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Elements of a Modern Paris Salon

By: Stephanie Andrews

I have been a Francophile since elementary school. After four years of French in high school, field trips to Montreal, and then a minor in French in college, I was hooked. My husband and I travelled to Paris just after we got married, and it was truly magical. We loved the color of the buildings, the history, the architecture, the churches, the food, and the culture. The style is captivating, and although it has been written about extensively (perhaps too much) French women and their homes have an effortless chic that I find mesmerizing.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Santoni.

We recently met a client who is also a fan of this effortless style, and wants that iconic look for her living room. Her father is an antiques dealer in Paris, so a French salon style living room seems only natural. I started by doing a little research into the history of the salon. A product of The Enlightenment in the early 18th century, it was a key institution in which women played a central role. Salons provided a place for people to congregate for intellectual discourse.

Did you catch that? The main purpose of the room is for intellectual conversation! Not phones, work, or TV. Love the idea? Let’s look at the quintessential elements needed to create this space. (Disclaimer: even if you find the elements, it may still take some additional “je ne sais quoi” to really pull it off, in a French way.)

The ideal room has high ceilings and architectural moulding at the ceiling and an interesting fireplace. (Obviously, many of us do not have these details in our living rooms, but work with me on the vision and then adapt it for your home.) Our client’s living room fit the bill perfectly — large room, beautiful fireplace, and a baby grand piano!

Photo courtesy of Elle Decor.

Since the purpose of a salon is the ability to have conversations, consider the floor plans and scale of furnishings. The seating needs to be easy to access and also comfortable, with a place for drinks as well as good ambient lighting.

Once you have a floor plan that works, it’s time to choose a rug. For a French salon style, choose a rich, jewel toned, hand knotted wool or silk rug with patina (read: old). This may take some time to find. Your rug options probably will need to be brought in, laid out and looked at in different lights and hopefully call to you saying, “I’m it!” I recommend browsing eBay, Chairish, Next Door, or local sources that will let you send the rug back if it is not quite right. Be patient, this is probably the most important decision in your new room. Don’t worry if the rug is somewhat worn or a bit frayed — that just adds to the character!

For a comfy curvy sofa, I chose this one from American Leather in a terra cotta velvet to complement the rug. I added some rattan chairs from CB2 because look: they look like they’re smiling! I could see reupholstering these in a fun pattern (maybe black and cream zebra print?). A heavy chunk of drink table, a vintage glass round coffee table, and some fabulous ambient lighting sets just the right mood. A gilded mirror can sit above the sofa or the mantle, depending on the floor plan.

A salon isn’t really a salon without an art wall, and this one is a curated collection of women we admire. It features women poets, artists, actresses, and a yoga carving. This wall can continuously be added to, and interesting frames can enhance the collected feel of the room.

Photos courtesy of Art.com, Society6, and Amazon.

The final secret to a Paris style salon is this: never really call the room finished. Enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the ever-changing canvas of your room!

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