Our main requirement for a Paris apartment? It couldn't look Parisian. We wanted to come home after a long day, feeling we'd escaped the city. Our agent, based in Passy, had her heart set on luring us there. My husband categorically refused. Like aboriginal larrokotj, the 16ème is pretty, but empty inside.
We chose the 7ème because I'd never lived anywhere but Cleveland, and as far as Paris goes, this is as American as it gets. It's civilized to the point of distraction- if I walk home alone at night, the worst that could happen is an old lady might hit me with her Hermès bag. Best of all, it's close to everything; you can walk or bike anywhere in Paris in under 20 minutes.
Our agent showed us three apartments, 70-100 square meters in size. The first two apartments were a physical manifestation of l'esprit de Paris, a dusty, decaying mix of beautiful and nonsensical elements. One looked out onto a concrete wall. The other had a gigantic, fully exposed hot water heater in the middle of the bathroom. Both apartments featured lovely French doors, crown molding and fireplaces. Both lacked closets, kitchen space, and light or adequate ventilation. The third, smallest apartment was unique in terms of outdoor space. The terrace overlooked Champ de Mars, and the balcony flanked Napoleon's Tomb.
We chose the smallest apartment. It represented the most efficient use of space, which isn't saying much, since the bathroom is in the bedroom, and sloped ceilings and irregularly placed heaters make decorating tricky. As is typical of Paris apartments, we provided our own appliances. An extensive search in Goutte d'Or yielded no suitable secondhand options- but did give us a chance to grab drinks at Kube Hotel- and we finally bought floor models from Darty. In Paris, rent increases the higher you go- our apartment is on the top floor, and costs more per month than the larger apartments we visited. Generally, French residential buildings don't come equipped for wi-fi. We had to run a cable from the ground to the top floor via an unused staircase. It required a lot of drilling and patience from the good people at Numericable, and a few weeks later, even more finagling on the part of our new neighbors.
This isn't to say that I don't love our place. I wouldn't change anything about it, except maybe the gardienne and the purple-faced cabinets. It's sunny and cheery and perfect for our little family. When we have parties, everybody's out on the terrace, watching the sun set behind Tour Eiffel. In the mornings, the cats sit on the balcony, screeching as pigeons fly over Invalides. The apartment is so nice, it's hard to leave sometimes- imagine waking up to these views and this natural light and then sitting in a dark Métro for 40 minutes. No thanks!
I'm not posting pictures of the apartments we passed on, because they're inexplicably flattering and if you see them, you'll think I'm nuts. When shopping for a French flat, insist on meeting the gardienne before move-in. A gardienne can make your time in Paris either more wonderful or nightmarish, and ours falls squarely in the latter category. Remember, utilities don't include electricity in France, so mind your meter, lest EDF try to rip you off- they WILL try.
To read Parts I and II of our apartment hunt, click here and here.