Life in Close Quarters

Written by admin on June 16, 2010 – 11:52 am -

It’s become a growing trend. Rather than being cramped in a hotel room, an increasing number people are opting to rent apartments when they come to Paris or cities. They may be on vacation, but even business travelers are going the rental route if they’re going to be in the city for more than a few days.

When Americans rent Paris apartments, invariably they’ll echo the same refrain. They wonder how people can live in such tight quarters. Many rental apartments are in the 40-50 square-meter range; multiply by 11 for the number of square feet.

Besides a living/dining area combination, a kitchen and a bedroom, there’s usually only one WC (toilet) and one bath (a tub and/or a shower) plus a sink.

Sound good? You bet. This size apartment isn’t terribly unusual if you want to stay in central Paris. But the agent or ad states the apartment is large enough to accommodate four people. Few Europeans flinch nor will people on a very tight budget.

Americans tend to have different expectations, unless they’ve sailed together in an under-30 foot boat and have experienced truly close quarters. People from the U.S. expect to be able to spread out unless it’s a family of four or very good friends—and then, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice had a king-size bed.

Well, hello, and welcome abroad! The American way of life including living in big houses or large apartments isn’t the norm. City dwellers in many parts of the world don’t have excess space to burn. But here’s the bottom line: A week or two spent living in what seems to be half the space or less than you need can be an illuminating moment. I can’t predict that you will shout Hallelujah or just Eureka, but you might learn something about how to live.

This idea is already taking hold in the States. I don’t know how many magazine articles I’ve seen recently about how to adapt to small quarters and live with less and more efficiently. Then there are the television shows that focus on downsizing, and designers and space planners engineering small spaces so they fit their clients’ lifestyles. With the advent of the green movement, many groups are advocating that people should downsize in order to conserve resources.

Okay. Now, the French have traditionally been energy conscious because of the high cost of electricity. As an American, I applaud this and turn lights off and the heat and air conditioning down no matter where I am. It’s become such a habit that I turn out lights even in hotels where utilities aren’t the issue. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

They utilize space very differently even in other rich countries. Few people have enormous family rooms with media centers plus workout equipment discreetly tucked into a corner. People tend to buy less because closet and storage space is at a premium.

Many people in the U.S. are spoiled. I count myself among them. But the idea of having a big house for which to care has become increasingly less appealing. Having had those pleasures and responsibilities in both France and in the U.S., it’s no piece of cake, and for the few times a year guests want to stay (and vice-versa), booking a room in a nearby hotel is more sensible.

When someone shows me their château or mansion, heating bills and maintenance costs immediately shoot through my mind. The next question is who is going to clean the digs? It’s amazing how some people don’t appear to factor in that someone is going to need to be responsible for cleaning the premises or, perhaps as I did, work at full gallop in order to pay a housekeeper and a gardener or two.

How many people spend their weekends and time when they’re not at work pushing vacuum cleaners and scrubbing floors? If they have children, their time is spoken for. Sadly, most children aren’t into being neat or mopping floors.

If you live in a small apartment, there are so many ways to maximize space. If the ceilings are high enough (which many are in France if the building is more than 100 years old), you might add a mezzanine. Even though built-in furniture can be expensive, IKEA and other stores lessen the cost. Even if you don’t buy a thing, purchase a catalogue and use it as a textbook in addition to providing inspiration as to how to utilize every inch.

Europeans might partition rooms by using screens to separate space or have beds that go up and down on a hydraulic lift. In addition, having furniture that’s moveable can allow flexibility when entertaining. Consider sectional seating that can be shifted, and thank goodness for mirrors that make spaces look larger.

But please, whatever you do, if you’re coming to Paris, please don’t send an email complaining about the size of your rental apartment. If you’re space driven, ask the owner or the agent for the precise number of square feet (or meters) of your temporary home and go (and pay for) bigger. Or, hey, you might consider renting a suite at The Meurice.


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