Are you a romantic at heart? Do you often dream of dropping everything and heading to Paris? Well, before you pick up your passport, stop by Sydney’s newest cocktail bar Kittyhawk (pictured above), which serves up serious style as well as French-inspired tipples and nibbles, to boot! We asked designer Alex Zabotto Bentley to share his tips on adding that chic-factor to your home.
1. Keep it simple
One thing that you notice in French houses, is the simplicity of colour. It’s like the colour has just faded over time. If your place has good bones – fantastic mouldings, cornices, skirting, high ceilings, generous windows, parquet flooring – don’t cover it up with busy colours or patterns. That means no wallpapers, no feature walls, no feature ceilings! If your place doesn’t have those features add cornicing, skirting and mouldings then can go for warm, creamy neutrals or soft greys. Think of that classic Dior dove grey or a greige combination of grey and beige.
2. Be a collector
One thing I notice when visiting friends in Paris is they have amazing finds. Paris is full of fabulous flea markets, so it’s easy to collect antiques and one-off modern pieces. Avoid the generic and show off your personality. The point is to not be too precious; mix it up! Create clusters and distinctive combinations, mixing eras. An antique side table with a bold mid-century modern bronze sculpture, textiles you collected on your travels next to a white Roman bust, sitting on antique books…
3. Create your own gallery
The French love real art as much as I do! Don’t be afraid to go all out on something you love; and seriously avoid those twee pieces manufactured to go with interiors – you know, those hazy fields of flowers with inspirational words, or those bland black and white cityscapes…help the starving artists! Cool Parisian apartments mix up art styles with a sly sense of humour; that heirloom oil painting hung next to a piece of graffiti, next to a sketch; have fun with it. You can hang your favourites salon style, as we did in the conservatory at Kittyhawk. Your gallery should speak of you, so frame anything worthwhile… It will work in your favour as you will have the things you love on walls surrounding you.
4. Tell your story
The French have personality! Nothing is more bland than…bland. Look at a designer like Christian Louboutin: he spends a lot of time in the Middle East, and his Paris apartment reflects that, with intricate wooden screens, inlaid wood tables, exotic textiles and brass tea trays. But in Paris, he might paint the screen off-white, or choose the textile pattern in a rich cream and brown weave. Nothing screams “hey, I’m a souvenir!” but every element adds another layer of meaning to the space and tells a story. We searched out authentic posters and WWII artifacts to communicate the story behind Kittyhawk and we added Moroccan elements to our design, using traditional textures and shapes in neutral colours and touches of brass.
5. Lucky numbers
You might have heard of the Golden Ratio, when numbers are in perfect harmony. It’s not about symmetry or equal sizes; when the proportions are right, things just look right, as they do in nature. Architect Le Corbusier used the Golden Ratio to proportion his spaces. The eye finds odd numbers satisfying, while even numbers look too staid. So when you’re making clusters of fabulous objects, opt for odds: 3, 5, 9… personally, I love three. It’s my lucky number!
6. Fuse eras
What we think of as Parisian style is actually an aristocratic approach. Think of those cool women like Lou Doillon and Victoire de Castellane, mixing Haute Couture with Hello Kitty. They have the family heirlooms, but they keep it real. That could mean mixing a 19th century French armoire with a Tizio lamp and a Fritz Hansen concrete table, radical political posters from the 1960s, a new skateboard.
7. Go for bronze
A big part of French style is confidence. That means having the confidence to be low-key. Nothing glitzy or obvious. Look for elements in bronze and aged brass, not gold. A hint of tarnish, a subtle finish. Hunt down antique mirrors, brass frames, old brass boxes and objects. They add warmth and an old-school European atmosphere to an interior.
Head to Kittyhawk to get your French fix, or check out this beautiful apartment in Bordeaux: