Mastering the Art of French Interiors

Mastering the Art of French Interiors

Mastering the Art of French Interiors


We spoke with designer Annouchka Engel about the hallmarks of French style and her own quintessentially Parisian-inspired home, which graces the pages of Siham Mazouz’s new book, “How the French Live.”

Photographs by Siham Mazouz from “How the French Live,” reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith.

Designer Annouchka Engel’s San Francisco home recently captured the eye of blogger Siham Mazouz, who spotlighted the quintessentially French interiors in her new book, “How the French Live.” And if the glossy pages reveal one universal truth about the French approach to decorating, it’s that it’s always undeniably effortless. We asked the designer to share her thoughts on the enviably chic appeal of French interiors, and how to invite a little je ne sais quoi into your own home.

Before we jump dive into the specifics of French style, tell us how got involved with Siham’s book, “How the French Live”?

It was kind of strange: the author of the book has an extremely popular website and Instagram account, and because of that popularity, she got a book deal showcasing French families living all over the world. One of my friends who follows her knew she was looking for an additional house. She came over the next week and shot it.

Why do you think your friend recommended your home?

I definitely think that our house is a basic model for a Parisian apartment. My personal style fits this mold: the chevron, French oak wood floors, soft pastel colors, marble details, and a lot of the architectural details. And I think there’s also a lot of really personal touches.

You have quite a global background. Tell us about how your heritage informs your design?

I am French and Swiss and grew up in Canada, but my mother’s family has very, very deep roots in Europe, so we’ve always sort of lived with antiques. I moved to New York then to San Francisco and renovated my Victorian home, where it all meshes well together.

Do you think there’s a different approach to interior design in France versus America?

French people kind of undecorate; they have a lot of constraints with their spaces and they always incorporate that into something that’s unique and beautiful. The whole space flows very organically—it’s not so staged. A lot of details are kind of amassed through time. We go to a flea market to look for unusual things, for example. It’s less the mentality of, “let’s go to a showroom and pick up these decorative items.” It happens over the course of 10 years and many travels. We kind of work in an eclectic way in our house

What do you think are the hallmarks of French style?

Proportions. We have a very innate way of using proportions, and we are also not at all afraid of using colors and patterns and things that are very bold. There’s always a sense that we found these objects—you reuse, you recycle. There’s a playfulness that you find in a french decor. You go against trends, and somehow it always works out. Always respecting the space and the history that you are decorating in.

How do you bring that French design perspective to your own space?

By not being afraid to be playful, whimsical, and feminine is important. I have a very masculine husband, and yet we have a very pink dining room and he embraces it. I also like using 18th-century china and incorporating modern artwork in a space that has very architectural details. It’s about creating lived-in interiors, something that’s really comfortable but not very prissy.

What tips do you have for those hoping to integrate the style into their own home?

Try not to amass too many things from one store. Having a space that evolves and you’re constantly curating is important. Start small with patterns and fabrics and color, pillows or a duvet cover, or a fun wallpaper for a powder room or a space you don’t have to see every day.

Get to know flea markets—things that you get from travel should always have a space in your home. Create vignettes or pockets of space that you enjoy looking at. And always invest in fresh flowers and drink a lot of rosé.

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