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Bibliophile (bib·li·o·phile/ˈbiblēəˌfīl) noun: a person who collects or has a great love of books.
I have fantasies of filling my home to the brim with books. Dusty paperbacks, dog-eared hardcovers, heavy reference books, art books, coffee table books, pocket novels, yellowed edges, annotations in the margins in pencil by someone else’s hand, spines cracked, bookmarks left in place, inscriptions on the cover page. I want so many books I could use stacks of the as furniture. Books piled in the corner, books in my kitchen cabinets, shelves in my library bowing from the sheer weight. And one day, at the old age of 101, I want to reach for a book as I get in bed to read as I fall asleep, and I want to set off a domino-effect avalanche that smothers me and takes me from this world in a crush of the literary greats. (Is that morbid? A touch?) I want to bottle the smell of a well-read book (and luckily someone already has), I want to run a secret bookstore from my home (and someone already does), I want to turn them into works of art (and someone already has), and I want to burn a candle that smells like a leather-bound library (and I already have). I love books. I love their transportive power, the worlds they contain, and, at a time when swiping mindlessly with your thumb and binge-streaming content are the new norm, I love the thrill of literally turning a page to find out what happens next. I love books so much I’m writing my own.
So when I found this home, in South Holland, the Netherlands, I knew the owner was a kindred spirit. A bibliophile’s dream home, this sprawling “city palace,” as the listing calls it. Ten bedrooms, over 11,000 ft2, and more books than my brain could handle without dissolving into jealous mush. Who lived here?? Why are they selling?? Is that library where Disney found inspiration for the Beast’s library in “Beauty and the Beast”?? WHAT DOES THAT LIBRARY SMELL LIKE? When I’ve pictured my dream home, it always had a view of the Eiffel Tower, but after seeing this listing I’m realizing I was a few countries off. I wouldn’t change a thing. Give me rooms full of books, a stack of gilded mirrors leaning against a wall, creaky wood floors, and a staircase I would invariably tumble down because I would spend all of my days with my nose in a book. How does one say, “Gimme” in Dutch?
July 1, 2016 / home design /
I’ve never been to the Ritz Paris. I’ve walked by it on Place Vendôme countless times, but as early as my visit in 2012, the hotel has been under varying degrees of construction and renovation. It reopened, finally, in early June of this year, after four years and over €200+ million with newly updated air-conditioning, plumbing, and heating. The hotel originally opened its doors on June 1, 1898, by Swiss hotelier César Ritz, and was the picture of modern luxury even back then: each room had a private bathroom. The Ritz Paris has played host and home to some very famous (and infamous) guests over the course of its 118 year history: Hemingway used it as his base when he covered the war, as did war photographer Robert Capa; Chanel lived there for 34 years; and even Princess Diana and her partner Dodi Fayed stayed there the night before they were killed in a car accident in the Pont de l’Alma (his father, Mohamed al-Fayed, bought the Ritz in 1979). It’s appeared in Hemingway’s, “The Sun Also Rises,” the movie “How to Steal a Million” with Audrey Hepburn & Peter O’Toole (a delightful Parisian art heist, I highly recommend it!), and was the subject of a fascinating biography simply titled, “The Hotel on Place Vendôme.” Christ, even the Luftwaffe, the Nazi air national guard, used the Ritz as their own personal barracks during the occupation (the Gestapo stayed at the Hotel Lutetia in Saint-Germain, which, oddly enough, I stayed at during my very first trip to Paris in 2001, and which is also currently closed for renovations).
Once I heard the Ritz was planning on reopening, it became a bucket list goal to spend a night there. But when the cheapest room starts at €1000/night, I might have to console myself with a drink at the Hemingway Bar instead. Or maybe afternoon tea in their newly opened garden. Because while I may never spend a night in the Fitzgerald suite (so named for, who else, F. Scott himself, who included the Ritz Paris in “Tender is the Night”), Hemingway was certainly right when he said, “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz.”
Believe it or not (and I’m having a hard time buying it myself), Jamal and I head to Spain on Saturday! I mentioned it only briefly last year, when we booked our flights, using Jamal’s seemingly endless supply of airline miles, making our two roundtrip direct flights free. Since then, you’d’ve hardly been blamed for forgetting, as I’ve taken two trips to Paris since then and have inundated you with nothing but Paris photos. But despite the half-packed state of my suitcase, our plane leaves for España in two short days! We are flying into Madrid and out of Barcelona 11 days later, and driving to San Sebastian, Pamplona, and Zaragoza in the middle. To say we are stoked would be an understatement. This will be the longest stretch of uninterrupted time Jamal and I will have spent together since our trip to Italy last May. Oy.
