First Paris Apartment

Over the weekend the latest group of students attending the American University of Paris arrived in town. Hard to believe that was me three years ago. Also hard to believe that since first arriving here I’ve only graduated 2m2 – from 10m2 (110sf) to 12m2 (129sf). My friends here have long bonded over our small living, and I have to say it’s one of the most empowering exercises to have to go through (especially when your age is closer to 30 than to 20). I remember having that naïve dream of having laundry again when moving here. And I did, it was just down 5 flights of stairs (6 if you count American style) and over a couple blocks. Finding an apartment in Paris is an emotional task , only heightened by the culture shock, namely of small living. When I go home to the US I try to explain to them the size of my apartment and find myself saying things like “it’s a little smaller than your kitchen” or “it’s pretty much the size of your bathroom.” The thing is, I’m not kidding. And until you see it, no one really understands what our small Paris apartments are like. So, I decided to call on some friends to have them illustrate their first Paris apartment to give you a sense of what we’re really talking about [click images to enlarge]. I should also add that everyone with an apartment pictured here has gone on to do super amazing things, so don’t be fooled by small living. And don’t complain next time you think you have a small place.

The lead image was the apartment I called home for the past two years (I nabbed it after a friend moved out – the only way to do it – and just moved out in July). Despite it’s quaint size, the layout was super practical, and upon moving out a friend – and myself included – was shocked by how much I was able to fit into such a small space (and this is even with avoiding having to carry much up the stairs). I couldn’t have asked for a better neighborhood and building (see here). The 10m2 (110 sf) was the apartment I called home before that, but the bathroom style sink to do my dishes (and brush my teeth) was not nearly as practical as the kitchen sink in my second place. Oh, and that “view of the Eiffel Tower”? I could see the tippy top of it, but it was a convenient way to keep track of time at night when it’d twinkle every hour.

My friend Sarah S. may have won the prize for living in the smallest apartment I ever visited here at 9m2 (96 sf). The irony is I swear she had 8+ people fit in there for a birthday celebration. Don’t be fooled by the spaciousness of these drawings, part of the roof in this case was slanted.

Then Sarah moved into a 13m2 palace compared to her 9m2 place. In Sarah’s words: One advantage to living in a 9 m2 apartment is the narcissistic argument-winning one: when someone complains about dealing with this or that living condition, you can always shut them up by describing the size of your apartment/sharing a bathroom with strangers/etc. (This applies mostly to middle class Americans of course, since are a lot of people in the world for whom that living situation would be an improvement). . . I hope never to live in such a confined space again, but believe that humans should use less resources, and thus hope to carry the minimalist-Paris-student aesthetic with me wherever I live in my life! I will at least be less picky the next time I look for an apartment.
Jen Daly’s first apartment was pretty rad because she had a shower in the middle of it. In Jen’s words: I used to sketch out my apt for my friends back home all the time because they couldn’t understand how my shower was in the middle of the room. The sketch looks so much bigger on paper than in real life though. I actually had 20m2 (215 sf), which is huge compared to yours! My toilet was still in the hall, and my “couch” was an extra twin bed that i made into a sofa. It was a decent sized space, but the upkeep was terrible!!! The windows were rotten, the paint was coming off the walls, the carpet was from 1970, the hotplate didn’t really work, and god only knows how old the mattress was…ahh, the joys of living in Paris!

MeighanMc had the luck to find herself living in 12m2 in the Marais. In Meighan’s words: My sketch probably makes it look bigger than it actually was (!) but I loved that little place. It was a shoebox (if ever there was one), but so many important things happened to me while living there that I’ll always have a fond memory of it. And no matter how scary, overwhelming or exasperating life got while trying to make it in Paris… well, I always had my shoebox (with terrace!).

If there’s anything small Paris apartments are good for is that they save gym costs, as they’re typically on the top floor (also means great view and great light) – without an elevator. Tiffany (aka Tifamade) even shares her flat with a cat! At least she has a “private kitchen.” [Click images to enlarge].

