Several years ago, I wrote a piece focused on the petite living quarters of Paris – “Mastering Space, Saving Energy in Paris”. As diehard Francophiles, we always have been intrigued at the resourceful use and placement of furnishings in many of the miniscule rooms and apartments of the “City of Light”.
We have been privileged to settle into a variety of apartments in France that were comfortable, clever and – without a doubt – cozy! Some of the unique arrangements included:
- A long, narrow apartment with a sleeping loft (and sumptuous bedding!), an astonishingly modern kitchen, soaring ceilings with bookcases and storage cupboards and elegant, iridescent drapes.
- A bright kitchen (for one) – about 4 x 4 feet – with everything needed for those small lunches or coffees at home as well as the occasional dinner for friends – no kidding!
- A kitchen entirely enclosed in a beautiful, sunken armoire that appeared to be just that – a handsome closet containing wonderful surprises.
- A one-room (with full bath) apartment in a lovely, pedestrian courtyard with a corner kitchen, comfortable sofa bed and plentiful storage space.
We were beyond comfortable in all of the above and enjoyed the privilege of living as a Parisian complete with door code, local pâtissier and plentiful cafes for morning coffee. Without question, we are spoiled in America, though the trends toward smaller living spaces and higher rents seem to be accelerating.
Let’s look at some other space savers and fool-the-eye solutions to small spaces . . . in Paris or at home. Anyone who has stayed in a tiny Parisian hotel room or dined at a 16-seat cafe understands the lack of available space in this spectacular world capitol. Every inch of space is important – the little entry alcove, the corner at the curve of the stairs, the stairwell itself.
Perhaps a comparison to American spaces will provide perspective. A one-bedroom apartment in the United States often includes 600 to 800 square feet – huge by Paris standards, where that space would equate to a 3- or 4-room apartment.
Our friends in Paris have a small vacation rental – small being the operative word here! At 21 square meters (225 square feet), “My Little Home in Paris” has a very comfortable, full-size bathroom with tub, a small kitchen and a little study, or half-room that serves as wardrobe, office or sleep space for the one with the short straw (futon for the night)! How in the world do they do it, especially given the ancient building with a lovely little fireplace that can’t be removed?
Let’s start with the kitchen, where a high-tech water/radiator heater was installed behind the faux wall above the sink – quite the space saver. The gas heater keeps a small reservoir of heated water, programmable to use energy when it’s the cheapest. As soon as hot water is used, it is replenished with the heater’s quick recovery system. A two-burner gas stovetop and microwave handle almost any cooking needs, save a Thanksgiving turkey. Curtained shelves hold everything else from pans and teapots to coffee makers and spices.
An ultra-comfortable sofa bed is a focus – and space saver – in the living room. A a small, round drop leaf table in front of the bright window offers intimate dining, and a lovely old mirror above the fireplace adds elegance, visual depth and light. Finally, the small, flat-screen TV on the wall delivers CNN and France 24 without prejudice!
In the half room, a desk under the window offers free computer and Wi-Fi connections and free internet phone. Bookshelves provide every possible tour book, museum guide and restaurant menu. A large cupboard has plenty of space for hanging and folded clothes and supplies.
Older apartments with soaring ceilings make use sleeping lofts to remove the bed from the main living area, while some unusual appliance combinations cater to “western” notions of comfort – combination stove/dishwasher or clothes washer set beneath your bathroom sink. The French have thought of ways to be comfortable without excess space.
Tiny cafes also demonstrate resourcefulness. A petite server station allows warming and salad assembly, while an adjacent little fridge holds drinks.
One of our favorite creperies is on elegant Ile Saint-Louis and handles food and drink service in much the same way, but with one important distinction. They have the benefit of a dumbwaiter that silently carries steaming tagliatelle and crisp galettes upward to customers, while whisking away dirty dishes to the cavern below.
With a continuously growing populations, Paris demonstrates a unique appreciation for space and energy. Schools double as voting sites. Smart cars outnumber large vehicles, and the city Vélib’ system makes bike-riding a popular option. Building entries with timed lighting avoid energy drain, and you can choose your drying cycles in the Laundromat to run in 10-minute segments.
In the United States, we have been enamored with big spaces and special-occasion rooms, with large cars and more appliances than we know how to operate. As we emerge from the pandemic with adjusted priorities, perhaps we should look to Paris for inspiration.
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