Lessons in Living a French Life

Everyone deserves something beautiful

Creating Your Vintage French Design Style

Interior DesignKaren KrieblComment

"An empty room is a story waiting to happen, and you are the author." -Charlotte Moss

 Walking the beautiful cobble stone streets of Mirmande in Drôme, France last month.

Walking the beautiful cobble stone streets of Mirmande in Drôme, France last month.

France is a magnet. Her summer perfume of fig trees and lavender captures my imagination. I am drawn to small Burgundian towns of sixteenth-century houses with their handmade tiled roofs and forgotten rooms behind closed shutters. Medieval stone walls hide secrets of past gardens and I lean in to take a glimpse. My head is full of ideas and expectations of my new home in France. I know that it will manifest itself in time and I’m ready to receive. Ready to create a space that is both fulfilling for my family, and warm and welcoming for special guests.

I visualize what my petite maison might look like. I am already placing not-yet-found chairs into corners and designing pillows with long-ago-purchased vintage fabric. It takes time. It is a discovery of what I love and how to put it together in a way that is pleasing to my eye and appreciated by others. I jot ideas and visions of future spaces in my notebooks. I have gathered thousands of images and neatly organized them on my Pinterest boards. Reflecting on my notes, I decide to define my style and design philosophy. It is not about a formula, rather more of a feeling. 

My design style certainly is French. I don’t mean that in an over-the-top Rococo decor or French provincial bedroom set that I coveted as a young girl in the 1970s kind of way. And saying something is "french" is broad in its description because France is a large country with varied regional cultures. A half-timbered house in Alsace has a very different feel than a stone farmhouse or Mas in Provence. But there is a common thread. By French style, I mean that I am inspired by my love of France. Her culture’s emphasis on “slow living.” The importance of beauty and quality and history over price point and accumulation and replacement. I love a gentle curve. A touch of “rustic” where the emphasis is on simple, natural materials rooted in everyday objects. French decor is often about restraint. Being sure that the attention is on the architecture of a room and the view that lies just beyond. For me, there is a balance between a refined, well-edited design, and the sensuousness of texture and warmth of comfort. French style is about livability first and foremost.

 The simplicity of a neutral color palette allows one to appreciate the little things: Vintage hardware, texture of fabrics, and objects such as a rustic, antique mirror just beyond the doorway.

The simplicity of a neutral color palette allows one to appreciate the little things: Vintage hardware, texture of fabrics, and objects such as a rustic, antique mirror just beyond the doorway.

My French style focuses on simplicity. I love simple interiors that are not cluttered by too many “things.” I do not like to be distracted by collections. I like objects to be useful, well organized, and artfully placed. I enjoy the practice of editing. It can be challenge given that I love a good brocante and hunting for vintage European finds. Yet, taking time to cultivate and create a comfortable and beautiful home that is not “stuffed” with things is as important to my well being as any other health practice. I am defined by my “nest.” When a room is organized and aesthetically pleasing, I feel calm and good about myself.

 I love old crocks. Big or small there is a place for them in my home. Form and function. They look great doing a multiple of tasks. Holding potatoes in the pantry. A spot for my yarn stash. And certainly in the garden where they are stunning in their simple form providing the right vessel for an olive or kumquat tree. 

I love old crocks. Big or small there is a place for them in my home. Form and function. They look great doing a multiple of tasks. Holding potatoes in the pantry. A spot for my yarn stash. And certainly in the garden where they are stunning in their simple form providing the right vessel for an olive or kumquat tree. 

When I select something to become a part of my home, quality and functionality are key. I look for things that are well made and beautiful. I adore simple everyday objects that show the hand of the artist who created it and the individuals who utilized it. Often, it is the texture and color that draw me in. I like clean lines and something that is not overly adorned. However, there are exceptions to the rule. An antique wooden carved scoop spotted at a market in Burgundy is filled with pattern. But, it is symmetrical in composition and provides rest to the eye. It hints at a history with its markings. I know that it will be both purposeful and exquisite against the backdrop of white flour in an old, clear, glass jar ready to surprise and delight whomever might enter the pantry. French vintage finds that are both functional and beautiful are the core of my design aesthetic. 

For interiors to work, everything must connect to each other and communicate a similar story. It is not about “matchy-matchy” of specific time periods or styles. On the contrary, the space hints to the things that have shaped my creative journey over time. I gravitate to antiques because there is a history to them and I want to be a part of their story. Taken together, these objects hint to what I value. It is not the quantity that is important; rather, it is their use and beauty that I cherish. Certainly, my childhood travels to visit relatives in France have nurtured my aesthetic style. Rooms I create give attention to detail but they also tell the story of a desire to live a slower paced life, connected to family. My home conveys to those that visit that while some might be lost in a new cultural surrounding, I thrive and incorporate each new discovery into my interiors.

For objects to tell their story, it is important to have a neutral background. I am very restrained when using color. While I have expanded beyond “Doric White” on every wall, I still desire a neutral palette. I see a richness in delicate warm hues - milky creams, soft blue greys, a hint of blush, a slight touch of apricot, muted olive greens . . . used oh so sparingly. You will not find color on my walls. I much prefer the patina of aged plaster or better yet, an exposed stone wall.  More tales are revealed. You will find color in the fresh cut flowers in a cream ironstone pitcher on a time-worn farmhouse table. There will be a hint of color in a beloved painting that I greet each time I enter a room. You will find it in the garden just beyond the window which you can notice because the eye is not held prisoner in a brightly, jarring, patterned room. By nature we want to see what is beyond one space into another. If we clutter an interior with distractions, we are left unsettled.

 I use color in small amounts so as not to overwhelm a space. A vintage fabric on a chair seat or an antique needlepoint transformed into a pillow is just enough for me. Look to the landscape from the room's windows and select your color palette to compliment the view beyond. Textures must also be considered; for, they add layers to an interior.

I use color in small amounts so as not to overwhelm a space. A vintage fabric on a chair seat or an antique needlepoint transformed into a pillow is just enough for me. Look to the landscape from the room's windows and select your color palette to compliment the view beyond. Textures must also be considered; for, they add layers to an interior.

Houses become homes once we add ourselves to them. When we organize and invest in what we love. When we begin to create our own story within her walls. It is a very personal process. My style is clean and uncomplicated but luxurious and comfortable with a strong emphasis on history and lasting quality. My home is an illustration of who I am. I need a space that is both beautiful and authentic and allows for quiet contemplation and creativity. Since I have no formal interior design training, I am free to bring together the elements that have real meaning to me. I am able to define a French style from a personal vantage point. Certainly, it will evolve and deepen over time. Follow your own sense of beauty. Connect to what you love and take time to think about how you define your aesthetic. It is a priceless exercise to discover who you are. When that is clear, you will then be able to communicate your passions to others. The result is a lasting connection to those you bring into your personal space.

"What is the goal? A house that is like the life that goes with it." -Elsie de Wolfe

A special thank you to “mes amies." Your continued support helps me to take the next step to living a french life. If you have any questions about our online collection or if I can provide further information, please feel free to drop me a note. I enjoy the conversation. As always, it is a privilege to share this journey with you.

À bientôt,

Karen