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When the heat is as overwhelming as it’s been for the past few weeks, I can’t help but pine for France. I was lucky enough to spend an entire summer there when the breeze was constant and cool. Now, all I can do is stare at old photos and think of the gorgeous places I visited. (All the glowing buzz I’ve been hearing about Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris isn’t helping either.) While a Louis chair might be what pops into your head, here’s what comes to mind for me when I hear the words “French” and “design” — toile, bistros and Provence. Take a tour with me, and I’ll explain.

Toile Rooms

TOILE: When I was a child, my mom—she’s absolutely obsessed with anything French—introduced me to toile. Drapes, pillows, comforters, you name it, our home had it…in toile. Later when I toured Versailles, I experienced toile on a whole new level. One of the best things about decorating with toile is that it can go ornate or country French, Marie Antoinette or urban chic. Using it throughout a room can give any space a hotel feel like the guest room from HGTV’s guide to Global Design. The bedding and wallpaper match perfectly with the rich, warm tones in the wooden headboard and nightstand breaking up the busyness of the pattern. You can also use toile as an accent piece like in this transitional kitchen in a modern home in Sweden. (I’m seriously considering clearing out my kitchen and starting from scratch simply so I can include a toile accent wall.)

Parisian Cafe Table

BISTROS: One thing I learned while living in Paris is that, just like in the movies, from one street to the next, there’s always a cafe in sight. Recreate this Parisian cafe-style nook by designer/stylist Cheri Messerli on a small balcony or terrace patio, and you’ll be set from morn’ until eve’ (especially if you come across vintage fabric like that). In the morning, enjoy some coffee and croissants while talking with your beloved, in person or on Skype. Later in the day, wipe away any remaining crumbs and use the table for some craft projects or a reading break. Then at night, pull out the h’ors doeurves and candles, pour a glass of wine and relax with friends and family for a perfectly Parisian evening.

Provincal Kitchen

PROVENCE: Touring the French countryside with my mom, I fell in love with the authenticity of the locals’ homes that we visited, some of which were hundreds of years old. If you like rustic, then think Provence. This dining area I found on the blog Decor de Provence is a beautiful take on provincial style. I love the weathered and worn finishes on the furniture and pantry doors. To top it off, the purple flowers in tall glass vases add the perfect touch of country French. (I picture a jovial family get-together here. Maybe something like Russell Crowe’s friends and family at the end of A Good Year.)

To explore more French-inspired design, check out HGTV’s guide to global style influences. But first, what do you like best about France or French design?

Tell us in the comment area below.

10 Responses

  1. Emily says:

    what I love about French design is the simple elegance of its feel. relaxing and always beautiful.

    • Hilary@HGTV says:

      Oh I agree Emily! And it's so versatile. From one home to the next, French design can work some way or another.

  2. Karli_HGTV says:

    I adore French design because it effortlessly mixes traditional with contemporary, rustic with refined and color with neutrals. It's tres charmont!

    • Hilary@HGTV says:

      I know, right? That's what I'm looking to do myself….effortlessly mix everything while still making a home feel so comfortable.

  3. Kayla@HGTV says:

    It's been years since I've visited France, but riding through the French countryside was one of my absolute favorite parts of the entire trip. And even more memorable to me is Versailles (partly because my friends and I took a million goofy pictures at the Gardens of Versailles). It was sweltering both inside and out, but my focus didn't drift from the abundance of toile…everywhere. It looks so rich and is quite fitting for a royal chateau. And after looking at that rustically-gorgeous dining area, Provence is officially on my 'to-visit' list.

  4. Hilary@HGTV says:

    Oh Provence is GORGEOUS! People on their bikes with baguettes and flowers in their baskets. Cafes and flower shops at every corner. Fields of lavender. You just can't go wrong! But my favorite is actually northern France in Bretagne. They have the freshest seafood, rolling hills of green, white dairy cows (and oh-so-delicious carmels that they make out of their milk) and cooler weather. I miss it.

  5. Briana@HGTV says:

    Spotted this Toddler Toile today and thought of your great post. Also, I'm moving Provence up on my To Visit list. Sounds heavenly!

  6. Becky says:

    Why does everyone think "toile" for French design. Take a look at Maison et Decor especially the Provence version and you will find many more patterns and possibilities, especially when it comes to the use of color – lots of it and not much "builder's beige" – thank god.

  7. ann m. says:

    I Simply love this Provence dining area. One look and you're there in fantastic France! Bon Apetite , my friends.

  8. Heather says:

    I agree with Becky, I like "toile" as much as the next person, but there are so many more options in French design. You can find that country cottage feel in many different fabrics, paintings or wallpapers without immediately going with toile.

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