Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Paris Kitchens

A tiny Paris kitchen. (source)

This is kitchen day. At the end of each month, I write about what's happening in my kitchen and share it with like-minded bloggers who link up at Sherry's blog, Sherry's Pickings. This week is also the start of another fun blog link-up called Paris in July, hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea. I've decided therefore to write a post about French kitchens I've experienced: the dream and the reality. The ongoing dream is the part that makes this ok (I hope) for Sherry's kitchen event, which is supposed to be about the present not the past.

I've lived in Paris for a few long stays, when I cooked in an apartment kitchen. These were anything but dream kitchens. They were really small. The appliances were touchy: ovens without a good thermostat, extremely small refrigerators, tiny countertops, wobbly cabinets (once a shelf fell and all the lovely platters and baking dishes that I had bought were broken). Despite the limitations, I not only made most meals for two or three of us, I also thoroughly enjoyed shopping in the nearby open-air markets and small specialty shops in the neighborhood. I even invited French friends for dinner parties where I cooked American foods to amuse them.

While we were living in Paris, we also had quite a few visitors from home who stayed with us for a weekend or even for several days. I have a cousin who still remembers that she and her friend, who were bumming around Europe between college semesters, slept in the kitchen in one of the apartments, which now in retrospect seems impossible. Why in the kitchen? Because our then-young daughter slept in the bedroom and we slept in the living room which was also the dining room. So Jacki and her friend squeezed their sleeping-bags into the narrow kitchen. Mostly, though, we didn't have overnight guests in that location.

Our building from street level. Our apartment faced the
elevated metro, so it was also very noisy as well as small.

We invited more visitors during a later stay in Paris, when we had a very small second bedroom, which was also the laundry room. My then-3-year-old nephew, who was visiting us with his parents and brother, remarked "Aunt Mae's kitchen is smaller than her bathroom." You get the idea!

During our stays in France, we also were invited to the apartments of many friends, so all in all, we've seen a number of Paris kitchens. These were typically crowded and small, but usually had newer cabinets and equipment than ours -- sometimes even a compact dishwasher, an almost-normal refrigerator, and a tiny washing machine. Real estate in Paris is very very expensive, so small kitchens are just a normal part of life there, at least among our middle-class friends. Whenever we go to Paris, we still frequently have dinner at their homes, so some of our experiences are also more recent.

A "solution" for a kitchen that can be hidden
from guests: put it in a closet! (source)

I don't have any photos of the kitchens I've seen in Paris apartments -- not even from recent trips. Before the year 2000, the old limitation of 36-exposure rolls of film meant that I saved the shots for the beautiful tourist sights. Besides, most of the Parisians we know have always tried not to let anyone see their kitchens during a dinner party -- you have to sneak a peek between courses if you can, and bringing your iPhone for a photo op would be horrendously gauche!

Typical Paris kitchen: the refrigerator is below the counter.
Next to it is a tiny washing machine.

Dream Kitchens

Let's turn our attention to another Paris kitchen experience -- dreaming of ideal kitchens in Paris, which is what I'm doing this month. I love to take long walks through the many types of neighborhood in Paris. I enjoy looking into the display windows of a variety of businesses, including kitchen remodeling shops. These are amazingly frequent, unlike here in the US. You would never know how small the typical kitchen is when you look into these spacious sample installations. 

Knowing that kitchen remodeling is so popular in France, I searched out some web-sourced photos of Paris dream kitchens. These unattainable remodeling proposals, like the windows of the kitchen remodeling shops, reflect the fact that Paris is full of rich people -- really, really rich!

My entire Paris apartment would have fit in this kitchen. (source)

At the time we lived in Paris, there was another major difference between French and American kitchen practice. Cabinets, stoves, and refrigerators were not usually provided when people bought an apartment. Instead, the kitchen would be empty, except for maybe a porcelain sink on spindly metal legs and some appliance hook-ups. If the buyers already owned cabinets and so on, they would move them in along with their furniture. Otherwise they had to buy them. We had a friend who did that when she moved from a house in the suburbs. I have no clue if that's still the French custom. Our short-term rentals were all fully furnished, so this didn't apply to us.

Smaller, but elegant, this image is made with CGI. (source)

A kitchen in a former maid's room under the roof. (source)
Do you dream of living in Paris? Do you imagine going to a bakery for croissants every morning and for fresh bread every evening? Do you picture yourself picking out beautiful produce in the markets, buying meat from a custom butcher shop, choosing a whole cake from a patisserie, or enjoying cheese shops with dozens of types of French cheese? Do you dream of giving dinner parties in an elegant apartment with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony? I hope you have good luck finding your dream place! 

Despite the limitations of my past French living quarters (which by the way were not in the least inexpensive!) I really had a wonderful time there on my past trips, and would love to do it again some time.

A French cheese shop. (source)
Blog post © 2021 mae sander; photos as credited.


DVArtist said...

Lovely post. I don't dream of living in Paris but I do dream of a nice kitchen. Have a great day today.

Angie's Recipes said...

The hidden kitchen is such a neat idea. Not sure that I want a white kitchen...looks nice when new, but it would be a pain on the neck to clean it.

Kitchen Riffs said...

I would love to cook in Paris! Never had the opportunity, but the food shopping must be glorious. I did live in Morocco in the 70s, and had an apartment that was probably typical of what was available in many parts of France at that time (much of Morocco was a French protectorate, and quite a few French people lived there during that time). Small, small kitchen. I didn't have an oven -- just a cooktop -- which was pretty typical. Anyway, fun read -- thanks.

