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 capital city. 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 bought a studio for 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.
A comfortable sofa bed is the key to space savings in the living room, as is a small, round drop leaf table in front of the bright window. A lovely old mirror above the fireplace adds elegance, visual depth and light, and – voila – the small, flat-screen TV on the wall delivers CNN and France 24 without prejudice! (Oh my – I just noticed I keep using the words “small” and “little” – can’t be avoided on this topic!)
In the half room, a desk under the window offers free computer and wifi connections and free internet phone. Bookshelves above hold every imaginable tour book, museum guide and restaurant menus. A large cupboard has plenty of space for hanging and folded clothes and supplies.
That’s just one example of the clever use of space in a small Paris apartment. Older apartments with soaring ceilings make use of a sleeping loft to remove the bed from the main living areas. Circular stairwells are also popular, as are some unusual appliance combinations to cater to “western” notions of comfort – combination stove/dishwasher or clothes washer set beneath your bathroom sink. One studio apartment cleverly disguised the kitchen behind lovely armoire doors that covered a generous space set in the end wall of the living room. You name it – the French have thought of ways to be comfortable without excess space.
Tiny cafes also demonstrate resourcefulness. Along rue Mouffetard, a tarte salon welcomes some 9 or 10 customers at a time, while others walking along the street order their quiche to go. The fact that the fresh tartes sit in an enticing window display probably doubles their daily sales. Dine inside, and you’ll see how deftly your server assembles your order. She cuts your chosen tarte from the window display to take to the draped kitchen in the back – one that looked to be the size of a large closet. She returns the warmed quiche to the front, adds salad and your drink from a small refrigerator next to the window. Dirty dishes go back to the kitchen, where it sounds like they might be immediately washed by hand for future customers.
A similarly small cafe on elegant Ile Saint-Louis handled service in much the same way, but with one important distinction. They had the benefit of a dumbwaiter that would silently carry steaming tagliatelle and crisp galettes upward to customers, while whisking away dirty dishes to the cavern below.
In a city that continues to thrive in the face of growing populations, Paris demonstrates an uncanny appreciation for space and energy. Schools double as voting sites. Little autos, such as Smart cars, outnumber larger vehicles, and the city Velib system makes bike-riding popular. Building entries have timed lighting for you to activate to avoid energy drain, and you can choose your drying cycles in the Laundromat to run in 10-minute segments.
In the United States, the economic downturn has brought about changes in thinking about spending and living. We have been enamored with big spaces and special-occasion rooms, with large cars and more appliances than we know how to conquer. Perhaps, we should look to Paris for inspiration.
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