You’ve bought the perfect home in France and now is the time to start renovations and decorating. But how do you create that perfect blend of personal “must haves” whilst retaining the property’s authenticity? Well, decorate like the French do, of course…
For many, one of the attractions of buying in France is, of course, the value for money offered by property prices here. For those living previously in towns in the UK, the size of properties of equivalent value often comes as a very welcome surprise. But, with space and size comes additional work. There is more to decorate, more space to fill and certainly more upkeep.
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Country houses are predominantly built of stone, with tiled or wooden floors rather than carpeted. So, rugs are a must-have. And, let’s not forget that brilliant invention – shutters! Designed to keep both cold and heat outside when closed but to let both in when open, curtains become practically superfluous other than for aesthetic reasons.
Bear in mind that with a very different style of property comes a very different lifestyle – one with outdoor living at the heart. The main time one expects to be enclosed in a house is during the depths of winter. So, keep this in mind when decorating and creating your livable space.
If you truly want to decorate like the French, the secret is to keep things simple. As with French style, fashion and lifestyle, never ever allow the end result to give the impression of being over engineered. Mix new and modern alongside vintage and antique pieces. And more importantly, allow your lifestyle, your personal choices and memories to shine through!
French style has never been about the show home look. It’s more about showing that the property is both lived-in and much-loved. The French are not huge trend followers, knowing that over time, these change. Don’t be tempted to over fill spaces, either. Instead, strategically place interesting items of furniture within areas of space to create corners of calm, relaxation and creativity. Mirrors and rugs are your chance to add accent, colour and that personal touch. Large mirrors add light and depth. Use those rugs to their best effect to create splashes of colour and personality. As well as this, chandeliers were invented to add that “soupçon” of opulence and glamour.
Many houses in France have stood for years and years, often passed down through generations. One of the most important facets of how to decorate like the French is to respect or highlight the original (sometimes quirky) features of the property. Stone window seats, fireplaces and almost booby-trap type tiny steps to create different floor levels are entirely common place in French properties. You’ll also find wooden beams, tongue and groove ceilings, and in some cases, even walls!
Of course there are numerous ways to modernise these original features. From sanding them down, repainting them with lighter colours or even adorning them with decoration. However, to try and change them is just not the “done” thing. The real trick is learning how to incorporate these original features into your practical way of living and make them beautiful to boot.
If you truly want to decorate like the French, the secret is to keep things simple.
In the UK, it may be commonplace to pay someone else to paint and decorate your new home. But if you truly want to decorate like the French, then think again. French people are generally much more hands on and au fait with DIY and house maintenance. After all, in the main, particularly in rural areas, they have to be. And registered tradesmen for this type of work can be costly. With older houses, the need for maintenance sometimes seems continual! So, the more you can learn to do yourself, the better for your budget.
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If you’re not the master of DIY but you would wish to be, now is your opportunity to grasp the chance to learn. However, please don’t be tempted to rush into pulling off what you imagine to be wallpaper. All too often, you will find this is actually lining paper, which has been placed there quite deliberately to render a smooth finish to the stone walls. It soaks up paint like no tomorrow, but it definitely serves a purpose. Those who have rushed to remove it usually find out that some of the wall has come off with it!
Paint is a constant source of consternation and often even bemusement to newcomers in France. Expat forums are full of animated discussion about the quality and price of paint here compared to the UK. I can assure you that paint can be found here just like anywhere else. And if you want to decorate like the French, why would you plan a return trip to the UK simply to buy it? In France, there are different regulations that apply to it, which could explain the price differential. Also, it is true that not painting over plaster is a very different animal to what we may be used to, but the result will all be worth it. After all, the majority of us didn’t come here for life to be the same as we have always known.
The French are not historically lovers of garish or bright paint colours, instead favouring muted tones and colours inspired by nature. But as with everything in France, times are changing and due to evolving trends, bright colours are now more accepted than previously. Despite this, formal dining areas still tend not to be the chosen place for experimentation.
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Due to the abundance of space in more rural properties, furniture is often fairly substantially sized and robust. If you truly want to decorate like the French, then large wooden sideboards and dressers are a must have. And if dark wood is not your thing, these can easily be recycled to create a more modern look. A lot of furniture is inherited in France and upcycling and recycling are of huge importance, as well as a popular pastime.
“Brocantes” selling furniture are common place in many villages, as are “Les Magasins Troc”. Also, do not forget concerns like “Emmaus”, which amongst other charitable functions, provide a network of social enterprises working for the recycling and reuse of textiles. You can find bargains galore on furniture, whether to upcycle to your own style, or simply install as is.
Of course, as in any other country, tabacs and presse agents are filled with decorating magazines bursting with creative ideas and trends. Some particularly popular ones are Art & Decoration Magazine and Elle Décor. As in the UK, lifestyle and decorating television programs are popular here, the most notable being La Maison France, shown on TV5.
So, now you have the blank canvas, get creative with your ideas. Just remember, don’t try too hard. Creating elements of authenticity, points of interest, conversation topic starters and the lived-in look are the real aims of how to decorate like the French.