Nil @ The Little House by the Lake said...

I remember when I was looking for an apartment in Paris, I went to see one where the stove was in the bathroom! It was not really a proper apartment. The landlord rented their upstairs bedrooms and the bathroom. So they used a tiny closet as the kitchen space, and the little stove was in the bathroom.

My name is Erika. said...

Interesting read Mae. I'd read about the small kitchens, but those readings have always been removed, like reading in a book by an author I've never had personal or online contact with. Thanks for sharing.

Mel u said...

Wonderful post. I look Forward to Reading your posts for Paris in July.

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

You've described the apartment we stayed in whilst in Paris, perfectly. I can't wait to go back, but next time we are thinking of starting on a barge for more space.

Sherry's Pickings said...

sadly i can't see us ever getting to paris tho hubby has been there. What with covid and his chronic illness it is an unlikely scenario but i can dream ... I had heard paris kitchens were ever so tiny and this proves it:-)

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I live in a neighborhood that was built in the 50s for the most part, although my house is older. The kitchens in these houses were almost like an afterthought. They were galley type kitchens that were not any larger than the single baths. Most new owners knocked out the tiny kitchens and extended them by adding on in the back. Your showing the Paris kitchens reminded me of these I've seen that hadn't been updated. This was a great read on Paris kitchens and the fabulous rich lifestyle many have.

stacybuckeye said...

Love this post! We had friends who lived here for a few years and when we went to visit them in Lyon after they moved back, the husband complained that they had to upgrade in their brand new kitchen because she had to have an island and garbage disposal like ours, lol.

Nadia said...

Loved this post! I would love a dream kitchen here in the US and would love to just eat baguettes and brie whilst in Paris :)

Iris Flavia said...

Ya-haha. 49 years with tiny kitchens like these.
In my parent´s kitchen... no place for a table even.
Now, a guest?! Help!!!
Either living room with an IKEA table that´s stored in the corner otherwise or we have to move everything around (for Ingo´s parents).

We saw one dream kitchen (but the condo was too expensive to buy) - I stll dream of that one.
But I cook and bake.
And dream ;-)

Jeanie said...

I love this post, Mae. It brought back fond memories of the kitchen of my friend Jerry, whose apartment in the Marais was a haven and a slice of heaven -- but whose kitchen was very small! A narrow, long entry was useful only for displaying things on the wall (it was that narrow!) and the cupboards went to the ceiling (that impractical but useful for other storage). The fridge was the size of a dorm room or mini-bar fridge and the stove was only slightly better than an easybake oven with a cooktop. But during our visit he had a small dinner party for five of us and somehow, it all worked!

I loved hearing your stories of living in Paris and I hope to hear more of them!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I do dream of living in Paris, but perhaps my current (virtual) visit to Paris is actually supplying me with the best kitchen I've experienced there. I've stayed there three times and I've seen one other kitchen. All four of these were much smaller than my kitchen at home. The kitchen I visited was well stocked and had all the features important to the family staying there who loved to put together a lovely meal each evening. We enjoyed stopping at a fromagerie and a boulangerie along with a stop at a boucherie each afternoon to pick up what we needed for a meal. Sweet memories. Love this post, Mae.

Marg said...

What a fascinating post. I love the idea of being able to stay in a French apartment, going to the markets and cooking. I do, however, wonder if I would struggle in such a small space!

I am prepared to try in the interests of research, if we can leave the country again any time soon!

I look forward to seeing more of your Paris in July posts!

JoAnn said...

What a fun post... loved reading this! I would love to visit Paris for an extended period, live in an apartment, and immerse myself in the culture/experience.

Jackie McGuinness said...

Oh to visit Paris again!!
I could do with a remodel of our kitchen but there is nothing in the plans as yet, I can live with it.
Love that kitchen with that huge dormer window.

Anne@HeadFullofBooks said...

it is so interesting to me that the people who pride themselves on their excellent food have tiny kitchens. How can that be? And the cabinet thing is mind boggling. Strange really. My Sunday Salon

shelleyrae @ book'd out said...

I’d happily eat fresh croissants for breakfast every morning but I’ve seen a fair few French Kitchens on the tv show Home Hunters International and they are ridiculously tiny.

Wishing you a great week

Debra Eliotseats said...

Perfect post for IMK. A post about dream kitchens would be a fun diversion. I dream of visiting Paris. I envy your experiences (even though the kitchens were tiny and subpar).

Jinjer-The Intrepid Angeleno said...

What a great post! I do dream of all those things you asked about. Except that I would truly love the old-timey, tiny kitchen. I don't want a big, new, dream kitchen.

Lisbeth said...

Great post. I am sure you are right, we are living in an illusion. However, being from north Europe (Sweden) where we traditionally have big kitchens where we also eat, and in the old days, part of the family slept there, I am horrified by kitchens further down south. It is changing I think as regards the kitchen furniture and more and more countries include furbished kitchens.
It must have been lovely to live in Paris for a time. I would accept a small kitchen for some time there. Don't we all dream of buying our croissant at the local baker for breakfast, enjoy it with a coffee and then be ready for face beautiful Paris. As you say, not always easy to find.
Thank you for the interesting article on Paris kitchens. We seldom see this part of a house or flat.

Liz said...

They are so minimalist, charming and quant that it's easy to forget that they are very inconvenient. Still, there are some amazing meals that come out of tiny kitchens. I miss all those lovely markets and specialty shops. When renting a apartments in Paris we mostly either ate out or picked up ready prepared food, some cheese, wine and crisp bread. Everything tastes better in France.