Monday, August 23, 2010

Herringbone Envy – Hunting for the Paris Apartment, Part VIII


Today I’m excited because I’ve found an apartment that’s got my favorite floors. I know, that’s not much to get excited about but I really love these floors. To me, the herringbone style scream “Parisian” more than anything. In French, these floors are called “Pointes d’Hongrie” and I find them to be as yummy as Pierre Herme macaroons and as gorgeous as a Chanel tweed suit. I would be crazy enough to buy a Parisian apartment just because of these floors.

Herringbone 1

My favorite herringbone patterned floors, called “Pointes d’Hongrie”

Pointes d’Hongrie are not actually considered to be as classy in real estate terms as Pointes de Versailles, which are the 17th century equivalent, and as the name indicates, the gorgeous parquet floors that grace the Palace of Versailles.


The Parquet de Versaille (Courtesy of Atelier des Granges)

By comparison, Pointes d’Hongrie show up in buildings that were constructed in modern times, the mid to late 1800’s. But to me they are the quintessentially Parisian floors you’d find in a gorgeous big old Haussmann style building, flanked by 200 year old plane trees on the Boulevard St. Germain. Usually, along with the herringbone floors, you’ll get nice ceiling moldings and a good ceiling height, solid oak doors with the porcelain oval shaped handles and at least one fireplace with mantel. All I really want is an apartment with these features, in a nice neighborhood, with no vis a vis, facing south! That would be perfection.

At first glance, this apartment may have it all. It’s a two bedroom, one bath, separate kitchen (immediately I think to put the kitchen in the living room and you’ve got a second bath), with the classic “parquet, moulure, cheminee” which are the trifecta of Parisian apartments. The address says, “St. Germain, near Cluny,” which means the beautiful Cluny museum in the much coveted 5th Arrondissement. It is a little misleading because of course the St. Germain that we all covet is the area near the Eglise St. Germain, better known for the Cafe de Flore, Cafe des Magots, and the brand new Ralph Lauren boutique.

Cluny Museum

The Cluny Museum, Paris

The “Cluny” designation could be good or bad. If you’re too close to the Sorbonne, the value goes down because of al l the students in the area. If you’re too close to Boulevard St. Michel, it’s extremely touristy, and, I have it from a good source, the number one area for pickpockets in Paris. But there is a little section between Boulevard St. Germain and the Seine River that is quieter, with fewer students, fewer tourists and lots of great restaurants and hidden little squares. Plus, it is the epicenter of historic Paris, very close to Notre Dame, with charming buildings and unfortunately, skyrocketing prices.

I only have two pictures of this apartment and despite the fact that the price is more than I want to spend, I’m interested because it could be in that coveted little location and it’s a high floor, with elevator. But really, for this apartment, it’s all about the floors. I just love them!

Herringbone 2One of two pictures of the apartment, and all I have to go by

And even though I have so little to go by, I can already imagine what these floors will look like when I’m finished with them. Sanded, with only a natural matt stain, polished to perfection, with that wonderful subtle beeswax smell. I can already fantasize about how these floors will come out, like in these gorgeous apartments from Paris Perfect’s site:




large_962173410-1236808699-cote-06a-051211 Photos courtesy of Paris Perfect

I call the agent to get more information and he is very cagy about the specific location but says it’s close to the Cluny metro stop. I urge him to tell me which way it faces, which will determine if it’s on Boulevard St. Germain (facing South but noisy) or a side street. He says it faces South East, and the bathroom and kitchen are on a courtyard. So the bedrooms face the street, I ask? Yes, but it’s a small street, he answers. Aha, that narrows it down. It’s not on the Boulevard St. Germain (nice, but noisy) or the Boulevard St. Michel (luckily!). He tells me a little more about the apartment, but nothing I don’t already expect, such as the kitchen and bathroom need to be redone. I thank him and tell him I’ll be back in touch. And then I head to Google maps for my morning exercise.

Armed with one picture that shows the building across the street, I narrow it down to two little streets that run off the Boulevard St. Germain with buildings that face Southeast. So then I get out my French site, Pages Blanches, and start looking at the buildings in 3D to figure out which one has that rounded dormer, as in the picture. After lots of straining and manipulating of my computer screen, I narrow it down to two possibilities, but then I see that to the right of the dormer, there is a wall and a new building. Aha! I’ve figured it out … it’s on the rue de la Harpe.

