Fantasy home: a Parisian apartment inspired by the paintings of Gustave Caillebotte

By Chloë Ashby

You might disbelieve me, but it’s not the half-dressed workmen in Gustave Caillebotte’s 1875 painting “The Floor Scrapers” (pictured, below) that I’m interested in — I can take them or leave them —  it’s the wooden floor. It’s the decorative energy of the iron window grille. The creamy baseboard with its golden trim. I would even ask the workers to leave the glass by the fireplace, half-filled with wine, perhaps also the gleaming bottle beside it. In my Parisian apartment, each working day will end at six o’clock with a well-earned drink on the balcony.

I’ve always had a thing for Paris. Not necessarily Paris today, but the City of Light as captured in the 19th-century by the writers and other artists who would have rubbed shoulders in its café-concerts and galleries with Caillebotte: Baudelaire, Sand, Zola, Manet, Morisot. The Paris rebuilt by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the king of creative destruction, at the bequest of Napoleon III.

‘The Floor Scrapers’ (1875) by Gustave Caillebotte

Some critics called the plan to clear the crowded medieval streets absurd — and no wonder, with all the evictions and the demolition, not to mention the realignment of districts. But something spectacular rose from the rubble: Haussmann’s boulevards cut through the chaos and flooded the city with light.

My dream apartment is located on one of those broad streets, the cobbled kind painted by Caillebotte in a skilfully choreographed snapshot of urban life: “Paris Street; Rainy Day” (1877). My door opens on to a courtyard that’s home to potted plants and a water fountain. So far, so bourgeois. But mine is an old building, with quirks that would irk some people; I find them charming. Every step of the wooden staircase creaks as I climb to the third floor — my main exercise, along with morning riverside walks. There’s a knack to opening my own door, which requires jiggling the brass key in the lock.

This three-bedroom apartment in the 6th arrondissement is on the market for €2.7mn

The place isn’t huge, but it’s home. There’s a kitchen off the main living space, which has a sitting and dining area, two sunny bedrooms and a bathroom big enough for a freestanding tub. White walls are alternatively lined with bookshelves and piled high with paintings, drawings, prints. There are floor-to-ceiling windows with those curled iron grilles and oak shutters that I pull to in the evening. And of course, polished wooden floorboards throughout.

Two doors down is a bakery where I buy flaky croissants and freshly baked baguettes on a daily basis. On the corner, the chairs of a dimly lit wine bar spill out on to the wide pavement; when I leave late at night, I’m guided home by bottle-green street lights. During the day, I write at a big desk by the balcony which overlooks the Jardin du Luxembourg; if I listen carefully, I can just about hear the clink of boules.  

North-east of the Arc de Triomphe in the 8th arrondissement, this apartment is priced at €1.2mn

If you like the sound of my fantasy home, you’re in luck: this three-bedroom apartment in the 6th arrondissement, on the market for €2.7mn, is just as light and bright; then there’s this splendid pied-à-terre in the 8th, close to leafy Parc Monceau, for €1.2mn. Both have lovely parquet floors and fireplaces, and with the first property there’s even a lift if you don’t fancy walking up and down the stairs. Perhaps you could persuade the sellers to throw in a couple of their artworks, a glorious mix of old master-types and modernist abstractions.

And the bottle of wine? I’m sure you can take care of that.

Photography: Christie’s International Real Estate

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