Along with airline miles, Jamal also accumulates a ton of hotel points, so we took advantage of them for this trip. Above is our hotel in Madrid, Vincci The Mint, a short walk from Plaza Mayor, The Royal Palace, The Prado, and El Retiro park. Fingers crossed for a room with a balcony! Not that we’re planning on doing anything besides walking for three straight days, let alone something as indulgent as sitting on a balcony. (We average 20k steps a day on vacation according my pedometer!)
In Barcelona, we are staying at the Cotton House Hotel, located just off the Passeig de Gracia (a huge shopping street!) between the Picasso Museum and the Sagrada Familia.
Wasting away an afternoon that gorgeous library bar is going to be a very tempting proposition. (So will the Louis Vuitton boutique around the corner. Jamal, you have been warned!)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a very important brunch date with this gorgeous gal and then I really need to finish packing or the only places we’ll be going in Spain will be nude beaches.
Whenever I show Jamal a listing for an extraordinary property, be it in Philly or Paris, his first response is always, “Publish your book!” As if that is the secret to affording €1m flats on the Île Saint-Louis, like this number. It’s simultaneously flattering that he thinks so highly of my writing, and charming in how clueless he is about the realities of publishing these days, so that to him, the answer to being able to buy dream flats in Paris rests squarely on the shoulders of my little-novel-that-could (I think I can, I think I can!). Not even I am that delusional, though if I had to pretend, this would be a perfect apartment to pick, non? Nestled in the heart of the Île Saint-Louis, this two bedroom apartment is fully updated, including an American kitchen, and designer marble bathroom (which is good, because plumbing on the little island has been known to be a doozy; I guess that’s what happens after a few hundred years). I could really be satisfied with one bedroom, though having a space to turn into an office so I can keep cranking out the bestsellers wouldn’t be a bad thing either. A girl, er, husband can dream!
February 16, 2016 / home design /
I will be in Paris in just 36 short days! I might’ve been in Paris only a few months ago, but you guys know me well enough by now to know that the moment I got on the plane home, I was already itching to go back. This trip is different from previous ones for a number of reasons: this time I’m traveling my mom, rather than solo or with Jamal, and it will be her first trip back to Paris since 2001 (the first time for both of us! I was shamefully unenthused back then). I’ve been back with a greedy, embarrassing frequency in the intervening 15 years (five separate times, and twice last year), but this manan et fille vacation is loooong overdue for her. She’s also celebrating a significant birthday at the beginning of March, which we both used as an excuse for this whole indulgence.
This trip also marks the first time I’ll be staying in a hotel rather than an Airbnb since the quick trip Jamal and I made in 2012 before a trip to Belgium. We used Jamal’s plentiful hotel points back then, but ever since we’ve been renting apartments to live more locally. Maman has some specific allergy requirements that would make it somewhat of a gamble to go that route, and while it’s always interesting to stay in an apartment, this girl’s trip felt like the perfect time to splash out a little and let someone else take care of making our bed and changing our towels everyday, non? Enter: Hotel Le Walt, a four star, boutique little gem right in the 7eme arrondissement. Another first: I’m not staying in Montmartre! My beloved little quartier, je suis désolée! I have such guilt over ‘cheating’ on the 18eme, but was eventually swayed by the Eiffel Tower views from the hotel rooms. We’ll still be spending plenty of time exploring my little village, but the left bank felt more central for the purposes of this trip. Le Walt is just across from Rue Cler and École Militaire, a short walk to the Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower, the Musée Rodin, and, bien sûr, my favorite boulangerie. The hotel has great reviews and Hermès bath products, in case we needed more convincing.
We’re not nailing ourselves down to a rigid itinerary, but we are already planning what to pack, including lots of stretchy clothing to allow for all the croissant-weight we are going to gain. I can’t wait!
I love classically Parisian apartments –replete with herringbone flooring and giant windows and ornate crown moldings– as much as anyone (maybe more, if we’re being honest) but there is something to be said for the tinier, more charming and…old apartment, like this one. Sure, it’s in a double-eaved attic with no real living space and carries a price tag of over half a million dollars, but is anyone else imagining all the stories this place has seen over the years? Located along the Place des Vosges, this little nook could be something out of a Victor Hugo novel (minus, of course, the iMac and, like, indoor plumbing). Those beams! There must be hundreds of years of secrets and lives and outbreaks of cholera trapped inside those walls. I’m not even being facetious. But then, you guys knew that.
Countdown update: 41 days!
February 3, 2016 / home design /
I’ve always considered myself a city mouse. A born and raised city girl, I tend to fall to pieces (or just plain fall) when in nature. I need the constant buzz of traffic, buses, police sirens, pedestrian chatter, and concrete. A familiar place where I know that if I’m murdered, someone nearer than five miles away will hear me scream. It’s the little things, you know?
