High Floor, With View
This is what it looks like before it gets the 'lived-in' look.
With Only Pigeons for Company
Paris:- Friday, 17. April 1998:- When you are on a visit in Paris it is quite possible you will see some of it from its high spots. I'm thinking of the Tour Eiffel, Montmartre, the top of the Arc de Triomphe or the terrace of the Samaritaine department store at Pont Neuf.
But if you live here it is quite possible to seldom be in these spots, and instead you see a lot of sidewalks, stairs, walls, flagstones, paving, cross-walks, tunnels, asphalt, gravel, sandy paths in the parks and the warning knobby-zones on the métro quais.
About six weeks ago I was at a dinner in the city. It was held in a small apartment, which had a considerable view, with the combination of being on a high-floor and being located on the side of Montmartre.
In one corner of the living-dining-bedroom there was a stairway which seemed to go through the ceiling. This is not an ordinary feature but I did not think about it much until someone asked the hostess to see the terrace.
Much to my amazement, there was a terrace above, covering the entire surface of the apartment; and the view was enormous - to the north and east and also up to the top of Montmartre at the back. Imagining being on this terrace on a warm evening; sort of between those roofs 'down there' and having the top of Montmartre overlooking, from 'up there' - well, I could imagine this and feel what it would be like. In a word: mellow.
The lady had taken a course in an earlier life, and she brought out some of her diploma exercises for us to see for the first time - and these were 'art déco;' a type of work you seldom see in private.
Rich people don't have mere paint or wallpaper on their walls; they have 'art déco' instead. Forms of this can be three-dimensional paintings of marble, or marble and columns, and can also include wall murals.
Out hostess showed her samples of all these, and it was impressive - partly because she had just seemed to add another hitherto unknown dimension to her personality.
Some weeks later, a Metropole reader wrote to ask if there would be a possibility to see anything of 'art déco' during a coming visit to Paris. I called the evening's hostess and she said there are two schools in eastern Paris. I also managed to remember that I know a décorator who does high-end stuff occasionally, so I called him to see if he had anything that might be on viewable.
Except for not finding the schools - they are definitely there! - the other part clicked, and today I am up high again, looking at rain falling on rooftops in central Paris.
Pigeons see this all the time and as I've already said, there are public places to get up high - but it is a bit different to be in a private place, where, once the décorators finish, the view will be private and unique.
You can buy paintings and put them on your walls and squint a bit and pretend they are windows, but you brain will get in the way and you will always know you are looking at two-dimensional paintings.
The view from this apartment is fantastic. There is a lot of it, and in a lot of different directions too. Consider that it will be there 24 hours a day, all year long, and the opportunities for class-act window gazing become overwhelming.
As I've said, the flat is high. It is not a 'grand-standing' apartment because it is up a flight beyond the last floor of the elevator, where the servants and student rooms are - are still, even here.
This apartment was apparently cobbled together out of a bunch of these, so its interior spaces are not regular; and it has an upper floor right under the top of the building's roof.
My décorator acquaintance did not put it together and is merely doing the re-déco for the new owners. 'Merely' is too mild a word, because whatever was here before was stripped out, down to the nailheads, and it has been completely re-done; right down to the most obscure corners - making the place I live in look like a shanty-town slum in comparison, and never mind the views at all.
There is a big living room and there is a large dining room off it, and the large bedroom is upstairs. It is soundproofed, insulated and has air conditioning. Paint is multi-layered and sealed with some sort of bio-degradable top surface, that can be easily renewed at regular intervals if the color is not to be changed. Most floors are hardwood and the 'fake' beams are real ones.
For all of this, it seems to be a secondary residence; a 'pied-à-terre.' A Paris hideout, with million-dollar views.
To the décorator, who is a very ordinary guy, this place is a pretty straight-forward job. He did another one that took three years. He talks about the 400 square-metre places on the avenue Foch that have middle-eastern owners who use them instead of hotels on occasional visits.
He knows what costs where. Here is the centre, prices are stable and very high. On Foch, prices yo-yo a lot, between 10 and 25 million, and it depends on which side of the street and where the vice squad is active.
He lives in red-tinged Podunkville himself and sometimes goes to London or Switzerland to do déco jobs. His crews like the trips, if they don't go on too long; they are like working holidays.
The architect would like a mention too, but this is impossible unless the new owners decide to show the apartment off in one of the chromalux-paged decorator magazines. Somehow I don't think there is much likelihood of this.
Europe's continental great cities must have many residences such as this apartment - they are up there, seven flights over your head. In the centre, downtown. Private havens.
When the owners look out their windows, they see below little, fore-shortened, stick-people like you and me. I doubt very much that they waste much time wondering what we are thinking about or are doing or care where we are going.
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