How to Decorate your Paris Apartment
Sometimes the highly fashionable and ever so stylish nature of Paris puts pressure on one to be both of those things. I’ve found this pressure can even trickle down into ones living space; with the never-ending desire to have the oh, so, classically Parisian lair that we’ve seen in movies.
I understand not everyone has the luxury of calling in the home decor professionals when its time to update the home space. I’m here to tell you you can create your own je ne sais quoi from scratch — no professionals needed!
You’ll find everything you need right on the streets of beloved Paree — as utterly cliche as that may sound. If you’re ready to own a home that ticks all the fabulous French boxes — read on!
Keep it Classy!
If theres one thing to be careful of when decorating a Paris apartment, its identifying that fine line between classy and kitsch!
It’s easy to slip between one and the next. Sometimes classic French decor boarders so close on the tacky spectrum one has to reel it in with specific pieces just to counter the kitsch.
A velvet couch, for example, can work well in a classic French space provided it exists in moderation. A velvet couch next to velvet curtains is enough to make one’s skin crawl.
Being able to decipher between kitsch or not is skill that I believe takes years of practice — not something a first time apartment decorator needs to worry about.
I’ve found that the easiest way to decipher between whether or not an item of furniture is classic or cheesy is to imagine the most elegant spaces in Paris and what that specific item would look like if it were added to said space.
For this to work you, of course, need some sort of context. The Palace of Versailles is a consistently good reference to work with as it is widely considered one of the most exquisite interiors in the world. You can visit as a day trip from Paris in under an hour .
While Versailles is unfathomable at best, my personal preference for frame of reference is the Jacquemart-André Museum in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. Inside this mansion is the old home of Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart — a couple who spent their married life traveling the world acquiring interior objects for their home in Paris.
Having this kind of reference to refer back to when deciding whether or not a piece of furniture should be added to your space makes a big difference. If Édouard and Nélie wouldn’t have included it in their French masterpiece, then maybe its best left out of your own apartment as well.
Of course this is entirely dependent on how classically French you want to go with your space. Modern living in Paris is a lot more common than you might realize.
Many of the 18th and 19th century buildings around the city have undergone some sort of restoration and renovation periods in order to comply with building safety. Having modernized interiors made way for more western styles of furniture, decor and feng shui.
While I’ve seen some beautiful, classic French homes during my time in Paris, I’ve also seen some equally as mind blowing modern apartment spaces where the classic theme has been totally erased.
All comes down to taste, ma chérie.
Get Inspiration from the City of Paris
Decorating a home is a form of self expression; it’s a form of art.
Art requires inspiration in order to manifest into something tangible (most of the time) and the process of decorating a Paris apartment isn’t any different.
Thankfully, living in the city that you do, one simply needs to walk outside and let the home decor inspo commence.
Most of the architecture in Paris has been preserved to reflect the original Haussmann style work that it was created in years ago. Georges-Eugène Haussmann was commissioned by Napoleon III to handle a pubic works program that was centered around reconstruction and improvements to the city of Paris.
Many of the parks and plazas around the city today are all products of the changes put in place by Haussmann and his team. The “classic” French architecture that we know and love is also part of this period of reconstruction.
Taking a walk through neighborhoods such as Le Marais and Montmartre will give you the dose of French class that you need in order to put together your home’s interior.
If you enjoy receiving history on architecture as opposed to simply walking aimlessly through town then consider joining one of the many free guided walking tours that take place around the city. You’ll have the option of venturing through neighborhoods such as Le Marais and Montmartre as mentioned, or even Pigalle, Notre Dame and Saint-Germain.
Observing the way the buildings work in their symmetry and precision will filter into the decisions you make when it comes to placement of items in your home. Identifying the soft tones and natural light that bounce between the structures will inspire you to recreate this in your apartment in attempt to capture the same amount of peace for your living space.
Essentially, you’ll want to combine the inspiration you find on the streets of Paris with all of the elements you favor in vicinities just like the Jacquemart-André Museum — or the equally as magnificent Museum of Cognacq-Jay located in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris.
Recycle — and Up-Cycle
As a collective society we have become increasingly trapped in this cycle of consumerism and the need to have everything new new new. This is a vicious loop but can be easily broken with a little bit of thought and consideration around where we put our money.
