My French Home Decor DIY Makeover: Living Room
How I transformed my living room: before and after…
This is part of my series about how
I’m decorating my apartment in France.
You can check out the other rooms here.
Modern decor has never really appealed to me. I mean, it can be nice to look at, but I’ve always been drawn to rooms that feel cozy and comfortable. Big plush sofas, soft textured fabrics, throw blankets, and lots of pillows — that’s my thing.
I used to look at photos of glamorous French apartments and dream about living in one of them. In my previous apartments, I’d always incorporated aspects of French style into my decor to give it a glam touch.
So when we rented an apartment in France, I was super excited to start decorating. Transforming this space took much longer than I’d expected, but it doesn’t hurt when you start with such a beautiful canvas. 12-feet-tall ceilings, a fireplace in every room, built-in cabinets, and original herringbone-patterned wood floors. Out the windows, we have a direct view of the Saone river, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the tower that inspired the Eiffel Tower, and the Fourviere cathedral. Some mornings we take bird seed and feed the swans and ducks just below our windows. Need I say more?
The downside? The apartment has clearly only ever been a rental, and treated that way. The trim, walls and floors are all beat up. The solution? A lot of rugs, some touch up paint, vintage-inspired furniture with rustic touches, and an overall feel inspired by Provencal country-chic!
While the light fixtures, drapery, rugs, and some of the furniture was gifted for these articles, the rest are vintage pieces I nabbed off of France’s version of Craigslist (called LeBonCoin) and DIY’d. The DIY projects took much longer than expected, even though I had help (thanks, Manon!), but it was soooo worth the effort in the end.
Here are a few “Before” photos:
Here’s before we moved in (that’s the previous tenant’s furniture), so you have a sense of where I was starting from:
Here’s shortly after we moved in:
It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the wallpaper was an 80’s-style faux-marble yellow that was probably 30 years old and was peeling all over the place. I couldn’t wait to replace it with a more sophisticated and serene design.
Here are the “After” photos:
To create this room, I used products from several great French companies, and I also bought a few antiques online and transformed them into unique statement pieces using paint, surface stickers, and decoupage. Here’s the rundown:
Flamant is a chic furniture store that I first became obsessed with when I stumbled into their store in Brussels a couple of years ago. I absolutely love their style. Their giant wooden Osmond Mirror, Richelle Lounge Chair, and Vanety Sofa were a perfect fit for what I had envisioned. Here’s the Flamant mirror, before doing anything to it:
First, we added painter tape, to protect the beautifully antiqued mirror while we painted the wood…
…then we started painting it white…
…here it is with two coats of white, and one shade of gold painted…
…and finished! Three shades of gold and three coats of white.
Of course, because I love to customize everything, I added extra pillows, blankets, and painted the wood white, to give it all a slightly softer vibe. I covered the seats with these Madura throws (and matching pillows) to add a casual feel, protect the fabric, make the sofas match, and add blue to tie the furniture into the color scheme.
My Flamant ‘Vanety’ sofa, with Madura blankets and pillows added, before I painted the wood white:
With whitewashed wood (I used watered-down white paint, and wiped it with a paper towel as I painted, to remove excess) I did the same thing to The Flamant Richelle lounge chair:
The Maximilien Chair from Grange is one of my favorite chairs ever (and Shadow’s, too!) It’s soooo comfy, and such a beautiful statement piece. I love that Grange lets you choose the wood color and fabrics you want for each individual panel from thousands of options, so you’ll end up with a chair that’s your own creation. I chose two soft and textured blue fabrics, which stand out as a bold choice for the room, but still fit in nicely.
My golden chandelier is by Fredrick Ramond for Hinkley Lighting. It creates quite a bold statement and sets the tone of the room as artistic and upscale. The shade of ‘champagne’ gold wasn’t quite right for the room, so I painted it using the same gold paint I used on the mirror and furniture, so it would match perfectly. I love how it looks hand-made because of the hammered steel, and how it reflects the late afternoon light onto the ceiling via the crystals.
It’s the first thing people comment on when they enter the room.
This well-made rug from Benuta has a classic and relaxed style about it, and matches the color of the floor well, so it doesn’t create a boxed effect like a rug that didn’t blend in with the floor color might have. I love that this “flat woven” rug has a natural feel and look to it, yet it’s durable and doesn’t bunch up (and didn’t arrive smelling like chemicals.)
I scored this brass antique clock for €15 on LeBonCoin! The birds are from a store called Interior’s. On the far end of the mantle is an essential oil diffuser, which I use daily.
The old wallpaper was damaged and peeling (not to mention totally 80’s-style, and not in a good way!), so I re-did it myself (it was actually really easy!) using textured blue damask wallpaper from Brewster that hid all the flaws in the old walls. In the future, I would always opt for wallpaper over painting walls, partially because it’s so much faster to put up then it is to do several coats of paint, and also because it looks way more glamorous and high-end. Look for “nonwoven” wallpaper, which is the kind that’s really easy to put up and remove. Unlike old-school wallpapers that rip into shreds, modern nonwoven wallpapers rip off the wall in one piece, normally without damaging the wall, making it easy to re-do your walls whenever the mood strikes.
The room has two curved walls, and in one corner is a curved built-in bookcase, which had ugly brown paper glued to the inside… so we replaced it with cute floral paper, of course!
To create a luxurious feeling in the room (and help keep the temperature stable), I added these lined, classic off-white linen curtains as a finishing, but essential, step. It wasn’t easy to find curtains in custom sizes, but Curtains2go lets you specify exactly the height and width you want, and the quality of their curtains is really top tier.
And now for the vintage furniture transformations…
This is what the truckload of vintage furniture looked like, sitting in our guest bedroom, before we put it all together:
I bought this vintage furniture for about €50. I added the top piece, which I pulled off another piece of furniture:
After painting and adding a thick sticker (by VeryBerrySticker) over the marble surface. It took a lot of coats of paint, but it turned out beautifully:
Because I love DIY projects, I painted (it took about three coats to get it looking perfect) and decoupaged (which basically means gluing paper to a surface) the vintage furniture I bought online. As a side note, none of this furniture cost more than €100, so I ended up spending more on paint than I did on the actual furniture! This cabinet was warped and bending forward. I had to make it stand up straight by adding wood under the front columns and feet:
The cabinet is only two shades of blue: one super light, almost white, blue, and one pale baby blue. The rest is a patterned paper decoupaged on.
I’d love to say it was a quick and easy process, but it did take quite a bit of time. First, I tried chalk paint, which I didn’t love — it doesn’t cover as well as regular paint and is difficult to work with. So we switched to regular paint (I love that in Europe, the government mandates that the off-gassing levels are tested and displayed on the packaging, you you can choose your paint based on how healthy it is!)
Each of the side tables were vintage night tables that transformed by cutting shorter, painting, changing the knobs, and adding a thick sticker (by VeryBerrySticker) on top:
The larger pieces took a lot more time and planning. This one started out looking like something you’d see in Game of Thrones:
Halfway through the transformation…. three coats of primer and off-white paint! At this point I still wasn’t sure how it would look when completed:
I painted this art canvas quickly, but am still brainstorming ideas for what I’ll eventually paint over it. The canvas on the floor goes in front of the TV for when we have guests over.
All this may seem like a lot of effort, and it was. But it was worth the effort in the end. I now have completely unique furniture and a sense of pride every time I look around the room.
A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she spends most of her time in France, NYC, London and Switzerland, and travels extensively around the world. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.