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Name: Gemma Askham , husband Jordi, and Diego the dog
Location: Trocadéro, 16th arrondissement — Paris, France
Size: 1,345 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, 10 months, renting
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“Our story with Paris actually began back in 2013 when, newly dating, Jordi and I came for a ‘romantic’ weekend,” begins Gemma. “I say this with quotes because it was anything but romantic. Imagine a picture perfect scene from ‘Emily in Paris’… BUT with buckets of non-stop rain, freezing temperatures, feeling hangry, and having too high expectations that never delivered. We have a running joke that no matter how bad something in life gets, at least it’s not Paris!” Gemma explains. “So, of course, when my husband found a fantastic new job at the end of 2020, it had to be in Paris.” Giving Paris a chance to redeem itself, Gemma and Jordi kept an open mind.
Gemma and Jordi had recently redone their apartment in Barcelona, where they were previously living, when the new job presented itself. “If we were going to make the move, my main aspiration was to find an apartment where when you walked in, you instantly knew you were in Paris. It had to have immediate French charm,” she explains. “I had this mental dream-list of wooden herringbone floors, a marble fireplace, beautiful ceiling cornices, and a balcony.”
“Because it was the middle of the pandemic, not many people were looking for city-center housing, so we had good rental options, something that is normally unheard of in Paris. After discovering that dogs aren’t allowed in many parks in Paris, we based our entire relocation around Diego, our dog! We looked at four apartments, until we finally found ‘the one’ in the 16th arrondissment near a huge wood — Bois de Boulogne — that would suit his need to explore freely just perfectly.”
“When I first saw the open living-dining area in this apartment — which was basically my checklist covered in one room — I remember sitting on the sofa, exhausted, thinking, please, please, let this become ours, and it did!” Although the apartment came pre-furnished, they made sure to sprinkle in their unique touches throughout by adding color and lots of plants. The apartment consists of two bedrooms, one office/storage space, two and a half bathrooms, and all the Parisian charm one could dream of. “And the fact that I can turn the corner at the end of the street and see the Eiffel Tower right there is always exciting,” says Gemma.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: We lived in Barcelona for three and a half years before moving to Paris, and my spirit style is definitely Mediterranean — warm, sunrise colors, big leafy plants, earthy textures. In truth, my style isn’t very Parisian! That said, I was obsessed with the original features. So, my aim was to let those features take centre stage, doing their chic French thing, but with an atmosphere that was cozy and full of nature rather than something serious, traditional or stiff.
Inspiration: I’m loath to call the pandemic a muse, but being unable to go to anywhere mind-enriching (restaurants, cafés, museums, anywhere) for the first five months definitely made me crave color and life. I think I lasted all of 72 hours before I unleashed my credit card on the French online plant store, Bergamotte, and started getting the jungle party going. When Paris’ retail scene did finally reopen, OMG, what a treat. The homeware shops are impeccable — beautifully laid out, carefully curated, with a focus on mixing new pieces by artisans or small brands with vintage treasures (my favorites: Merci, AXS Design, La Tresorérie, Debongout). I also fell in love with the Instagram account @girlzpop_. The creators, Alice and Anaïs [who’ve been featured on AT], were the first people I’d seen do Parisian style packed with bold color.
Favorite Element: The herringbone floor in the living room is the wooden floor of my dreams. I still catch myself staring at it, admiringly (creepily?). I know I will never live anywhere again with such precious stained-glass windows (which, incidentally, do not show dirt at all. Amazing). The balcony “garden” kept me hopeful, even when 167 snails set up home there, too, and started treating it like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Biggest Challenge: Embracing what I call the apartment’s “Frenchness.” Every country has its quirks — British houses are often damp; Spanish electrics frequently exist on a scale from questionable to ambulance-inducing. In Paris, it’s the plumbing. We have one toilet that is liquids-only. There’s a polite-but-firm notice on the wall, and the real estate agent was extremely clear when handing us the keys that you ignore this at your peril! The main toilet is connected to a more resilient waste system that can handle, err, solids, but you will never use quilted toilet paper again unless you want to see it for the next 12 flushes.
Another curiosity is the lack of ceiling lights. There are spotlights in the hallway and bathroom, but most other rooms only have lamps. It creates a soft light that’s really warm and flattering, but it’s challenging in the kitchen, where I find myself relying on the extractor-fan light or even reaching for my phone flashlight.
Proudest DIY: Nothing groundbreaking, but we knew that the beautiful light-gray sofa that came with the apartment was not going to be compatible with a hairy dog who spends his lunchtimes digging mud. To protect it, I bought two rainbow-colored throws from Zara Home to fling over. It wasn’t my intention at all to create a design feature, but the rainbow sofa instantly became one of the most striking elements of the room. Proof that functional can be creative.
Budget: My biggest splurge was a giant antique mirror. I became fixated with these elaborate gold mirrors, and thought it would be a wonderful piece of Paris that we could take with us wherever we lived next. It’s fair to say that I did not appreciate the weight of the thing until it arrived and didn’t fit in the elevator. I still love it, even if my arm muscles wept. It’s from the Napoleon III era and cost €2500 via vintage e-tailer, Selency.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? There’s a sauna (!) in the en suite bathroom that we use to store all the bulky things that you never know where to put, such as moving boxes and a ladder. Hilariously, I was talking to a local friend and her neighbor also has a sauna that she uses as a storage cupboard! There must have been a Parisian fad for installing saunas at some point in the past.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Getting a decent-sized shoe rack (ours has space for 10 pairs) is the best thing I’ve ever done for my entryway and my sanity.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Always check the dimensions of an item before you buy it online. And, in the case of antique mirrors, the weight!