{Un}Glamorous Paris: Chambre de Bonne

IMG_2590Nothing irks me more than when people say I live a charmed life because I live in Paris. Really, there’s a lot of unglamorousness behind the scenes, particularly when it comes to living in Paris apartments. My life is definitely not like you see in the movies! This month marks 7 years I’ve called Paris home since moving here for grad school in 2009. In June I moved into my first “real” Paris apartment. For the first time in 7 years I have my own mailbox and can check my mail 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I can’t tell you how luxurious life feels now!

Recently Elena Berton, a writer for the WSJ Expat blog reached out to me after seeing my past posts about finding an apartment in Paris (1, 2, 3 and my personal favorite where I had friends draw floor plans of their first Paris apartments) to get my take on small living. While I’ve always been proud of my modest, miniscule living the fact that I had been a long time editor for Design*Sponge sharing more than 500 hundred beautiful “sneak peek” interior home tours from creatives around the world made me a bit ashamed, or at least hesitant, to share pictures of my own apartment. Also, after grad school I was in my 30s, found myself unexpectedly starting my own business, and bragging about how small and unglamorous my apartment was wasn’t exactly the clientelle I wanted to attract at the time. I decided the time has come to finally give a “sneak peek” inside my own Paris apartments.

Nearly 7 years later, I’ve made it. I’ve started a successful business in France (hello, uphill battle), earn a significantly higher salary than I ever did at my full-time job in the U.S. (where salaries are much higher than in France) where the word “freelance” can be the kiss of death in terms of trying to secure a Paris apartment (as well as being foreign). On top of it, I became French, not by getting married or being sponsored by a company, but by my own sheer stubborness. Small living may not always be glamorous, but my 7 floor walk-up was a free gym, I had a killer view, great natural light and I was able to save a bit of money, pay off my student loans, and finally graduate to my real apartment that’s 34m2 (365 sf) that feels like a palace to me (seriously, I don’t know what to do with so much space). Of course, it’s not much bigger than my childhood bedroom, but for Paris it’s a huge step up. It’s also been a strangely humbling and rewarding journey to get there.

“Chambre de bonne” refers to the top floor former maid’s quarters of apartments which have been renovated and use space incredibly efficiently. For perspective, the first one was about the size of a closet in the U.S., the second, the size of a bathroom, and the 3rd, the size of an American kitchen.  Still, it’s staggering how much crap you can fit in these tiny spaces, which I realized after my latest move (note: I moved to Paris with 2 suitcases and a backpack). One thing is for sure your expectations and standards change in Paris. You get to a point where you’re happy to have a home. I’m just glad the internet exists while calling these humble abodes home.

#1

pretavoyager-aptlayout
2009-10

size: 10ms2 (110 sf)
location: 7th arrondissement (next door to the brother of the King of Saudi Arabia who was rarely home) [Ecole Militaire]
floor: 5, no elevator
view: “Eiffel Tower” (aka 2 inches at the top, but at least I could tell time by when it twinkled)
toilet: shared, in the hallway
price: 550€/mo
fun fact: If I tottered on my feet, my armspan could reach both walls the short way.

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#2

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size: 12m2 (129 sf)
location: 9th arrondissement [St. Georges]
floor: 5, no elevator
view: Opéra and Paris rooftops
toilet: shared, in the hallway
price: 475€/mo (weird, because they charged my friend before me more)

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#3

pretavoyager-11arr-apt
2012-2016
size: 16-18m2 (172-194sf)
location: 11th arrondissement [Parmentier]
floor: 7, no elevator (at least there were windows)
view: half of Paris looking south including Notre Dame and Centre Pompidou
price: 607€/mo
issues: skylight blew open at 4:30am during a crazy wind storm, hot water tank started leaking at 3am two days before Christmas, leaky window that landlord didn’t want to deal with for 2 years even after it started raining indoors on Easter Monday

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Soooo, when I say I live in Paris, in a small apartment, is this what you expected??

More in my {Un}Glamorous Paris series!

21 comments

  • Yes, pretty much, since I lived In a place not much bigger In the 15th for two months. But I did have a lift & the toilet/shower space was next to the one room. Not sure how I would deal with it for a really long time but it was not my worst experience!