The Latin Quarter, Paris, France

Rue de la Harpe strikes a familiar bell and it’s not necessarily a good one. I’m not sure why, so I revert back to google maps and start “walking” up and down the street again. It’s very touristy and there are a ton of restaurants, so I realize it’ll be noisy. Heart sinks a little. At one end of the street is the beautiful old Church of St. Severin, one of my favorites in Paris, where Francois Espinasse, the brother of our artist Jean Michel Espinasse, is the organist. That’s pretty cool but probably not a reason to buy an apartment down the street. So I turn around and head back up the street towards St. Germain, stumbling over the tourists and imagining the ruckus at midnight. And then it hits me fair and square: McDo! There is a McDonalds on the corner of Boulevard St. Germain and rue de la Harpe! This time, I put on my proverbial running shoes on and bolt down the street as fast as I can, leaving my favorite floors and my trusted google maps in the dust.

Stay tuned: Le sublime is lurking around the corner …

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hunting for the Paris Apartment VII - Hurt by the Spam Filter

Most Thursday afternoons, I get a little reminder on one of my Paris real estate websites that there are new listings “by owner” that fit my search criteria. I always feel pretty excited when this email pops up, because it’s a chance to jump on an opportunity before it is exposed to the masses. And I always feel ever so slightly smug that in this very competitive real estate jungle, I may be a half step ahead of my competitors who don’t speak French and don’t know about the “by owner” sites. I read these ads with relish and respond immediately if I see an ad that interests me.

One week, I didn’t get the ad on a Thursday, but instead it popped up on Friday evening, and was entitled, Week Ends’ Summary. I thought, “That’s odd – I don’t remember ever getting the ads yesterday,” and so I casually perused them, only to have my heart stop. There was an ad for an apartment on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais (already established earlier as one of my favorite avenues in Paris), fourth floor, elevator, with … you guessed it … a great view of the Grande Dame. As if that wasn’t enough, the four pictures in the ad confirmed my greatest suspicion: This was the perfect apartment in the perfect location. By now very familiar with this neighborhood, I could tell that exactly where it was situated, and figured out not only what it looked out over (Princess Caroline’s apartment across the street), but what building it was in.

Bourdonnais 1

Gorgeous view of the Eiffel Tower across Avenue de la Bourdonnais

Bourdonnais IV

The Building that houses royalty across the street, to the left

Bourdonnais III

Typically Parisian Haussmann architecture

Bourdonnais II

Photos that stopped my heart, on the By Owner site

There was one problem: It was 6 p.m. in Atlanta and midnight in Paris, and I didn’t think I’d make a great impression if I called the owner at that hour, no matter how excited I was. So I sent an email, spent the evening walking up and down the avenue (courtesy of Google maps!), and when I’d exhausted myself and calmed my nerves enough, went to bed and set my alarm for 4 a.m., so I could call bright and early Paris time.

Unfortunately, I was 24 hours too late, and the apartment was already sold. Bereft, and more disappointed than I’d been in years, I tried to figure out how I’d missed this one, since I was sure I’d been one of the first. And that’s when I found the original email, stuck in my spam filter, 24 hours earlier. I should have suspected that when I didn’t get it on Thursday, it might have gone in to spam. Had I seen it earlier, I would have jumped on it immediately and just maybe, I would have been the first offer.

When you have a disappointment like this, someone will inevitably pop up with, “It wasn’t meant to be.” It’s never much consolation at the time, but I have found it to be true – at least in this case. The new owners did a wonderful renovation job and it looks like a beautiful and very happy apartment. (Interestingly, since it’s available for rent, maybe I’ll even rent it some day.) Their renovation is so wonderful in fact that it has given me lots of ideas and inspiration for my own renovation, whenever that will be.

Bourdonnais III

Before: Look carefully at the before and see what the new owners did with the after


After: They replaced the radiator with a beautiful mantel


And added sumptuous decor


This is just the kind of inspiration I need for my dream apartment!

large_591861208-1268044276-Paris apartment-rental-french-style-2-bedrooms

Before: And if you look carefully at the back of the apartment

Bourdonnais II

You’ll see that they closed off the door to the study,


which makes the dining room feel bigger


And added a beautiful bedroom behind those doors.


Tada! The piece de resistance.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, and it wouldn’t have stopped me from buying this apartment, I have learned that probably the most important thing for me, equal to or even greater than location and view, is light. By that I mean preferably southern exposure, or in Paris, because it stays light so late in the summer, west is good too. That’s because the weather in Paris can be disappointingly dreary, but when it’s nice and sunny, it’s just gorgeous. I find myself wandering around on sunny days and looking up and coveting those western or southern exposed apartments that are bathed in sun. So although this dreamy apartment does have one beautiful window facing west (from which there is the million dollar view), the others all face north. That wouldn’t bother most people, but it would bother me. At the time that I lost this apartment, I felt hurt and deceived by my overly protective spam filter. Now I’m thinking it just wasn’t meant to be. And so the hunt -- for the perfect southwest facing apartment with gorgeous floors and killer view of the Eiffel tower, in the 7th arrondissement -- continues. Stay tuned for “Herringbone Envy.”



