The French Have A Way|
With skilled artisans supported first by royalty and now encouraged by the state, France is where interior decoration has reached its highest art form.
Before buying a thing, get some knowledge of French design history by visiting the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in the Palais du Louvre. Though the museum is undergoing renovations, it's a must for a decorating enthusiast, from a line-up of exemplary period chairs--the story of style at a glance--to the most charming watercolors of period interiors.
Visit, also, the Musée Carnavalet which displays objects that pertain to the history of Paris in two mansions in the Marais. Included are recently restored rooms showing Parisian interiors through the ages. (While there, find Rose Bertin's workbook which has swatches of fabrics for Marie Antoinette's dresses.)
Outside Paris, visit Vaux-le-Vicomte, built by Louis XIV's superintendent of finances, Nicholas Fouquet. Its magnificence so enraged Louis when invited there for a glorious banquet--which included ballets, concerts, games, 1,200 fountains, and a performance by Molière and his troupe--that 19 days later the free-spending finance minister was sent to prison.
For early 19th-century interiors see Malmaison, purchased by Napoleon's first wife, Josephine, while he was away on a campaign. Napoleon was charmed by the house but deemed it a bit expensive and passed a famous law forbidding married women from buying property without the husband's consent. (At least he didn't lock her up.) At Malmaison, you can see the elegant music room, Napoleon's tented council chamber and Josephine's suite with its romantic swan bed.
For those who like to buy in places with everything under one roof, there are swank antiques centers in Paris such as La Cour aux Antiquaires and Le Louvre des Antiquaires.The more intrepid go to Le Village Suisse in the 15th arrondissement where dealers show everything from "junque" to precious pieces.