French Design Decoded - une femme d'un certain âge

French Design Decoded

French Way With Design

Images from The French Way with Design by Betty Lou Phillips

Autumn is a season marked by a return to old routines and perhaps the thrill of some fresh wardrobe items. But for me it’s also the time when my attention turns to home, as we prepare for holidays and celebrations that occur over the next few months.

I don’t post many pictures of our home, mostly because our “decor” such as it is, is haphazard, and accidental. Yes, we have some vintage posters that le monsieur had beautifully framed, but almost everything else in our space is a result of practicality and finding space for inherited furniture and knickknacks. And the combination of a small space, a special needs teenager, dogs and a schedule that doesn’t allow for a lot of time spent cleaning and arranging, has areas in a rather constant, if evolving state of disarray. I’ve mostly been content to let it ride until it’s time to host a family gathering, when we scramble to organize and put away the detritus and remove the dog covers from the furniture.

As much as I appreciate beautiful interior design, out of necessity it hasn’t been a high priority for me. But immediately upon opening this absolutely gorgeous book by “The French Way With Design” by Betty Lou Phillips, I was bitten by decorating bug. Unlike a lot of gorgeous spaces one sees in design magazines and websites, most of the rooms and gardens in this volume look like they are meant to be actually lived in. Aside from stunning and inspiring images, the book is also chock full of how-do-they-do-it tips, from materials to use of space to attitudes about blending old with new, and appreciating a certain patina that comes from time and wear.

Furniture artfully set on an angle opens up a room. Placing pieces on a diagonal, or simply angling an armoire, for example, in the corner rather than pushing it against a wall reflects the influence of the French, who have a talent for thinking inventively when it comes to crafting areas stylish and smart.

Harmony is more important than conformity. While some in the States crave five-piece place settings of the same china, our French cousins do not. In fact, most frown on matching sets of anything.

Still, unassuming elegance must mingle with ease. So even tightly edited spaces host heroic-sized family portraits, photographs in frames, pillows, throws, candles and freshly cut flowers arranged en masse. Heaped high on coffee tables roomy enough to hold chessboards are well-read books. Often noticeably absent, however, are plants, as many feel they should be relegated to outdoors.

If you’ve ever sighed with bliss over images of a French country house or a casually elegant Parisian apartment, you’ll absolutely swoon over this book. And for those for whom it’s not too early to start thinking about special holiday gifts, this gorgeous book should be high on your list of unique gifts.

I received a copy of this book for review.
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  1. GingerR
    September 10, 2014 / 3:48 am

    I’m a fan of the Apartment Therapy website which has provided me with a lot of inspiration. One of the best things I picked up there was the idea that you should re-arrange things in your house frequently. I’m quick to add items to my wardrobe, but when it comes to my home if it isn’t broken I’ll often leave it the way it is, sometimes for years.
    With the influx of my departed mother-in-laws home items my closets and basement are full of stuff. The missive to re-arrange and/or re-style my home has been helpful. i almost always end up cleaning out hidden away corners and shopping my closet(s) and basement in major ways. Pinterest is a great place to get links to decorating blogs. Start small and dust on!

  2. September 10, 2014 / 5:06 am

    Another big fan of Apartment Therapy here. I love a slightly rumpled, lived-in look and your new book looks terrific for ideas.

  3. Rita
    September 10, 2014 / 7:08 am

    Frequent re-arranging of furniture makes it easier to keep your house cleaner, as you get a chance to clean thoroughly under the large pieces. Of course, some spaces lend themselves to re-arranging more than others. If nothing else, you can change the pictures around.

    I’m glad to see the comment about not having houseplants. I’ve always felt plants are better outside. Most interior spaces aren’t the best environment for them, so they get to be high-maintenance, unless you have a really good space for them.

  4. KPL
    September 10, 2014 / 5:44 pm

    As an ex-interior designer, the idea of rearranging furniture seems so odd to me. Small things yes, but usually the large pieces have their place in a home, so I can’t imagine doing that. I do love that the French, and other European countries appreciate the character an old patina on pieces gives it. Love mixing dishes etc. as well. I’ll take a look at this book the next time I’m in a bookstore, looks good.

    • une femme
      September 11, 2014 / 5:32 am

      KPL, and who has the time to regularly re-arrange furniture? That’s a two person (at least) job.

  5. Paula L Lusk
    September 10, 2014 / 10:39 pm

    I just happened upon your blog a few weeks ago, and I really like it. I am a black and white and denim, with nice accessories woman, and I don’t care what anyone thinks! lol I enjoy the fact that you share your outfits and where you purchased them. I like the point you made about having to clean and organize your home when company is coming, I thought I was ‘the only person in the world that does this’, hardly, haha.
    Thank you for sharing. Bon nuit.

  6. September 11, 2014 / 12:05 pm

    You might like to look at the site with some of the pictorials and information from a family of décor and architectural design magazines from France: Côté Sud (the first), Côté Ouest, Côté Est and Côté Paris. I tend to peruse them at the library here. (Note that there is no “Côté Nord”; I think that has negative associations in France: northern locales in France and neighbouring countries are divided between East and West).

    In Paris, and other major French cities, most dwellings are too small for much furniture on the diagonal. I have friends who are both professors, who have a lovely flat, and beautiful old furniture, but the rooms are not very large. Very different in the countryside.

    I don’t have a lot of houseplants, but treasure those I do, my ficus tree in the kitchen/dining room and my jade plant in the office. I have a lot of natural light where they are located and they seem happy. But in la nouvelle France, our winters are long and hard, with nothing but white death (or grey during thaws), so it is necessary to have something green and living inside.

    I’ve met people from tropical countries who couldn’t understand the importance of indoor plants here, and in Amsterdam (where the winters are long and grey). And yes, matchy-matchy is not a good thing in French décor…

    • September 15, 2014 / 7:20 am

      Adorable, I can just imagine moving furniture and collectables around found at the ever so chic Brocante markets in the South of France, with the smell of freshly baked croissants coming from the country kitchen, with all sorts of copper pots hanging from the ceiling! Great post Susan!

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