  • Wow, great post and congratulations on your new apartment and all your hard won successes! Will we get to take a peak at your new place too? ;)

    Everyone thinks that my attic apartment in a beautiful old Bremen house is “tiny” (50m2, but actually less if you factor in the sloping walls of the rooftop), I really don’t know what I would do with more space! I think it’s perfect and luxurious. :)

  • I loved living in my chambre de bonne for a number of reasons; the great view, the light, and best of all, not having anyone clomping around above me. However I lived through the heatwaves, including the one where the temperature my apt reached 110ºF. I miss a lot of things about that apartment, although the size was often vexing and you do have to decide what you “really” need, and what you don’t, due to space constraints. I see a lot of visitors looking at announcements in the real estate agency windows, thinking that they would like to live in one, and not sure they’re want to deal with 7 flights of stairs, a tiny (or non-existent) kitchen, wonky bathrooms, nosy guardiennes, etc. but I do miss mine.

  • Loved this…!

    Love Paris and the apartments, can’t wait to go back one day.

    Been three times already and still not had enough ❤️

  • August 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm //

    Loved the peek into your Paris apartments! Not surprising…what does surprise me is people who move to Paris and expect a full size fridge because that’s what they had back home 😄

  • I love this post! I’ve spent a great deal of time in Paris over the last decade, staying in an apartment and living much more like a local than a tourist, so I had some idea of what it was like to really live there, but this is still really refreshing. After each trip I purge more and more of my stuff because I get by with so little while I’m there and realize how little I really need to be happy and have my needs met. One year after a trip I actually moved into an apartment half the size I had been living in because all the space felt so weird after being in my tiny Parisian apartment. Thank you for sharing your spaces and I hope you give us a peek at your new space too! Congrats on that and all the hard work it took to be French!

  • Wow! My husband is Aussie & everyone he knows there lives in MTV Cribs sized homes so imagine my embarrassment at sharing our tiny north London homes with his Aussie visitors… This post made me smile at how such a small space could be such a pretty one (I colour-coordinate my books too, all 7 shelves of them). You’ve also made me proud the humble space we call home. But if you ever want to life swap, I’m your girl.

  • Thank you for your Parisian apartment history. I’ve visited but of course it’s a different experience living in this beautiful city which almost balances out the tiny house living. If I was young again….I’d risk it in a heartbeat. Your entry provides every reason why.

  • Love this post! I’m moving there in 2 weeks so I’ve definitely been looking at a lot of itsy bitsy apartments. How did you like living near Parmentier? I’m looking at a place by there.

  • Anne, thank you so much for posting photos of your homes. I loved getting to see more if real life in Paris. It made my day. I’d love to read how you manage moving in a city, without a car and without family. I like learning how other people manage daily life.

    • Found an amazing and affordable mover thanks to another friend moving: https://letransporteurdupauvre.fr/ (BEST customer service experience in France!!!). It’s hard moving when you have such a small flat, so also involved a friend’s car and a couple loads on the metro. Amazing how much crap I fit in 16m2!

  • This is amazing, you’re such a champ. There’s no shame in pointing out the realities of chasing your dreams, but to still remember that you’re living a dream that most people couldn’t ever pull off. I would GLADLY take a space that small for price like that…when I was living in Boston I paid about three times that for a space barely bigger. So perhaps some extended time in Paris is in my future…thanks for planting that seed :)

  • Loved all your photos! You have had some journey! I used your advice: car service to/from the Paris airport last year – worked out very well – thanks! I stayed in a one bedroom TripAdviser apt in the 1st Arron. – small but had my own toilet/shower and a large fridge!

  • A great story told about the realities of living in Paris. You decorate your apartment so well. You have always had a nice view though! The scarcity of space is one of the top reasons why I live outside in the 92 to the west of the 17 Arr.. I grew up in a small house and as an adult, I could not do it any longer. From my street I also have the Eiffel tower saluting me so I can’t complain.

  • Hi, I’m so inspired by you!! I have just moved to paris and I am looking for an apartment and a job!! where do you recommend to look for an appartment, I have tried so many websites and no one replies!! I’ve been here for two weeks and nothing!!