Saturday, January 19, 2013

Not perfect, continued

I woke up this morning happier and I attribute this mainly to the blog post I wrote last night while sitting in the middle of piles of laundry.  So even though it's midnight and everyone else in the family is asleep and I can think of about five useful things I should be doing instead (like sleeping, incidentally), I'm back here again. No laundry. Just me.

Here goes.

One of the constant themes on my blog is my search for the perfect apartment (or condo, to be precise: we're looking to buy, although in France the vocabulary doesn't make the distinction).  So for a while I wanted to be in Paris proper even though that was financially ridiculous, and then for many years we dreamed of Versailles, and now we're thinking Sèvres (of the famed porcelain) or one of the nearby communities along the convenient train line to La Défense and Saint-Lazare.  I want green space.  I want space tout court, having made my husband acknowledge now that we've finally outgrown our 640 square feet and two bedrooms or at least my ability to maintain my equilibrium through frequent trips to IKEA.

Once upon a time I wanted high molded ceilings, mansard roofs, french doors and the architectural trappings of, well, France.  Now I realize that these details come with winding, inconvenient hallways, poorly-distributed floor plans and lofty price tags that reflect their rarity and charm.  They usually don't come with elevators or parking garages or built-in closets.

The trente glorieuses are how the French nostalgically refer to the thirty years following the Second World War. Wikipedia defines it from 1945 to 1973: the end of the war to the oil crisis.  During those years, France celebrated its economic recovery by building batteries of rectilinear apartment complexes filled with all the modern, logical comforts of the latter half of the 20th century: elevators, underground parking, trash chutes, bidets.  If you're searching for an apartment in the Paris region, you'll inevitably visit scores of such buildings, to the point where you can almost accurately draw out the floor plan from just an interior snapshot or two and the brief description in the listing.  You can also guess the decade of construction by looking at the windows or the balcony railing design or the pattern of the hardwood floor.

I didn't think such buildings were for me.  The charm of the 1960s and 70s, well... isn't.  Yet I'll have to admit that these buildings are quite practical.  And not utterly uncharming, in the right environment, looking out over the Forêt de Saint-Cloud for example, with a long, wide balcony and some late-model French doors.

I'll be visiting two apartments that fit this description tomorrow, and I'm already aflutter with ideas of how I'd transform the space into something chic and inviting à la Bemz or Apartment Therapy.

What matters after all?  Space.  Distance to schools.  Quality of said schools.  The ability to walk less than ten minutes to get groceries and a daily baguette.  Sunlight.  Workable floor plan.  Calm.  A reasonable commute.  There I go again, reasoning like an adult, which makes me irritated as much as it makes me proud.  Letting go of the perfect to get to the useful and the reasonable and the livable.

My husband already visited the first of the two apartments and was pretty enthusiastic, so things could get interesting fast.  Although no one who knows us well and has been following this story will believe me on that one.

I'll let you know what I find out.  In the meantime, anyone got good house hunting stories for me?  Or redecorating tips?  (I almost wrote "trips" there.  Maybe that's more accurate.) You can come crash at our new flat if you know how to replaster walls after ripping out wallpaper!


Ksam said...

Our apartment is an ugly 1970's building, but we made a conscious decision to choose function over charm. C took enough "plaintes" from people complaining about their neighbors to completely turn us off from parquet and the noise that comes with. Also, I didn't really like how "charm" was usually associated with 30% of the apartment space being lost in hallways or bad angles. So instead we are in a perfectly functional apartment that lets us use all of its space, we have incredibly thick walls meaning we have a haven of peace & quiet in the middle of Paris, and we have a parking spot & a cave to boot. I swear, if this place had a second bedroom, we would probably live here forever!

Claudia said...

Ooh, now you've lured me in. I was a house painter, so I know how to do some of that stuff. Removing wallpaper is easiest with a wallpaper steamer. You steam a section, then scrape it off with a wide joint compound knife (also called a mudding blade).
If you are painting, then you need to get the wall as smooth as possible. I use joint compound/mud, and "float" a thin layer as evenly as possible to minimize sanding. This takes a lot of practice, however. It can be easier to just let it all be and screw in very thin sheets of drywall on top, and just fill the screw head holes and joints.
You're welcome to solicit more tips from me when it's actually happening. Best of luck with your home hunt!

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Ksam - Yeah, the lost space is the biggest problem for me. That and the price tag!

@Claudia - I've tried to do the mud, and it definitely takes practice... or just skill that I don't have! The worst part is that it is one of those things that the more you work it, the worse it looks, and you pretty much have to get it right on the first try or give up. Grrr. I like your idea of adding a thin sheet of drywall instead (although my husband's comment was: "what! And lose those inches of floor space! :)"