Having traveled and studied abroad, the European influence on interior design and architecture became very evident to me early on in my career. In particular, a French influence continues to be a source of inspiration in my work as a modern day designer.
The famous Palace of Versailles in France, once home to King Louis XIV, is a staple for opulent French design that has been marveled over for many generations. The extravagant use of mirrors at the “Grand Galerie” or “The Hall of Mirrors” in Versailles is one of many techniques that has been adopted and mimicked by designers today. The roughly 240 foot grand hall was decorated with seventeen arches, three hundred and fifty seven mirrors, forty three chandeliers and thirty murals painted by the famous French painter Charles Le Brun.
The Hall of Mirrors stood as a symbol of the economic, political and artistic success of France. It housed historic events such as the wedding of Marie-Antoinette to King Louis XVI in 1770 and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which ended the First World War.
On a much smaller scale and in a more refined manner, we can see the influence of using mirrors as they did at Versailles in the dining room below. These mirror-paneled doors were created with antiqued mirror. Two sconces were placed on either side of the mantel for extra interest.
We also see the use of inset mirrors in more private spaces, like master bedrooms and bathrooms. These gorgeous mirror-paneled cabinets create a lavish atmosphere complemented by a crystal chandelier hanging over the freestanding tub.
I’m dying over this particular treatment! A pair of doors that hide a bar was turned into something more visually appealing with inset-antiqued mirror resembling a window.
As seen, the use of mirrors to enhance a space is vast and varied. The influence spans from grand spaces to small powder rooms, but each has its own grand impact.
French inspired furnishings have always been sought after items among interior designers to incorporate into their work. The French are known for their exquisite craftsmanship and use of rich materials in unique and extravagant ways.
This show-stopping headboard demonstrates the unique and complex hand carved designs commonly seen on French furnishings.
Classic symbols, like scrolls and acanthus leaves, were commonly used.
The very popular and always classic Louis XVI, or balloon back chair, fits perfectly in many different styles of décor, from traditional to modern.
This bombe chest with a marble top displays, “ormolu”, a French technique that uses decorative metal to create intricate designs. This distinctive technique creates added drama to a classic piece.
Another distinctive French technique or staple is the sunburst. The sunburst is a classic French accessory present in many homes today. Many assume they first made their appearance during the reign of the self-proclaimed “Sun King” also known as Louis XIV. However, many antique dealers believe they first surfaced during the French Revolution when riots stormed through and stole from local churches and monasteries. The halos mounted above biblical figures were among the looted items, which were then turned into decorative items and mirrors.
This particular sunburst creates a dramatic statement at the end of a grand hall with its large scale and elaborate detail.
Much less intricate, this modern interpretation of a sunburst still catches the eye with its chic shagreen finish. It is a very different look from the one above, but equally as effective.
This fabulous custom light fixture plays with and emphasizes the layering effect we see in a lot of antique sunbursts. Its depth adds a necessary and exciting layer to this media room!
This 17th century gilded sunburst displays similar layered techniques that draw many designers to these unique pieces.
French influences on architecture can be seen through the use of “trumeaus.” A trumeau is an architectural element placed over a mantel that usually consists of a mirror or a decorative panel flanked by two columns. Trumeaus were commonly used in France during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Much like the adaptation of and use of mirrors, we often see more edited versions of the trumeau used today. For example, the trumeau seen above was made using cast stone, an adaptation in material from the originals in 1700’s as seen and discussed below.
This image, taken from a library in Paris, shows a trumeau from the 16th century. Like many of the originals, this trumeau mirror is made with wood paneling and an inset mirror. Trumeau mirrors were very popular among the French aristocrats who enjoyed sitting in front of a fire, while at the same time being able to see and partake in the events and discussions of those behind them.
In a similar manner to French furnishings, trumeau mirrors were often decorated with classical motifs like scrolls, garlands, ribbons and acanthus leaves. In keeping with this concept, these classical motifs have been edited down and incorporated into today’s cast stone interpretations.
Trumeaus are also used in exterior loggias to create a warm and welcoming focal point.
Staying outdoors, another French influence comes in the form of boxwoods. Their gardens are full of boxwoods. Complex designs, mostly symmetrical, are designed to symbolize the idea of order over nature.
Some gardens even tell stories! This one in particular, called “Fickle Love,” is a story about infidelity. Four fans placed in the corners of the quadrant symbolize the volatile nature of love. Set in between those fans are the horns of a jilted lover, soon to find comfort in love letters sent out of spite to secret lovers of their own. These love letters are represented by the four diamonds located in the center of the quadrant.
This Dallas residence is a good representation of how French gardens have been translated to modern day landscapes. It may not tell a story, but it follows the idea of symmetry perfectly. The classic treatment is a perfect way to add visual interest to your landscape.
Let’s not forget the extravagant fountains and pools that are so often focal points in French gardens and landscapes. The “Pyramid Fountain” of Versailles, seen below, is based off a drawing by Charles Le Brun and sculpted by Francois Girardon. The four tiered fountain is supported by tritons, crayfish, and dolphins; popular Roman mythological creatures commonly used to decorate fountains.
This residence, also located in Dallas, displays two pools or fountains leading up to a main fountain flanked by two cherubs. A similar set up, but on a much larger scale is seen at Versailles. “The Grand Canal,“ seen below, is almost 5,500 feet long, it took 11 years to build and was created by Andre Le Notre. It played host to many nautical spectacles in the summer and ice skating in the winter during Louis XVI’s reign.
As displayed, the French influence is very much alive and well in the designs of interiors and exteriors of the modern world. Mostly interpreted in a more refined manner and on a smaller scale, their style has stood the test of time and has proven to be a very classic and timeless look.