Do yourself a flavor sometime, and google image search the phrase “hôtel particulier”. If you are anything like me, you’ll lose yourself in a french reverie for an hour or two. While we modern Americans think of a hotel as somewhere to rent a room for a vacation, or business trip, the word has historical origins in french meaning “home”, and “hôtel particulier” meant “private home”. The images you’ll find in your search are spectacular, as hôtel particuliers were de riguer for nobility and the monied class in France, from the 17th century to today.
What you’ll also find are luxurious homes that are often furnished just the way they were when they were originally built... or are they? Because the same styles and forms in use in France circa 1750, are still in use today. It’s really hard to overstate the influence of the French on interior design as French style has dominated the look and substance of interiors since the age of Versailles. In fact, the design industry has its roots in the great kings of France, as the French nobility’s demand for opulence started the first factories making goods specifically for the luxury market, like gilt mirrors, porcelain, tapestries and furniture. Some are still in existence today, like Servés and Meissen porcelain manufacturers.
The above photo is of furniture circa the 1700s in a museum in Paris, and the below photo is of a private home in Paris of the 21st century. I honestly can’t tell if the the furniture in the private home is from 1780 or 1980, but the electric table lamp is the giveaway that it’s a modern interior.
The 1950s photo below of Mona and Edward Bismarck in their Parisian home shows the endurance of French style. The gilded furniture, mirror and chandelier are part of the amazing collection of 1750s Rococo furniture they collected. Rococo is a style popularized in France in the 1700s that's known for fanciful carvings, lots of gilding on furniture and walls (everything really), and huge chandeliers dripping with crystals.
Here’s another view of the room as it is today. The collection of antique french furnishings, porcelain and art were all auctioned off, but the home itself remains in use as a cultural center. I love this view of the room empty, as I like to imagine how my own furniture would look in it today!
By the way, the pattern of the wood floor in the above photo is another example of enduring French style, called “Parquet de Versailles” because it was used throughout the castle of Versailles. Three centuries later, the pattern is as popular as it ever was and you’re just as likely to find it in Paris, Texas, as Paris, France!
I have so much more I want to say about French style, but I’ll have to revisit the subject in a future post. Today, I’ll leave you with a photo that proves to me that French style will stay with us, even as we move into the future...