If you know where to go, Paris has some of the finest second hand stores and thrift shops in the world. Everything from clothing to furniture to ornaments; even recycled vintage wallpaper in some parts.
A classic Parisian home requires classic Parisian pieces; and most of the time this entails having been previously owned by those long gone before you.
Rue de Rosiers in Le Marais has an abundance of stores from which to thrift your apartment interior. The pieces here are, however, usually considered collectors items and run with a price tag to match.
I’ve found many a great piece at the salvage stores in the Oberkampf neighborhood. Cost of good here are low; I once bought an entire armchair for just €10.
Markets are another great place to hunt down bargains to build your home from scratch. When it comes to home decor it is my firm belief that the Marche aux puces de Saint-Ouen is the only place worth visiting.
Unlike the rest of the markets around Paris (where you can find some gems, don’t get me wrong) this market isn’t so much concerned with food and groceries as it is fabulous collectables and unique apartment pieces. It’s open Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.
I encourage you to keep up-cycling in mind when going on your furniture hunts. While a piece may not be exactly how you’d like it, or up to scratch quality wise, there is always an opportunity to have it cleaned, resurfaced, rebranded or completely deconstructed into something new.
You’ll rarely have these kinds of opportunities in life where and entire space is open to your creativity — make the most of it. I’ve seen people purchase old, tatty frames from a market on the bank of the Seine and turn them into a full set of shelves; or old church pews remodeled into kitchen nooks.
My point is, even without an expendable budget, everyone in Paris has access to unique and exquisite home interiors that doesn’t necessarily come from one of the high end home decor stores around the city. While your vintage mid-century, plush wood couch may not be Roche Bobois Summer 2019, it’s sentiment is as valid if not better!
Avoid the temptation to require everything in your home to be new and unused. In Paris we move things from place to place; home to museum, museum to home; even turn homes into museums occasionally. Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Something I’ve been in conversation about recently is the growing popularity of websites such as Airbnb. If you’re not already familiar, Airbnb is a public site where any individual can put their personal space up for rent whereby travelers from around the world can apply to stay in the advertised space.
More and more home owners in Paris are looking for ways to maximize their space to make it more suitable for the Airbnb platform. It’s a great way to add an extra form of income to ones monthly cash flow.
It becomes wise for individuals decorating a Paris apartment to do so not so much with the intent to put it on Airbnb but at least with the potential to do so should the desire arise in future.
In doing so, it becomes important to properly consider space and the objects that fill it. You may, for example, opt to invest in a sleeper couch for your living room as opposed to a regular armchair sofa. A sleeper couch instantly adds an additional bed to the space and leaves an open ended opportunity to invite guests into one’s home.
Something I learned through some Airbnb experiences of my own was how apartment owners living with roommates will decorate both their and their housemates room in a similar, simple way. They will then put both rooms up on the Airbnb platform and wait for guests to bite.
When one room is booked out, both housemates move into the unbooked room and share it for the duration of the guest’s stay. And vice verse.
For this to work one’s apartment needs to be notably uncluttered and furniture kept to the bare minimum. Guests are more likely to choose a space that looks light and spacious, as opposed to one that doesn’t seem to have gaps for even a suitcase.
Parisian apartments are notoriously small so any opportunity to maximize space should be seen as a welcome priority.
Sit Back and Enjoy
Now that you’ve scoured the streets for abandoned objects, made your way through every market in the district and invited strangers into your home — it’s time to sit back and bask in the world you’ve created for yourself.
I hope you’ll take equally as much time curating your communal spaces as you would your private ones; a well decorated Parisian home is a one way ticket to all the dinner parties, house parties and afternoon balcony teas you can imagine.
No doubt you’ll find yourself with less and less desire to leave the house — especially during the cold wintery months!
If you take anything from this article let it be that you allow your home to actually be lived in. There are enough exquisite Parisian homes around the city in which people are too scared to sneeze for fear they may shift something out of its place.
Allow everything you’ve created to be your home. And make it a home to all who enter thereafter. Physical objects can be replaced.
Having a space in Paris to call your own is a dream for many romantics around the world. A safe, personal space with a backyard containing attractions such as the iconic Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and the Cathedral of Notre Dame — quelle chance?
And having the opportunity to decorate said space from scratch — well, that’s a whole other level of fantasy. Enjoy!