Now, though, the French are mixing trends in with tradition. Think wacky wall stickers paired with crystal chandeliers, or a few modern fire-engine red accessories to set off the vintage-style white of a Parisian apartment.
Here's a look at some attention-grabbing ideas:
TOYS FOR GROWN-UPS: Regres-sion is a big theme: It's time to rediscover the toys of your childhood and nurture the 3-year-old within. For urban hipsters, that means turning your living room into a romper room.
Take the giant faux-Legos from the French company LunaBlocks, used to build cheery plastic shelves or tables that can be rearranged according to your whims. Prices start around $19.90 per block.
Another company, Andrew Martin of Britain, makes gigantic foosball players to hang from your ceiling. They're playful and also add bling, in shiny silvery metal. This toy comes at a price: $4,260 a pop.
FAKE FLOWERS: We know, we know: The mere mention of syn- thetic blossoms conjures up memories of Grandma's pink powder room. But this industry has made great strides, believe us.
You need to crinkle and rub the creations of Emilio Robba of Paris to figure out they're not real. The company uses hand-worked cottons, silks and velvets for its giant works of art -- a term we use in utter seriousness. Ordinary "plastic flowers are so assembly line and such an eyesore," says the company's dÃcor adviser, Greg Augendre-Cambon.
Emilio Robba makes big-scale creations, such as a giant wall of climbing plants. Another French company, Herve Gambs, offers more modest fare, like a charming faux branch of red berries selling for $25.
Fake flowers' biggest enemy is dust -- another unsavory memory from those powder rooms. To combat it, spritz blossoms with one of those cans of compressed air used for cleaning computer keyboards.
WARM FUZZIES: There's just something about felted wool. It's so cozy and comforting, it's the design equivalent of hot oatmeal with cinnamon on a winter day. Not surprisingly, this is an area where the Scandinavians excel.
London-based Finnish designer Anne Kyyro Quinn twists, cuts and shapes creamy felted wool into gorgeous 3-D wall coverings. At Maison & Objet, the potential customers who lined up to pet them were practically purring. And they're noise-absorbent, too.
For those on a tighter budget, the Danish company Hay makes felt throw cushions in assorted hues and shapes, as well as cheerful rugs made from hand-knotted multicolored felt dots (one model ran for around $384).
IN OR OUT?: Gone are the days of soggy, rain-stained deck furniture, the kind that breeds mildew, the kind you don't dare sit on when you're wearing white.
Cutting-edge outdoor furniture uses cushions that you can leave out in the rain, because they're engineered so water can pass right through them. They're dry again in no time -- and thus safe for your white pants.
The Austrian company Viteo offers a sleek white outdoor three-seat couch for $5,970 -- and it's nice enough to put inside the house if you prefer. Cornelia Pichler, a sales representative, says about 10 percent of clients put their pieces indoors.
Living Divani of Italy has a chic bean-shaped white couch that also works indoors and outdoors and sells for $5,290.
LASER TECHNOLOGY: We knew lasers had a million applications, but this one never really occurred to us: Designers are using them to cut intricate, lacy patterns into hard objects such as steel. Unlike with real lace, though, the effect is modern and slick.
Gargantua, a half-Swiss and half-French company, makes trendy, circular lace-like placemats out of laser-worked steel, then drenches them with car paint in Popsicle-like colors. They look great when paired with minimalist porcelain plates and bowls.