Meg G‘s place is another example of how a good layout can make anything better. In Meg’s words: I lived in the 9th – near Chaussée d’Antin la Fayette. It was itty bitty and so logically set up! I feel like now that I’ve lived in a chambre de bonne [former maid's quarters], I could live anywhere.

Maria Hertz loved her small living until she fell in love, and needed a bigger place. In Maria’s words: This 15m2 [161 sf] chambre de bonne (in the 16ème) with its slanted roof and 2 sky lights was the first home I ever made on my own. The walls were covered with photographs and posters and I absolutely loved coming home to my own (little) piece of paradise.

Daniela’s 14m2 (150 sf) pad was in the 5th. She actually had laundry, but per typical European style I’m sure it took about 3 hours just to wash her clothes.

And last but not least a look at Rachel‘s first Paris apartment at 15m2 (161 sf). It wasn’t until she graduated to her 21m2 (226 sf) flat that she landed her book deal + BBC show aptly entitled “The Little Paris Kitchen.”

For more of the realities of life in France, check out my {Un}glamorous Paris column!

29 comments

  • Love this! Really puts into perspective what ‘small living’ really is. I’ve never felt so lucky to be living in a 2 bedroom apartment, even if it is in Perth and not Paris :)

  • Oh Anne, what a fabulous post.. I LOVE all the quirky floor sketches. As a home finder I know about Paris living but even I have never known anyone live under 10sm…

    You guys rock. Sometimes I’d like to have an extea room but at 80sm I will NEVER complain ever again!!!

  • The contrast between the very large outside arquitectural spaces in Paris which precisely makes it´s “grandeur” and the “petitesse” where some people accept to live
    -no other choice probably, though- is remarkable.

    Last time i stood 2 days in Paris in a semi-cheap though clean and well-equipped hotel in the 17-ème, not far 89 rue de Rome, where Mallarmé, Renoir and more people, used to meet; i was stunned by the smallishness of everything: rooms, showers, hyper-narrow-stairs with no elevators; “la grandeur pour les rois et les seigneurs, la petitesse pour le peuple”. Paris looks like if there was no real room for everybody, once you see the inside where people live, in contrast with the splendor of the outside.

    PS: And i am used to great people-concentrations, living in a town built with few space between hill/mountains and in a province (county) where the population density is near 550 inhabitants / km^2.

  • Thanks, Chisa! That was the goal. Really the biggest stress of these little apartments is actually finding one (the market is tough!).

    Tina, when you’re a [grad] student, it’s kind of the common fad ;)

    Robin, yes, Paris is a secret world behind closed doors. As you will see here, you’d never guess my floor plan from these pictures: http://www.pret-a-voyager.com/2012/08/life-in-9th.html
    … also why I think French fashion is chic – you just need a few great pieces, as there’s not a lot of room for storage!

    Anne

  • It did take me 3 hours to wash! and the humidity in the tiny appartment for the clothes to dry made the walls sweat… which meant that in winter i was FREEZING. Underneath the window (because i only had one…) was the heater (electric) that wind escape from the window would overheat the apartment in winter and could potentially burn the sheets to my bed which was attached to the window.. All the free space you see in my apt drawing was literally filled by the bed. I just don’t have the gift of drawing with the right proportions… Paris has converted me to the minimalist lifestyle and i love that…

  • Anonymous MundoFerpecto, oh, yes, I can totally imagine what you’re describing… I was really lucky with my apartments – well located heaters that I rarely needed to use. At least such a small space is super easy to heat!

    I concur, I have a new found love of minimalism! Living in Paris sticks with you forever.

