10.01.2009

Interiors Comme les Français- Famille Chic


I love seeing how other people live. Living in Paris with Famille Chic (and befriending Famille Bohemian) was like heaven for me because I could experience first-hand the way true Parisians live. The most fascinating aspect of observing both families (who in their own right were very different from each other) was observing the interior of their apartments. Here, in Part 1, I will discuss the general interior of Famille Chic’s home.

As I have already touched upon, Famille Chic’s 16th Arrondissement apartment was not typical of the ‘average’ Parisian household. Famille Chic came from a long line of aristocrats and their apartment- while not extravagant (no nouveau riche gaucheness here to speak of) their interior definitely spoke of their distinguished lineage. High ceilings, equally high windows, beautifully restored (probably ancient) wooden floors created the shell for their 4 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment.

As for the decorations, gilded portraits of their ancestors hung on the walls (that seriously looked like they belonged in the Louvre), Persian Rugs adorned the floors, and the furnishings were mostly antiques (the only modern “new-looking” furniture was found in their tiny kitchen- the kitchen table and chairs). Everything in their home was ‘real’. There were no “fake” antiques or decorations purchased from a mass-market home furnishing center. It had all been passed down from their esteemed family members or purchased somewhere abroad. Everything was tasteful and everything had meaning.

Below is a list of my general observations- things I was surprised to find in the home of Famille Chic when I was fresh off the boat (or plane, rather) from America:


- Famille Chic had one small television for the whole house. (We are talking tiny!) No flat screen ‘entertainment’ system Chez Eux. Their discreet little television was placed in their living room almost as an afterthought and was rarely watched. (In fact, their record player got much more use than their TV. Monsieur Chic would religiously play Debussy after each dinner- listening in rhapsody with his eyes shut while drinking his digestif). Every now and then the son of Famille Chic (who was the same age as me and I will call “A” for short) and I would watch a film on the television but because the format of the living room did not revolve around watching television- this was not a very comfortable event. Which brings me to my next observation.

- There was No sofa! No sofa? Where was the huge sectional, or lazy boy recliner I was so used to seeing in American homes? There was none. Probably because Famille Chic would rather die than pass out on an enormous couch in a television-induced coma after work. The set up of their living room included four chairs all facing each other to maximize conversation. There were two large upholstered chairs and two wooden backed chairs.

- The dining room table was très important. Naturally. After work/ school we would all sit at this wonderful antique table with its worn, polished wood and marks from years upon years of fabulous dinners. We would sit there for hours- eating, discussing, drinking…. living.

- One bathroom. (One bathroom?! Was my first thought). I come from a home in America with four bathrooms! I had my own bathroom my entire life! Suddenly I was having to share it with three other people? Quelle Horreur! But actually, it wasn’t bad at all. If anything- it curbed my vanity ;)

And lastly,

- A tiny, utilitarian kitchen that produced some of the best meals I have ever had in my life. There were no stainless steel appliances in this kitchen- no granite countertops or marbled sinks- no state of the art cooking tools either. This was a barebones, (did I mention tiny?) kitchen- modest, humble and tucked away at the back of the house.

What struck me the most about Famille Chic was that they lived extremely well- but did not rely on an abundance of material luxury (there was no keeping up with the Joneses in this home). They clearly lived surrounded by wealth but there was nothing flashy about them. They were modest and humble- the interior of their home revolved around living a good life- eating well, conversation and family.

I hope you will stay tuned for Part Deux…

Above Image of the Salon at Versailles courtesy of msn.com

14 comments:

Rebecca said...

No sofas-Instead a placement of chairs to encourage conversation. What a great idea!

I too have become used to my own private bathroom space. Yet I have lived in homes with one bathroom, and yes, one does adapt. :)

I'm looking forward to reading about Famille Bohemian's home and what differences and similarities there were between the two.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Hi Rebecca- I have to say, I don't know if I, myself, could live without a sofa (as I do enjoy the occasional television induced coma session on my comfy couch) but I so admired the idea and it was amazing that they didn't need one. I bet they never even had one! They did a lot more talking to each other than the average family and there is a lot to be said for that :) Thanks for your encouraging words...

LA Frog said...

Home listings in the U.S. often come with more bathrooms than bedrooms. As a French native, I find it baffling. I am used to shared bathrooms, regardless of social status or property size -- something Americans find baffling!

As for couches, it is true that French homes will often have a formal salon for entertaining; but space permit, they will also have a TV room, with a couch to slouch on.

