Walk straight through the entry hall of this old Nineteenth Century building, past the concierge’s door and you emerge into a sunny oasis of tranquility: an expansive courtyard with tall trees, flowering gardens, benches and, here and there, table and chairs. The apartment is in the back building (B), one flight up.
In 2005 it was completely renovated, but with fidelity to its original charm. The old hardwood floorboards were taken up to level the floor, which was on a serious slant, then carefully replaced. The 'Prussian,' the old ceramic wood-burning stove that once helped heat the apartment, was polished and left in place. New windows were installed, but they are indistinguishable from the neighbors’. But the flat was also modernized.
The old kitchen became a state-of-the-art tiled bathroom, with twin sinks, deep tub with shower, separate shower stall and heated towel rack. The kitchen was placed in the former bathroom and opened up into the séjour, the combined living room-dining room, making an American style great room (cuisine américaine). The kitchen appliances are all new (see list); the backsplash is finished with the same Paris Métro tiles as the bathroom. Light floods in through tall windows from two exposures.
Both comfortable bedrooms have a wall of closets, plus new bedding with lots of extra blankets and pillows. The furniture throughout is a mix of the brand new (beds and sofa) and the antique (big mirror in entry, dining table and chairs, night tables, secretary.) Colorful rugs and framed artwork enhance a very Parisian, very homey atmosphere.
Complete the feeling with some wonderful music from the CD collection, from the old (Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Barbara, Django Rhinehart) to the contemporary (Gypsy Kings, Francis Cabrel, Raul Barboza, and Keith Jarrett’s Paris Concert).
If the ideal is to be on a quiet street (let alone in a courtyard building!) in the middle of a vibrant neighborhood, then rue Houdon is the place to be. Just a block long*, the street provides a sort of side entrance to old Montmartre. At the bottom of the hill is the busy Place Pigalle, with its Métro station, bus stops, taxi stands, and late-night shops and clubs.
At the top of the street is the storybook Place des Abbesses, which boasts an original Hector Guimard Métro station, a classic Paris kiosk, a Wallace fountain and a children’s carousel, not to mention a vest-pocket park all in flower, an unusual brick church (St. Jean de Montmartre), and the start of the climb up to the Sacré-Coeur basilica. Nearby, in the Café St. Jean, there is live jazz on Monday and Thursday nights. We are in Amélie’s quartier, for those who saw the film. The Marché de la Butte, the picturesque produce shop where she hung out, is right off the Place des Abbesses.
Down the street is the rue Lepic, Montmartre’s best market street. Just off Abbesses in the other direction is the rue des Martyrs, another famous neighborhood market street. If you want to steep in a Paris experience, you can’t do better: prize-winning, artisanal boulangeries and pâtisseries, flower shops, cafés, restaurants, boutiques, bookstores, cheese shops, wine stores, all in endless supply. And the specialized: a few blocks away, at the foot of the butte, is Paris’s fabrics district, including Dreyfus, six floors of every imaginable material, color and design. The neighborhood is also full of guitar stores, for some reason.
Down a side street off Houdon is a modest atelier where a master craftsman makes harpsichords. Bring your most comfortable walking shoes. You will walk everywhere in Paris, but if you stay in the neighborhood you won’t run out of things to discover.
*Bonus track: Just on our little block-long rue Houdon are found the following: a café at each end of the street (one with jazz), an antique store, a music store (mainly guitars), two local-designer women’s clothing boutiques, a designer children's clothing store, a beauty salon (male and female), two restaurants (Indian and Thai ), a little grocery store and, across the street from no. 14, the neighborhood école maternelle (public pre-school). The ATM is around the corner.
Transportation to other parts of Paris could not be easier, with two major Métro lines (2 and 12) and multiple bus stops a minute or two away on foot.