    A

  • Thanks, Anne for this post. I think a lot of people have this romantic dreams of living in Paris and it’s good to see the “real life” or maybe the tiny appartements are even part of this Paris dreams :-)
    Btw have you found a new place yet?
    Yours, Toni

  • Jac, yes, seeing is believing! No wide angle lenses here ;)

    Toni, yes, totally agree people have such an idealized view of Paris. It’s amazing, but also makes you want to bang your head against the wall at times. . . I’m still loving the “nomadicity” of my life, but looks like I’ll have a home of my own in Nov which I’m looking forward to!

    Anne

  • As crazy as it sounds, I think I could be happy in a space that small. I would probably have to bring in some kind of portable table/island to prep food on, because I love to cook. However, the less to clean, the better! Thanks for sharing these fun floor plan drawings.
    -Sonya

  • Sonya, for sure small living did nothing for my cooking abilities, but Rachel (last diagram) is a chef and cooked up brilliant recipes in hers… I would have stayed in small living longer, but my landlords wanted a student tenant. Time to move on ;)

    A

  • I used to love dorm style living. I am into minimalism and a small space sure keeps you minimal :) Making small space work is an art all it’s own. My dream to move to France is still that a dream but maybe someday I to will share in the wonder of an American squeezing into 100 sf :)

  • What a great post! I am moving into my first Parisian apartment. I got very lucky with the size – 20 m2 – but the 7 flights of stairs are certainly going to make for an interesting day of errands!

  • Wonky73, the irony is that 9 years ago when I lived here (with roommate) I had 30some m2. Life is an adventure!

    Welcome, Danielle! Wow, you seriously scored! You’ll for sure be the one hosting the parties ;)

    Anne

  • Brilliant post! I love living in tiny spaces, I rented a gorgeous cute little apartment in Paris for a week and could have stayed forever.
    I live in a camper van-ified Ford Transit, complete with two sofa’s which convert to a bed, an L shaped kitchen, a bookshelf and a walk in wardrobe/toilet/tool shed. Haha, not as glamorous as it might sound but I adore it. Lacks a prober bathroom though. xxx

  • Brilliant post! I love living in tiny spaces, I rented a gorgeous cute little apartment in Paris for a week and could have stayed forever.
    I live in a camper van-ified Ford Transit, complete with two sofa’s which convert to a bed, an L shaped kitchen, a bookshelf and a walk in wardrobe/toilet/tool shed. Haha, not as glamorous as it might sound but I adore it. Lacks a prober bathroom though. xxx

  • Brilliant post! I love living in tiny spaces, I rented a gorgeous cute little apartment in Paris for a week and could have stayed forever.
    I live in a camper van-ified Ford Transit, complete with two sofa’s which convert to a bed, an L shaped kitchen, a bookshelf and a walk in wardrobe/toilet/tool shed. Haha, not as glamorous as it might sound but I adore it. Lacks a prober bathroom though. xxx

  • I love these quirky sketches and this whole post and can completely identify with it thanks to my 18m2 flat, which now feels palatial compared to some of these. I’m a lot older than a post-college student, but it’s worth it to live here; my little place has a great Paris-rooftop view and is super charming, even if it is a little cramped. :) (But I do have a washer!)

  • The Vagabond Baker, those campers def are a good example of small living. At least you have the open road to go with it :)

    RBrown, aren’t they so much better that they’re all the original work of the inhabitants. The sketches totally make me smile. . . Rooftop views are the best. I became a pro weather watcher in my last place. LOVED it.

    Anne

  • LOVE these drawings!
    So personal
    I grew up in an attic extension so I gravitate to small spaces. It took ages to figure out why I’m so happy working/sleeping in one room even in a big two-bedroom apartment. Paris suits me to a T.

  • Wonderful blog post! I live in Paris, in a – by comparison – luxurious 83 m2 (893 sq ft) apartment. After seeing these cute drawings, I will never complain about the size of our apartment! It’s still a big jump from our last apartment in California, at a whopping 1800 square feet. But, on the bright side, my husband and I are now really conscious of the perils of having too much stuff. We buy very carefully and cautiously now.

    Salut,
    Elizabeth in the 18th

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>