With regard to the general décor, the French tend to DIY with personal objects and family antiques, whereas well-to-do Americans will hire designers who will bring a turn-key interior that doesn't necessarily reflect their personal life. Same thing with stylists: just watch the red carpet for the Oscars as opposed to the Césars, says it all.

This post offers another series of interesting outsider's observations on French culture. I love it, because if makes me reflect on things that would otherwise be completely natural to me.

Linda H said...

I could give up the television before my bathroom. There were five of us growing up and one bath and yes we all made it. I draw the line at a television in the bathroom (much to my husband's dismay).

Sharon McPherson: AUTHOR / ARTIST said...

Great post, I was there with you as your toured the rooms.

I must have a secret spirit of the French in me, as this lifestyle totally appeals to me. I am envious, but in a good way. :) Can't wait for more.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Thanks LA Frog- Yes the bathroom situation does baffle us Americans but I suppose that is because our country (and buildings) are so new compared to the rest of the world. I have no idea how old the building I lived in in Paris dated back to but I'm sure it was in the days where more than one bathroom would have been unheard of! Famille Chic was (I found out quickly) not like any of the other families on my study abroad program. Most people on my program were with average middle class families (Madame Bohemienne, for example). Famille Chic was VERY traditional (hence the record player after dinner- I loved it!). And you make a great point about interior designers in America. It's a very nouveau riche thing to hire an interior designer (actually something I've always wanted to do- if I could have enough input in the process) but I find the French, even the wealthy, are very careful with how they spend their money and might think of that as an extravagance.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Linda- lol! I have the same problem with my husband. He wants a television in the bedroom (which I firmly have said no to for the past three years). I had to share a bathroom in college and I hated it. Sharing with Famille Chic wasn't bad at all- I just had to pick a "bath schedule" (there was no shower, by the way!). And that was difficult.

Sharon- Thank you so much! I look forward to sharing the details with you! xo

ScentScelf said...

My "family of origin" will be so pleased when I can inform them that we were being raised "in a french manner"...one bathroom, with schedule. And, btw, a basket of our "supplies" that stayed in our bedrooms with us and travelled to the bathroom only during our time. (It was a SMALL bathroom.)

I must say, I enjoy my current home with extra rooms for toilette and two zones for gathering. One, no television, but piano and musical instruments and good reading lights. The other does have a television, but also good reading lights, and games.

I am a huge fan of decorating with meaningful objects, whether because they have family history, were created by someone with a connection to you, or have some sort of connection to a personal interest of at least one of the household's members.

Like so many others, waiting eagerly to hear about Famille Bohemian! :)

Sarah said...

hello. Thank you so much for popping by my blog and following me.I love your blog - fascinating! Your post reminds me of staying with friends in Paris many years ago.They too had very elegant rooms with furniture that was very uncomfortable compared the the pluffy sofas I was accustomed to and again the kitchen was small, but we spent a very long time around the dining table eating very well indeed! Sarah

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Scentscelf- Your family was more French than you know. I, too, had a basket of toiletries that I kept in my room and only brought to the bathroom when needed (so as to not clutter their precious counter space).
I also love that you have a room devoted to musical instruments- I would love to have a library/ lounge in my own home with a baby grand piano... **sigh**

Sarah- Thank you for your comment! I love hearing about other people's experiences in France too! It sounds like you Parisian stay was fruitful and lovely...

M.Lane said...

This series of posts is just fascinating. I can't wait for the next one!!

ML
mlanesepic.blogspot.com

cyndaminthia said...

This is why French dinners take like, 5 hours. It's all about the conversation, the talking to people rather than running back home to sit like slugs in front of the TV.

When I was in Paris, my apartment didn't have a microwave.

La Belette Rouge said...

I spend a lot of time on "Rent a Paris apartment" web sites and for the most part very few apartments live up to my Paris dreams. Now, I am sure if you are going to rent your place out to American tourists one's place is going to be very heavy on Ikea and low on personal touches. I wish there was a Realtor.com for Paris. I would love to have the opportunity to see inside real French homes.
Have I told you lately that I am loving your blog?

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Thanks M. Lane! xo

Cynthia- so true- Famille Chic didn't have a microwave either... such a novel concept!

Belette- Thank you so much. I feel so lucky to have not only seen the interior of these apartments in Paris but to have had the experience of living in them and immersing myself completely in their "different-ness" (I've made up a new word). Thanks for your kind words xo

 
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