisiens like unexpected combinations of furniture and accessories. Parisiens have fun with their decor!'

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.