PENNY ALLEN EXPLAINS THE ‘JE NE SAIS QUOI’ WHICH EMBODIES PARISIAN CHIC – THE CAPITAL OF FRENCH STYLE
It’s hard to think of Paris without Coco Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent coming to mind – classic symbols of glamour and sophistication that we associate with the city on the Seine. For others, the Bohemian art scene made famous by Renoir and Lautrec or the rich architecture is what distinguishes Paris from other European cities.
The co-existence of glamorous sophisticates and laidback bohemians make Paris a stimulating place to explore and the city beckons us to get under its skin. Lovers linger here, artist’s sketch and the rest sit back and enjoy the Parisian art de vivre.
Paris’ beauty is celebrated in endless paintings and books as well as a multitude of films – remember Bogart’s famous line to Bergman in Casablanca: “We’ll always have Paris”? Even Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw finally gets together with big on the Pont des Arts. Some say that Paris is the most romantic city in the world.
Each arrondissement has its own unique character, combining rich heritage with contemporary lifestyle and culture. However, walk down any Parisian street and you will observe that privacy is paramount; Parisians tend to live very much behind closed doors.
Because so little of Parisian home life is visible to the outside, we find ourselves wondering just how the locals live and whether the grand facades are carried through to their interiors. The typical image of a Parisian apartment is one of high ceilings, grand architectural details, tall windows and small wrought-iron balconies.
The romantic ambience of the city can’t fail to influence those living there and is clearly reflected in the way that interiors are ‘designed’. I use this term loosely, as the beauty of most Parisian homes is that they feel effortlessly decorated rather than contrived in style. That is not to say that a savvy designer wouldn’t be able to create a well-designed ‘lived in’ room scheme.
Reconciling past to present is integral to French style. Parisians do not tend to set trends or follow specific fashions but are able to create timeless design in their homes by mixing heirlooms with bright contemporary pieces. Those who practice traditional skills are highly sought after with many dying crafts still in existence in Paris. For instance, in a small workshop in the 10th arrondissement, you will find Mme Dorget and her son Réné Yves producing trimmings of exceptional quality. This is the last traditional passementerie workshop still in existence in the city. Tassels, tie-backs, fringes, ribbons and rosettes made from natural silks are handcrafted for private clients and designers across the world.
RECREATING THE LOOK
For those of us looking to tap into those traditional skills and recreate Parisian style in our own homes, there are tips that we can draw upon, even if we are not blessed with high ceilings and tall windows. Perhaps we can create the illusion of taller windows by choosing our window treatments more carefully. For instance, by adding a pelmet to the top of a window, you can deceive the eye into thinking that the window sits higher. Only ever use long curtains as this will elongate the window further (in my opinion, short curtains, especially in a main reception room, are a bit of a no-no anyway).
Furniture and accessories should have a time-worn elegance and a vintage look. For a more formal scheme, chairs, tables and armoires painted in black, grey or cream work wonderfully well when embellished with antique gilt decoration. They blend beautifully with dark, carved wood and, when combined with rich, reflective silks and luxurious velvets, give an interior a sense of grandeur. Throw in a large contemporary piece of art and you have successfully created your own unique interior scheme with a design edge!
Lighting is also key. For ultimate Parisian luxury, consider using wall sconces with black silk shades. Crystal chandeliers suspended from high ceilings add a real glamour to a room and lower-level lighting in the form of table lamps creates an intimate atmosphere. If your ceilings are too low for a chandelier then use glass candle sticks and holders with droppers to add glamour.
A vintage gilt mirror, stone garden statues and lovely old clocks are perfect to create that past-into-present appeal. Soften off with woollen throws, silk and wool cushions and some statement flower displays.
Parisian style is chic, glamorous and timeless but always comfortable and practical. After writing this piece, I am so inspired that I am now saving my euros to buy my own little Parisian pied-á-terre!