Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Decorating French Empire Style Bedrooms

Neoclassical style dominated late eighteenth century European decoration. Two distinctive styles known as Empire and Regency emerged from neoclassicism. This particular blog post is dedicated to Empire design, with emphasis on creating French Empire style bedrooms. Pronounced "ahm PEER", this beautiful style was the signature look of Napoleon. Upon assuming the throne in 1804, France’s Emperor wanted a new look that reflected his military success and personal style so he began an ambitious art and design program that resulted in clean lines and bronze doré appliqué that suggested imperial grandeur. Since Napoleon was in the process of expanding the Empire through force, military accents figured heavily into the style of the day.

I adore this particular style even though it is a bit masculine. I find it can be softened with the right fabrics and accessories yet it still gives a home a elegant dynastic appeal. Whether you want a period room or a more modern bedroom with a French Empire twist, I have gathered some images to show you how to create a bedroom from his fabulous era in French history.


It is fitting that we start off the post with pictures of the pinnacle of French Empire decor, the Empress Josephine's bedroom........

......as well as Napoleon’s bedroom at their Chateau de la Malmaison.

Furniture in the French Empire style was generally rectangular and symmetrical, and bronze doré appliqué, burnished gold, and jewel-like inlay finishes became hallmarks of the new style.

Also bedrooms were draped and swagged with luxurious fabric. Many time even suspended from the ceiling giving the French Empire bedroom the look of military grandeur. 

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Napoleon liked the luxurious tents and wall hangings that were associated with the ancient Roman Empire. Tenting became a design element of the French Empire bedroom after Percier and Fontaine decorated Napoleon and Josephine's château, Malmaison. These bedrooms were designed to resemble the campaign tents of Napoleon's military victories. Here the homeowner has created a bedroom Napoleon would definitely have approved of!

via pinterest

In designing your own French Empire bedroom look for wallpaper, fabrics, etc, that feature Napoleon's imperial symbols. These included the bee, the letter N surrounded by a laurel wreath, stars, and the eagle.

Black lacquer coated wood was very popular as was the use of furs, especially leopard.

In fact black was a very popular color of the day as it represented masculinity and military effect.

Empress Josephine had a love of nature and flowers as well as a preference for lighter materials and colors such as earth tones, poppy red, soft blue.  However during Napoleon's reign the French Empire style took on a darker look and rooms became more formal. Bright royal reds, emeralds or olive green, royal purple, golds, and rich browns were the colors of the day.

Lee Jofa

Satins, silks, brocades and jacquards, figured velvets, and fine wools were fabric preferences for the French Empire style bedroom.

French Empire chandeliers have a stately and dignified presence.These chandeliers function in two parts. The top part is called the tent and the bottom is called the bag. These parts combine to give off a swooping distinct shape.

I love this French Empire style daybed and the regal gold and silver color palette. 

From the book "The Bedroom"
By Diane Berger / Photography by Fritz von der Schulenburg 

Mahogany was the wood of choice but ebony, walnut, and tulipwood were also heavily used. Figures representing victory, swans, lions, wreaths, vines, acanthus leaves, Egyptian motifs and geometric shapes such as circles, squares, octagons and ovals were widely used.

Imperial symbols decorate the chair arms, curtains, carpets, and porcelain of most French Empire style bedrooms. You don't have to drench yourself in gilt but be prepared to use some even if sparingly.

You can create a softer version of the French Empire bedroom by using light weight cream fabric for the bed curtain. Even gauze will work. The trick is to find the right bed. Even a sleigh bed with the right curtain treatment will give you the desired look. And there is that little bit of gilt!

Create a bed yourself by using head and foot boards from a French style bed. You can find similar pieces at antique and collectible malls. I saw one this past weekend while treasure hunting that I thought would make a great Empire style bed but have enough projects on my plate so I had to walk away. 

Artistic metalwork flourished in an outpouring of beautiful clocks. Look for pieces such as these. You can find less expensive ones, just keep this style of clock in mind while looking.

Also a French Empire style bedroom needs decorative accessories like these candelabra. If antiques aren't an option keep an eye out for affordable reproductions found at home decor stores.

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Another popular motif for your French Empire bedroom would be the Greek Key design.

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via Pinterest

Details featuring eagles, bees, Napoleon’s initials, and laurel wreathes took center sage on cabinetry and metalware during the Empire age. Look for pieces that have these embellishments.

Napoleon was captivated by Egypt during his campaign there (May 1795–October 1799). He made a study of monuments, temples and royal tombs and brought back to France exotic motifs that caused Egyptomania throughout the Empire.

French Neoclassical / Empire Style Settee 
 In the French Empire bedroom Sphinxes and caryatids (female figures serving as supports) were prevalent on furniture.

Wouldn't this fabulous bed look stunning in a French Empire style bedroom. This antique is c1799, and on display in Musée de Louvre. Notice Empress Josephine's beloved swans. You could always stencil some classical motifs on your own creation.

Here is an old desk I recently painted black, added a burled wood paint technique, gilt striping and stenciled motif. A bed would be lovely painted like this and hung with Empire style bed curtains. Make an inexpensive bed look like a million dollars and give it a special place in your French Empire bedroom.

Black and gold paint in a Greek key design, lion pulls and luxurious bedding give an instant Empire feel to this bedroom. Add elegance and sophistication to your bedroom with old leather-bound books, gilded picture frames, trinket boxes and elegant, luxurious throw pillows.

Your Empire style bedroom can take on a more feminine feel with the right fabrics. Feminine floral stripes in pink and green against a more masculine green stripe gives it a nice balance.

Pretty French Empire style bedroom at Viscaya. This look could be duplicated with a plain sleigh bed and added gold leaf embellishments. Add beautiful bedding and a curtain of course!

Figures of fame and victory were echoed in the decorative arts during the Empire. Notice the stars and wreaths on the carpet as well as the brass embellishments on the bed. Also anything you can do to create a tent like feel will be perfect for your French Empire bedroom.

Marc Boisseau

Stroheim & Romann, Neoclassical print wallpaper and fabrics

Tented beds fit with the concept of imperial dynasty and conquest, so of course they work well in a French Empire style bedroom. Great accessories and wallpaper designed in neoclassical style complete the look.

Here is an example of finding the right headboard and making your bed look like it would fit wonderfully in an Empire bedroom. Put a small, tailored loveseat at the foot and it gives you the feel of a rectangular empire bed. Lots of pillows for that luxe feel and you are ready to enjoy.

Here a modern bed looks Empire chic with a cornice and curtain and classical accessories. The nailheads are the right accent to make the bedroom look as if it stepped out of the Empire period. Even if you don't have expensive artifacts, flea market antiques and brass accessories work perfectly for a French Empire theme.

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The ruffled curtain and pink color pallet gives this French Empire inspired bedroom a soft, feminine feel. Just don't get carried away. This style won't take kindly to an abundance of ruffles. Find pretty French chairs and any table with a brass pie crust top. What makes this softness work is the wallpaper with a design that resembles a wreath.

I realize the antique beds are out of many peoples price range. That shouldn't stop you from creating a beautiful Empire style bedroom. Get yourself a modern bed or head and foot board like these three examples and you are off to a great start. Pick up some French Empire style accessories in your treasure hunting and you will be good to go!


You might also enjoy a tour of Napoleon and Josephine's Chateau de Malmaison


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This blog post was published by Lisa Farmer

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