PS: All photos of the after shots, courtesy of Paris Perfect.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hunting for a Paris Apartment VI - How (not) to make an offer

If truth be told, I started writing this blog with the overly optimistic title, “How to make an offer.” But unfortunately, a couple of days into the offer process I realized I'd have to change it to, “How NOT to make an offer,” as I stumbled along making mistakes at every turn. I guess this is what it’s all about: learning to perfect the tricky process of pursuing the dream. I’m happy to share the good with the bad, and hoping that anyone who is accompanying me on this journey will benefit from learning about both. So this is what happened …

Cropped view from LR

Although I've been trying other neighborhoods in Paris, I keep coming back to the familiar 7th arrondissement, yearning for a view of the Eiffel Tower, and a fabulous food fix on the rue Cler. So when a listing with this image popped up on my radar, I jumped at it. In fact, knowing the competitive Paris real estate market, and realizing that I would lose it if I didn’t make a full price offer immediately, I did that – even though the price seemed a little high. However views like this don’t come around very often, and so I figured it was worth it, even though it was priced too high for the size, location (and I later learned, architectural style). I knew that this was not a charming older apartment with high ceilings, moldings and lovely floors. But this one had a secret weapon in addition to the killer view: A small terrace and the possibility of a roof garden! So when I weighed that against the price, it seemed like a fair trade, and I reassured myself that this was the right move.



I didn’t have much to go by with the pictures of the interior, which were boring and nondescript. But all I needed was a floorplan to figure out that this could be turned into a great little mid-century modern apartment with dark high gloss floors, a sleek little hi-tech kitchen, a nice little balcony and a sexy spiral staircase leading to an imagined roof garden. That was enough for me: My offer was accepted and I hopped on the next plane to visit the apartment and seal the deal.

Here was the first and probably costliest mistake: if I had honed my google map skills and studied the information available (for free!) on the internet, I would have known before purchasing the plane ticket that this apartment was not for me. I would have realized, first off, that this part of the rue de l’Universite is not the charming “Rue de Loo” that Julia Child lived on and raved about. I would have figured out that most of the apartments surrounding this one were actually towering over it, so that even if we had been able to put in a roof garden (a big if, of course), we may have ended up sitting in a proverbial fishbowl. I would have noticed that there were actually higher buildings between this apartment and the Eiffel tower, blocking the view from all but a sliver in the living room. And finally, I would have known that buildings built in the 1960’s are less valuable than the pre-1900’s so that the price I had quickly agreed to was at least 10% too high for the area.

But this was my first offer, and I was still learning the rules. So imagine my surprise, after I had spent a small fortune on a plane ticket and hotel accommodation, and thought I was going to find this:


But actually in reality, the view looked like this:

View from inside LR

It was a little better from the balcony but still not what I had bargained for:

View from LR

Although probably would have quite stunning at night, when the Eiffel tower does its scintillating show.

View North

View to the North

Pictures 007

View South

Copy of Building to the South.jpg

View East

Don't get me wrong: This is a nice apartment, and someone will be very happy living there because it’s in a safe, convenient location, and the building is well kept and completely quiet (for which people pay a huge premium in Paris). It's just not the right apartment for me. This was my second attempt at falling in love with a “newer building” and I realized from this mistake how much I value that Louis-like antique charm. It all goes back to my first real visit to Paris when I was fourteen, and we stayed at the Hotel du Duc de St. Simon. Something about the windows, the floors, the hardware, the narrow hallways, the molding and the views: That’s my fantasy and I’m sticking to it!

Meanwhile, as I was stumbling along in the buying process, I had a little panic attack as I desperately needed to get out of my signed and accepted offer, for which I had already wired a significant sum of money. But luckily for me, French law is very much on the side of the buyer, and there are several “outs” before you actually have to commit. At this point, all I had committed was a big faux pas, which cost me nothing more than a plane ticket, a hotel room and several people's wrath. With little more than a letter of apology, I could walk away from the deal free and clear.


And walk is quite literally what I did, for the rest of my stay in Paris. I figured that if I was “stuck” in Paris for a few days, I would spend the time productively, familiarizing myself with every nook and cranny in the neighborhood. So for three days, I walked up and down the streets, taking in the architecture, the cafes and shops and the views, measuring the exposure to sunlight (yes, I do this!), the distance from the Metro, and the proximity to the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. I covered every square inch of every street that runs East of the Eiffel tower, South of the Seine, and NorthWest of Les Invalides. I have immersed myself in the the good, the bad and the ugly, and I knew just where I want to live, which, in fact, is just right around the corner. ...

Stay tuned for “Hurt by the Spam Filter” – next week!

Rue Cler