For a lot of Americans (like myself), the hardest part about life is that we’re not French. The je ne sais quoi, the joie de vivre, the baguettes—all of these things make us Francophiles envy the effortlessness of a true Parisian. And no one exemplifies that more than Paris-based designer Sarah Lavoine.
She has a storied life: She studied acting in New York as a teenager, and she can credit that creative gene to her mother, interior designer Sabine Marchal, and father, Jean Poniatowski, who headed French Vogue from 1981-1995. If anyone is living the Parisian dream, it’s her.
Lavoine launched her own firm in 2002, developed a collection of home goods, has designed the Le Roch Hotel & Spa in Paris, and is currently working on a restaurant in Tokyo. At the recent launch in New York for the English version of her lifestyle and design book, Chez Moi, Decorating your Home and Living Like a Parisienne, she finally tackled the question on everyone’s minds. How do we become French?
Like any real Parisian, Lavoine did not have an answer. The only way to exude Frenchness is to be born into it. But she did give some insights on where to start. She says she loves to have fun, and her style reflects that. She is high concept (she’d love to design the Obama’s house “now that they have some time,” she says), relatable (an ideal dinner guest along with her grandparents, whom she never knew, the Dalai Lama, and David Bowie, is Viggo Mortensen), and determined (she hopes to design a hotel in New York someday).
The rest of us may never achieve that level of Parisian charm (no matter how many tulle skirts we own), but Lavoine was gracious and did give a five tips from her book on how to mimic her colorful French attitude.
1. Mix things up. Lavoine’s décor philosophy is to not be too committed to one look. To “give soul to the place,” she recommends candles, the right lighting, and color.
2. Don’t be afraid of color. Lavoine has her own signature hue “Sarah blue,” a turquoise/green shade that adapts to any environment and one she uses consistently in her projects. And a magic trio of colors that gives a room a bold, energetic look: black, white, and yellow.
3. Choose the right lighting. This is a universal truth for designers. The way a fixture can illuminate a space and create an ambiance sculpts the space, she writes in her book. And she cautions that finding the right light fixture takes time, not necessarily money.
4. In fact, use a lot of black. “It’s useful,” she says. “It can hide things you want to hide, and it’s a good friend.” Plus, it’s a great backdrop for art and pictures.
5. Hang everything on the wall. And she means everything: artworks from your collection, photos from your vacation, your kid’s drawings, etc. And mount your kitchen stuff, too (pots and pans, cutting boards, knives). All you need is a nice frame “and it’s beautiful,” she says, adding “it’s important to have things on the walls or [the space has] no soul; no life.”