But then, a friend on Instagram tagged one of her friends in a post, I clicked through out of curiosity, only to discover the most wonderful account I think I’ve ever come across: Cat in France, an American expat living in Normandy in an old chateau with a farm. On the surface, nothing about that lifestyle except “France” should have been attractive to me. But within a few photos, I was seriously considering packing it all up and moving to the French countryside. I mean, look:
If you can look at her photos and not feel the same urge, more power to you. I’ll be over here crying into my lone Le Creuset and hanging dried lavender all over the house. Her feed delivers daily doses of chickens, goats, beautiful produce, and a kitchen that would make even me (a reluctant cook to say the least) want to become the next Julia Child.
In the meantime, here are a few things I can buy to bring a little French country to my own kitchen. Which isn’t in Normandy, and isn’t in a château. Oy.
January 19, 2016 / home design /
Now that we’re under 40 days away from my upcoming (second-time-this-year-but-who’s-keeping-track) trip to Paris, I thought I’d share where I’ll be staying. If you guessed Montmartre, you were right! I can’t shake this neighborhood, no matter how much time I spend there, and it’s where I’ve stayed on every trip going back to 2013 (here’s 2014 and 2015). This adorable little nest charmed me from its original floors, to its large, airy windows, and bright, white decor. And did I mention I love Montmartre?
(I’m renting through Airbnb again, and I’ll be happy to share a link to the rental after I get back; since I’m going alone I don’t want to broadcast my exact location in advance. Safety first!)
I know I tend to only ever wax poetic about Paris and its many luxurious, drool-worthy apartments (see: here) but it’s not because I’m unaware of the grim reality of the affordable real estate available there. If anything, it’s precisely because I’m aware of how many absurdly small, one-room hovels (that will still cost you €100k!) the city has that I instead choose to focus on the unattainable, multi-million euro sprawling ones. But for a change of pace, I thought it might be fun to see what I could afford, right now, without mortgaging myself to the hilt or robbing a bank or becoming the next JK Rowling. The results were…less than stellar.
For those of you unfamiliar with Parisian real estate, the top floor of nearly all Haussmann buildings were at one time maids quarters, often referred to as a chambre de bonne, chambre de service, or a studette, which are single-room living spaces, usually under 100ft2, with a shared toilet in the hall. For someone like me, the daughter of an architect who championed small-space living, I get such a thrill at a seeing smartly renovated chambre de bonne. The challenge of designing and living in a space barely larger than most powder rooms is one I’d happily take on, especially if it meant, you know, being in Paris. Which is good, because apparently this is all my savings can buy me. So while these apartments are, shall we say, terrible, there is so much room for improvement that all I can see is potential.
1. First up we have this 6m2 (65ft2) room in the 10eme, near Canal Saint Martin:
It’s listed as a “one bedroom” but really, it’s one empty room, with one teensy (but cute) window. The toilet is in the hallway, the sink is on the landing, and it appears there’s a water hookup line available in the apartment itself, but no shower or kitchen sink.
2. Next, we have…whatever is happening here:
Located in the 10eme, near Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, the listing says it is about 10m2 of living space, with a shower, a well-equipped kitchen, and a toilet in the hall. “Ideal pied-a-terre,” it says! The only thing I can see is a twin mattress shoved under a skylight, with a water tank floating precariously above it.
Yours for only €52,500!
3. Moving right along, we have this apartment, also in the 10eme:
It is a whopping 9m2, with a small balcony you probably shouldn’t stand on, a small but functional kitchen (who is cooking in Paris with some of the best restaurants right outside your door?) and a lofted bed. Smart space solution! Bathroom is in the hall. I want to scrub this entire place down with bleach.
Price: €79,000, jfc.
4. This charmer is a spacious 15m2, in the 9eme:
It features a separate bedroom (!), a shower right next to the kitchen, and a murder-y looking hallway and stairwell. It also features a shared toilet you’d need both tetanus shot and a regular shot of the highest proof vodka you can find to actually pee in.
Price: €129,000, and the saddest part is it still seems a worthwhile splurge.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking (and the selling) for this incroyable apartment, located in the 16eme near Trocadero. The views are, simply, breathtaking, and if there were ever an excuse to get me into the kitchen (a room I generally ignore) it would be the promise of la Tour greeting me from the window. I love everything about this place, from the floors, to the original mouldings, to even the vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase in the office. Even the stairwell is perfection! My first act though, once I’d moved in and claimed the space as my own, would be to move the desk chair to the other side of the desk so it’s facing the window. Who in their right mind wants to sit with their back to Paris? Though now that I think of it, talk about a writing distraction.
Price? An astronomical, never-going-to-be-affordable-except-in-my-wildest-dreams: $9,368,338 / €8.350.000