Home Decorating French Empire Style Colors

Beth Asaff
Red ceiling
The bold red of this ceiling is one example of French Empire style in action

Throughout the early 19th century, the French Empire style ruled interior design. With colors ranging from soft to bold, this style is still suitable for many homes today.

What Is French Empire Design?

French Empire design is defined as the interior design style of the early 19th century. It followed French Country style guidelines in the beginning of the era, with many soft, nature inspired colors such as lilac. Towards the end of the era, Egyptian influence began to take over, and deeper, bolder colors began to take precedence. Ochre, bold reds and greens and heavy, ornate furniture are the hallmarks of French Empire design.

Colors Used in the French Empire Style

Color choices varied widely depending on the when in the French Empire era you are focusing. There are actually two complete color palettes that can be drawn from this era.

Early French Empire

Early French Empire design takes some cues from the previous, French Country era. Light, soft colors in nature inspired shades were used throughout the home. This color palette included:

  • Lilac
  • Lemonwood
  • Dawn
  • Poppy Red
  • Hazelnut
  • Earth of Spain

Paired with these lighter colors were the dark wood and heavy, ornate carvings and tapestries that were popular throughout the French Empire era.

Later French Empire

Later French Empire kept many lighter tones from the early part of the era, but used them more sparingly, pairing them up with bolder, richer hues. These darker colors were used everywhere in the home and included:

  • Bold Red
  • Hunter Green
  • Dark Gold
  • Ochre
  • Bright Yellow
  • Sky Blue
  • Coral
  • Amethyst
  • Reddish Brown

Many interior design themes from this era made broad use of red, green and gold as the main color of a room. Yellows, blues, purple and other colors were introduced as secondary or accent colors. Paired with them were dark wood and lots of heavy texture in rugs, window treatments, tapestries and furniture.

Home Decorating With French Empire Style Colors

It's easy to overwhelm a room with the rich, saturated colors of the French Empire style. If you choose to decorate within this era, take some cues from both your surroundings and the era itself.

Room Size

Keep the size of the room in mind as you select your colors. Dark, warm colors work best in larger rooms, while lighter, cooler tones work better in small ones. Consider painting the ceiling of a large, high ceilinged room a dark red or other bold color to balance heavier furniture on the ground.

Use Texture

While color alone can invoke the era, texture was used hand-in-hand with bold colors to make a statement during the French Empire. Consider using fabric draped on the walls instead of paint to give a military flavor to the room, or use textured painting techniques to add depth the walls.

Use an Accent Wall

If the room is too small or doesn't have enough natural light to pull of dark, bold colors everywhere, consider using an accent wall in a bold hue. Paint the other three walls a lighter shade in a complementary color from the same era such as sky blue walls with a dark gold accent.

Don't Forget the Floor

Richly patterned throw rugs in the French Empire color scheme can help to balance and anchor the design. If you choose to use a pattern on the floor, stick to bold but plain prints on the furniture and window treatments to accent it.

Keep it Cohesive

The bold rich colors and heavy textures of the French Empire style work best when you commit to the design. Carry the colors throughout the room from floor to ceiling and try to limit the colors used to three or four at the most to avoid overwhelming the space. Use colors that are fully saturated, complement one another well and are pulled together by one continuous accent, such as gold to create a unified look. Whether you use this style in one room or throughout your home, you will be making a bold statement in taste.

Home Decorating French Empire Style Colors