Saint-Tropez State of Mind

A French Riviera Inspired Interior Design

Summer in Seattle is the most enchanting time of year. But sadly, our summers here end in the blink of an eye, while other seasons seem to drag on.

This spring especially has been on the colder side, with temperatures rarely reaching above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It even snowed in April in the lowlands! Knowing that the June gloom is just around the corner only makes the longing for that summer sun more unbearable. 

The azure waters of the French Riviera.
The warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea beckon.

During these long stretches of cloudy, cold weather my mind likes to wander to distant lands of glowing, sunlit colors and pleasant warmth. Among these places, the Côte d’Azur, or French Riviera. Extending from Toulon in the west to the Italian border in the east, this region of France has been a holiday destination since the late 1700s. The famed resort towns of Saint-Tropez, Cannes, and Nice all lie along this warm stretch of the Southern French coastline. Definitely a destination with lots to do and see, or to just relax while cruising on a yacht from town to town.

Although jetting off to the south of France is always an option to get that Riviera fix, bringing home the warmth and nonchalant charm of this region through interior design is another. Let’s see how it can be done!

St Tropez colorful painted boat.
No need to jet off to Saint-Tropez to indulge in riviera style.

Riviera Style

When Americans think Mediterranean design, they might recall the rustic Tuscan look circa 2005. While Tuscany and its villas are certainly situated along the Mediterranean basin, the Mediterranean Sea itself is large and surrounded by some two dozen countries from 3 different continents. Needless to say, the Tuscan villa look is but one of the styles to be found, and certainly not the most typical. 

Terracotta-tiled roofs are common along the Mediterranean coast, but the architecture is actually quite diverse.

Mediterranean history is also deep, with the region serving as the cradle of Western civilization. Along its shores you will find styles ranging from Greco-Roman classical antiquity, to Moorish flourish in Spain and North Africa, to the Second Empire stylings of the casino complex in Monaco, to the stark early modernism at Villa Noailles in Hyères. There is no one “Mediterranean style,” but what unites many of the disparate looks to be found along this coast is a palpable insouciant attitude that contrasts markedly with somber Northern European and endlessly earnest American styles. 

Art Nouveau building on the French Riviera.
Art Nouveau began in Germany at the turn of the 20th-century and spread across Europe. This building adds a little organic flair to the town of Cannes.

That being said, one can never go wrong with neoclassicism. It was the style promulgated by the Ècole des Beax-Arts at the turn of the 20th-century when the Côte d’Azur was becoming a destination. 

A Classical Revival

The Villa Rocabella features in the 2022 Downton Abbey movie.

The Villa Rocabella, which features in the new “Downton Abbey: A New Era” movie, is a fine example of the neoclassical style found not too far from Toulon.

The splendid Belle Époque house has an interesting history. It was designed by Danish architect Hans-Georg Tersling, favorite of Empress Eugènie, for a French industrialist and completed in 1899. 

In the 1940s, the house was occupied by Nazis during the German occupation of France. After the war, it was acquired by the French National Railway Company and turned into a foster home for children of rail workers before being sold in 2000 to French interior decorator Patrice Nourissat, who restored the property to its former glory. 

Villa Rocabella staircase.
The staircase for the Villa Rocabella is classically grand, and is painted in a conchy pink to echo the creatures in the sea beyond. Photo by Michel Vialle for PAJ Magazine

The grand staircase features a domed ceiling painted by Nourissat’s daughter in a style reminiscent of Marc Chagall who like many artists in the early 20th century found much inspiration in the region. The balusters are of carved alabaster.

Villa Rocabella great hall painted in pink.
The great hall continues the pink theme, creating a warm and calming atmosphere.
Villa Rocabella glass atrium sunroom.
A steel and glass atrium echoes the 19th-century progressive aesthetic. The Great Exhibition in London introduced the world to the marvels of (then) modern technology brought about by the Industrial revolution. Photo by Michel Vialle for PAJ Magazine.

Nourissat was clearly inspired by the atmosphere of the French Riviera in restoring this gem. Notice the pastel colors, shell motifs, and classical objects.


To counteract the Pacific Northwest doldrums, I notice that many Seattleites tend to decorate their homes in white and neutrals—the so-called “bright and airy look.” But white is not the only way to brighten up a space.

Take it from Claude Monet! Writing from Cap d’Antibes, he described the hued atmosphere of the Mediterranean thus: “It is so beautiful here. So bright, so luminous. One swims in blue air and it is frightening.” See! White doesn’t have a monopoly on “bright and airy.” 

And Monet was not the only one inspired by the beauty of the South of France. Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, and many, many others were similarly inspired by the azure waters, terracotta rooftops, and the scent of lavender floating through the hot Mediterranean air. The blithe colors of the region have been captured in numerous works of art.

A painting by Monet of Antibes in the afternoon.
The fort of Antibes in afternoon sunlight as painted by Monet. A bright and colorful vista.
A painting by Renoir of Aloe plants in Cagnes.
Sages, pinks, ochres, terracottas. Renoir too was inspired by the sunkissed colors of the French Mediterranean. “Aloe picking at Cagnes”, 1910.
Marc Chagall poster of mermaid.
Like so many other artists, Chagall was deeply moved by the Mediterranean lifestyle. He even has his own museum in Nice.

Of course, such artistic inspiration comes as no surprise. I mean, just look for yourself:

Colorful buildings along the French Riviera coast.
The colors of the French Riviera are bright and cheerful.
Boats on the Mediterranean.
The summer sun and casual maritime lifestyle awaken your joy for life.
Beautiful villa on the Cote d'Azur.
Classical beauty, casual luxury, and natural wonder all meet here.
Beach lounging in San Tropez.
See and be seen as you lounge by the beach.
Luxury boat on the Mediterranean Sea.
Even the azure water is opulent.

French Riviera Interior Design Concept

Taking cues from the bountiful beauty of the region, I came up with the following mood board that captures some of that je ne sais quoi:

A mood board by Maison Dumar Interiors in Seattle inspired by the South of France.
Sultry, à la Brigitte Bardot.

Implementing a Mediterranean interior design inspired by the southern French coast could then look something like this:

A light, bright, yet still colorful interior concept inspired by the South of France from Maison Dumar Interiors - Seattle.
Can’t you just feel the warm breeze?

Et voilà! A chic and casual way to indulge in the French Riviera fantasy without ever having to board a plane. C’est simple comme bonjour!

“Once in the middle twenties, I was driving along the High Corniche Road through the twilight with the whole French Riviera twinkling on the sea below. As far ahead as I could see was Monte Carlo…when life was literally a dream.

–F. Scott Fitzgerald


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