Category Archives: home design

The Ritz, Reopened

Ritz Paris

Ritz Paris

Ritz Paris

Ritz Paris

Ritz Paris

Ritz Paris

Ritz Paris

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.”

June 29, 2016 / home design / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT

Our Hotels in Madrid & Barcelona

Vincci The Mint, Madrid

Vincci The Mint, Madrid

Vincci The Mint, Madrid

Vincci The Mint, Madrid

Vincci The Mint, Madrid

Vincci The Mint, Madrid

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.

Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona

Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona

Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona

Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona

Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona

Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona

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.

April 21, 2016 / home design / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 9

A Romantic Apartment in Paris

A Romantic Apartment in Paris

A Romantic Apartment in Paris

A Romantic Apartment in Paris

A Romantic Apartment in Paris

A Romantic Apartment in Paris

A Romantic Apartment in Paris

A Romantic Apartment in Paris

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 / LEAVE A COMMENT / 3

Hotel Le Walt: Our Hotel in Paris

Hotel Le Walt

Hotel Le Walt

Hotel Le Walt

Hotel Le Walt

Hotel Le Walt

Hotel Le Walt

Hotel Le Walt

Hotel Le Walt

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!

February 8, 2016 / home design / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 5

An Historic Apartment in Paris

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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 / LEAVE A COMMENT / 8

French Country Calling

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:

french country

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.

French country kitchen

1. Lavender Box / 2. Striped Towels / 3. Duralex Glasses / 4. Tray / 5. Copper Colander / 6. Weck Jar / 7. Mirror / 8. Vase / 9. Chairs / 10. Market Basket

January 19, 2016 / home design / LEAVE A COMMENT / 7

My Apartment in Paris

Airbnb

Airbnb

Airbnb

Airbnb

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!)

38 days!

October 21, 2015 / home design / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 11

Some Terrible Apartments in Paris

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.

Allons-y!

1. First up we have this 6m2 (65ft2) room in the 10eme, near Canal Saint Martin:

Apartment 1

Apartment 1

Apartment 1

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.

Price: €54,000

2. Next, we have…whatever is happening here:

Apartment 2

Apartment 2

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:

Apartment 3

Apartment 3

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:

Apartment 4

Apartment 4

Apartment 4

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.

Merde.

October 13, 2015 / home design / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 22

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

A Classic Apartment in Paris

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

August 25, 2015 / home design / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 12

A Lovely London Home (And a Little Bit of News)

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

A Lovely London Home

My love of real estate –local, international, fixer-uppers, penthouses, hôtel particuliers I’ll never be able to afford– is unrelenting. I scour real estate listings for fun, wrote for a French real estate publication, and am so well-versed in the Parisian market at this point that I’m able to tell you an average price per square foot in almost every arrondissement. On this particular morning, I stumbled across this gorgeous London home and fell madly in love. All that bright white airiness is hard to resist –but of course it comes with a price tag. I know the market in London is among the most expensive in the world (surpassing even Paris in average price per square foot!), but if you want four bedrooms and four bathrooms, spread out over 4,700ft2 in Foggy London town, you’ll have to pay almost $10m (£5.9m). For those floorboards alone the price tag is worth it.

Moving closer to home: I’ve lived in this city my entire life, and it’s been nothing short of bonkers to watch the average home price here keep rising. I love Philadelphia because it’s always been the affordable, quieter monkey-in-the-middle between New York and DC, but we’re catching up, good or bad. I’ve seen firsthand the effects the gentrification of my current neighborhood is having, and I’ve had a hard time keeping up with the skyrocketing home prices as a result. I watch enough House Hunters, Selling New York, and Property Brothers (and am married to a guy with an Economics degree) to know that any house is only worth what the market will support, though, and the Philly market is booming. It’s exciting, and good for the city, and a few weeks ago I decided, heck, why not get in while the getting’s good?

So! In addition to all the other exciting things going on, I’ve signed up for a real estate license course, and will finally be able to put my love of real estate to good use (after completing 60 credit hours and passing the exam, that is). I have been thinking about this since the very beginning of the year and it seemed like another fitting choice to say “yes” to this year. I don’t know when I’m going to find the time to be a real estate agent on top of everything else, but finding out will be half the fun. Wish me luck!

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July 30, 2015 / home design / LEAVE A COMMENT / 23