Reclaimed industrial home decor is one of the hottest design trends this year, and with it has come a fresh new twist on the classic French country style that I like to call Parisian industrial. This look combines the grittiness of reclaimed industrial spaces with just a touch of the sophistication and glamor of a French inspired design. A big part of getting this look is choosing “found” pieces that have a slightly grungy, hand-made or antique quality and displaying them like you would fine art.
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One of my very absolute favorite types of found art also happens to be one of the simplest and most versatile: papers. Now, I don’t mean a blank sheet you pulled out of your printer tray, of course, but beyond that almost any handwritten or printed page will work. Hand written letters or other papers with cursive writing on them, especially old ones, ones done in beautiful calligraphy, or (bonus) ones written in French have a lovely, elegant quality that particularly emerges when they’re framed and put on display. Papers with stamps (ink or postage), jotted notes, or embossed seals in particular have a nice sense of history to them. Hand written sheet music, scientific drawings, artist’s sketches, or pages from old books (particularly ones with etched images, like an encyclopedia) are other good choices, and work nicely to make a series or collage.
Antique photos work well for this, too. Not only are the images in the photos pleasantly curious (old clothes, odd staging or settings), but often they’re interesting as objects as well – well worn, written on, creased, aged, or even slightly damaged. These don’t even have to be your own photos – as with the printed and handwritten pages, it’s really the untold story behind the objects that makes them so appealing. Antique shops and flea markets often have boxes full of antique photos that you can buy for just a few cents each, so pick ones that you find interesting and arrange them in a unique collage. If you don’t like the idea of displaying pictures of people you don’t know, landscape or architectural pictures work just as well (or even better, if they happen to be of French buildings).
Similarly, old maps are gorgeous objects that can easily be elevated to “art” status with the simple addition of a frame. Historical maps or maps of foreign cities (like, say, Paris) work especially well; the more character they have – whether it’s the way the map is drawn or the weathering of the paper it’s on – the better. As a general rule of thumb, with a Parisian industrial style, you want to stick to decor items that are black and white or grayscale. Gray tones help evoke the grungy industrial side of the style, while a contrast between black and white helps play up the slightly more modern, formal twist. That said, a light sepia-toned antique map wouldn’t be out of place (though a very bright, colorful one would be).
French Road Signs
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If you really want to play up the “found” aspect, consider using antique signs in place of your regular artwork. Black and white signs are best (white on black or black on white, both work), but look for ones particularly with a little Parisian flair. Métro station signs, street signs, or even business signs all work well, especially if they’re printed in French. Plenty of signs in various sizes, shapes, and designs are available out there, both authentic and replicas. Tin street signs in particular will help give the space that pleasant urban edge, while choosing a sign that’s printed in French will give it that slightly more elegant, European flair.
It might seem funny that chalkboards are making a comeback in our digital age, but not only are they back in style, they’re actually an important component of a Parisian industrial look. This is true for a couple reasons. First, having a large blackboard is a great way to introduce that high contrast black and white style. Maybe even more importantly, hand written chalk notes and doodles also help evoke the cafe culture of Paris, which combines that slightly formal look with a more casual urban feel. The best news for you is that it’s surprisingly easy to add a blackboard to your space: not only can you get traditional framed boards, but you can also use special paint to create a blackboard surface directly on your walls. Depending on the project, you can paint a whole wall, a small framed patch, or even just a free-form splotch you can write on and erase just like a regular chalk board.
Last but not least, I’d like to suggest a sort of oddball addition to your Parisian industrial decor: a door. Not a functional door, or even a full sized one, but a petite piece that looks like a door or ornate window shutter that you can hang on your wall. Why? Part of what makes this style work so well is that it’s a sophisticated take on a gritty, modern style with just a touch of exotic whimsy. To me, there’s nothing more whimsical than the possibility behind a very pretty door. Even if it doesn’t open or actually lead anywhere, a decorative door with an elegant design promises something more, offering a nice bit of visual intrigue.
What do you think of this French-inspired take on an industrial decor? And what found objects would you love to hang on your wall? Let me know in the comments!