The French paradox is well known -- the ability to live on a diet of soufflés and Champagne yet still have the nerve to enjoy good health, longevity and a model-thin physique. Quel culot! What a nerve!
There's a similar maddening dichotomy to a French interior: The ornate, almost regal trappings are steeped in 18th- century tradition and history -- yet, instead of looking stuffy and outdated, the result is inviting, relaxing and très chic.
But how do they do it? It would appear all you need for a French-style space are some lavish and fanciful ingredients: gold and gilding galore, elaborately painted designs on the walls or ceiling, velvet upholstery, carved and curvy furnishings and a generous helping of toile.
But perhaps the secret -- to diet and design -- is not just the addition of French elements but the removal of American taboos. We shudder at the calories -- or opulence -- then overdo it. To enjoy just enough, unapologetically -- this is the French way. "It's the appreciation for all that is beautiful ... and feeling entitled to living well," says Huntington Bay designer Kim Radovich.
As the Oscar buzz around "Midnight in Paris" grows, we present these guiltlessly gorgeous French-style spaces, designed to capture that je ne sais quoi.
Le plafond This Upper Brookville formal living room is French from top to bottom -- literally. Designer Richard Schlesinger traveled to Paris to scout out fabrics, furnishings and fixtures. A work of art he observed in the Louvre was the inspiration for this ceiling mural. "I saw a beautiful painting, I took a photo of it and we took that design and faux painted it on the ceiling," he says. Similarly, he took photos of a French sofa and had the frame replicated in the United States. He incorporated fabric made in France but purchased here, while the rug traveled home with him from Paris, he says.
Les chaises A pair of irreverent Rococo-style chairs lighten the mood in Upper Brookville with the period's trademark saucy swirls and fanciful finishes. "They have a certain charm and wit about them," Schlesinger says. "They're very French, but the backs are so tall, they have a fun sense to them also."
La salle de bain
Oversized French wall art makes a charming focal point in this transitional bathroom in Fort Salonga. A free-standing bath, sans the claw feet, brings a traditional French look into the 21st century. "The tub is a new take on an old design," designer Kim Radovich says. "It has the handheld shower, just like any bed-and-breakfast in France." The space is "very transitional, but with a French flair," says Radovich. "You've got the lacquered cabinet with the turned French leg on it. The floor is a very traditional basket weave, which is very appropriate for a French bath."
The Oscar-nominated film "Midnight in Paris" was the inspiration for this kitchen in a recent show house at Old Westbury Gardens, Radovich says. "I saw that black and white checkered floor and that wonderful range, and I thought I could do really a nice 1930s kitchen using the existing cabinetry with a deep Dijon-colored paint." French fabrics, the quintessential French rooster, spray-painted gold, and a framed Parisian ad poster for Crème Simone deliver authenticity. "I created upholstered awnings over the windows -- very French bistro," Radovich says.
La chambre à coucher
Distressed wood, touches of gold and a frothy color scheme bring a taste of Paris to this Oceanside bedroom. "The iron bed and the night chests are imported from France," Bellmore designer Marlaina Teich says. The bedding pattern of baskets of flowers is a popular French motif. The bench is upholstered with a sumptuous turquoise velvet. "The blue contrasts so nicely with the warmth of the walls and colors of the wood," Teich says. "The walls are a parchment finish, pulled up to the ceiling, to give the feeling of being encapsulated in the warmth."
La salle à manger
You'd as soon sip your morning café au lait as host a formal soiree in this Garden City dining room. That's because the playful color of the toile wallpaper keeps the carved Louis XVI chairs and gilded finishes from taking themselves too seriously. "The wallpaper is so cheery, it looks like it wants to be a breakfast room, and yet it's a formal dining room," says Manhasset Hills designer Karen Arpino. "It feels like sunlight ... very upbeat and happy. Even though the elements are formal, it has such a relaxing, peaceful feel to it."
Decor à la carte
The best part about French decorating is that anyone can afford to do it -- one piece at a time. In fact, a true Parisian wouldn't hear of doing it any other way, says Huntington Bay designer Kim Radovich, a confessed Francophile. "The French don't go to Costco and fill their carts. It's all about the little details," she says. Get started with these French accents:
"Toile is about as French as it gets," says Manhasset Hills designer Karen Arpino. Bring a little into your boudoir: The linen-cotton blend Matine Toile duvet cover and sham in dark porcelain blue are available at potterybarn.com ($39-$169).
A charming print of La Tour Eiffel decorates this chestnut-colored chest of pine and engineered wood. The 20-by-20-by-20-inch La Tour Trunk is available from Pier 1 Imports. Order at pier1.com for in-store pickup ($169.95).
Many French interiors feature "saturated color," says Bellmore designer Marlaina Teich. Peacock blue upholstery creates a colorful spot to park your derrière on this button-tufted chaise settee with solid turned wood legs. Available at target.com ($383.99).