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Interiors: Harmony the key to French home chic

Jane Webster on the importance of colour and how to create a sumptuous salon

In France, grey is a much favoured country and city colour all on its own. Think of the shutters on Place Vendôme. I’m not talking about brutal mortar colour or concrete pavement grey here. This French grey is subtle and soft, with a blue or pink base. The colour is often used on painted furniture as well and gives it a wonderful weighted feel.

It is common to see a white base used as a colour and not as a neutral. French whites are never cold, bright or fluorescent looking. Antique or clotted-cream matt whites are chosen, which have true warmth and layered depth.

The French interpret colour very subtly and use it to tell a story, showing different hues at different times of the day. Paler colours are milky but still have depth. Strong colours are vibrant but never scream.

Traditionally these beautiful French colours were very much dependant on a region’s local colour pigments. When painting walls and furniture each region would use their local ingredients to mix pigments for the colour palette. Across France, traditional recipes for paint palettes included milky washes, lime washes and a greenish or grey-toned palette. When I think of the colour palette of Provence I imagine the olive groves, lavender fields and vineyards, and the enormous yellow sunflowers that turn their faces towards the brilliant Provence sun.

Whether you choose to use a warm or cool palette remember that harmony is the key. Colours should not be in competition or shout rudely at each other. As the Impressionist painters in France discovered, time of day, weather and pure natural light play an immeasurable role in influencing decorative colour palettes. Always strive to create a harmony of complementary elegant tones to create the perfect French effect.
After many trips to the Place Vendôme in every light of the day Pete was finally happy with the French grey that was to become our new shutter colour. In the end a very helpful guard gave him a scraping of a shutter that was under renovation to take away for a perfect colour match! The shutters of Bosgouet were taken form their ancient hinges and immersed in an acid bath to remove all traces of the old, white flaking paint before the beautiful new grey – with the tiniest hint of blue – was applied.

Le salon
A passion for elegance is at the very heart of every living space I create, and is inspired by the French joie de vivre. This inspiration comes in many forms. I have found that the best French interiors showcase a range of influences. It could be travel, history, poetry, art – whatever affects our lives.

My personal philosophy when decorating in the French style is that first and foremost the space, especially in the sitting room, must be liveable. I believe in buying impeccable quality and investing in very special pieces that will anchor the room and give it sophistication and authenticity. This is the way we give a room a soul. I adore those immaculate French rooms that are put together with precision and history, and where the furnishings match the period of the house. But I cannot live with them. The formality and rigidness of tiny, upright gilded chairs does not lend itself to the modern and relaxed way in which we live.

For my sitting room, I’ve always chosen oversized couches that look luxurious and are a haven on a cold Sunday afternoon, when the sun filters through the windows and the family is sitting and playing around me. I love to be surrounded by collections and colour that speak volumes about the personalities that make up our home. There is always a large silver tray piled with cups and saucers, sugar, creamer and a large white porcelain teapot. And stacks of books on French art, architecture, homes, gardens, travel and antiques that say so much about our interests and passions.

When planning your living space, choose colours that you love and don’t hesitate to be bold and brave. Look at your wardrobe for inspiration. What are you drawn to? Someone once said to me that every room should have a splash of red in it. It could be a group of accent cushions or a new piece of artwork. A juxtaposition of richly textured brocades, and mix various woods with marble. It’s this sort of diverse palette of fabrics, patterns and organic pieces that give a space soul and depth, and make for a truly French chic home!

French panelling
Boiserie is the term used to describe ornate or intricately designed wood panelling. The earliest examples were unpainted but later it was popular to paint their beautiful mouldings and also gild them. Our gilded sitting room at Château Bosgouet is a beautiful example of boiserie, and has been painted in a muted grey lime-washed palette with gilded edges. We have touched up damaged sections but will never totally paint over the French grey or the original guilding as it is this patina that makes it so alluring and extra special.

Well-designed or original wall panelling can bring a scale and proportion to a room or create a mood that cannot be obtained quite as successfully in any other way. From a purely practical perspective, boiserie can also incorporate concealed storage or even a secret door, as is so often the case in French chateaux.

Traditionally, boiserie panels are not just confined to the walls of a room but used to decorate doors and cupboards, and frame French windows and shelves. Boiserie can often include oil paintings or pictures, with the carving framing the picture rather like a conventional frame. Historically these beautiful and intricate wall panels were handcarved out of wood, which was possible in the 1700s when labour was cheap. These days, if you are really keen for a touch of boiserie in your home, then a trip to France to scour the antique markets is a must!

Parisian apartments and the Palace of Versailles are my picks to enjoy inspiration and fine examples of boiserie. If you wanted to incorporate a little boiserie into your own home you can often pick up pieces of panelling at flea markets.

Reader Offer

This text is extracted from French House Chic by Jane Webster, published by Thames & Hudson. Connexion readers can use the code Connexion10 at until January 31 2018 to get a 10% discount.


French retailers to lend your own home a touch of elegant flair. Prices and availability correct at time of going to press.

Clocking on

For a mantle or fireplace clock with an eye-catching touch of retro golden glamour, try this aluminium/stainless steel one from Kare Design, sold by Redoute. Height 15cm, width 9cm, length 31cm. €55.

Let there be light

This classic antique- look, ‘Belle Epoque’ table lamp features a glass base and gilded silk lampshade which diffuses indirect light around your salon. Relaxation guaranteed!
48cm tall, price €327.90.

Pale and interesting

An oversized, luxurious sofa, in a colour that complements your chosen palette, is just what you need to create French living room chic. This Corelli model from Poltrone (Italian with 40 shops in France) comes as a two-seater (168cm), ‘mid-sized’ (193cm) or a three-seater (218cm). Price on request.

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