Fifteen years ago, owners and now good friends, purchased the Merlot apartment. Named after the wonderful red grape from Bordeaux, the stunning views merited the name of this rich red wine. Ten years ago, they were thrilled when the Fine Living Network called the Merlot apartment, “The most romantic apartment in Paris.” In June 2016, we helped the owners put the perfect finishing touches on it after a comprehensive renovation.
This marks the third remodel of Merlot since it was purchased in 2002. In fact, one of our most popular blogs shows the before and after remodel story of the first remodel. We followed up with a story after I took some unexpected photos of sunset from the balcony of Merlot, expressing why it's so wonderful for an apartment with a Paris view.
The point was the difference between having an “innie” versus an “outward facing” apartment. Everything is new: every wall, molding, chandelier, cabinet, appliance, bathroom, and kitchen finish. Even every square inch of parquet flooring has been updated. It was a masterful renovation and we were delighted at the final reveal.
The Merlot apartment – 15 years ago
Remodelling small spaces is our passion! What makes this story so special is the wonderful use of space in the first remodel, but the discovery of even better tricks to remodel small spaces in the latest one.
The latest transformation endeavored to keep the spirit of the much-loved Merlot, but also capture a 2016 version of classic Parisian luxury. Here’s our story on how we found this treasure of an apartment and what we did to remodel it for the first time. It was a lot of fun to see the before and after stages, and we still laugh at the stories from the overhaul. We tell buyers that if the bones are right – if the apartment has unique features and is in a great location – you have made a sound investment. Elements can be changed and improved, but the best features are irreplaceable.
The previous layout and the new plan…
We've color-coded the rooms so you can see where they were located before and after. Also you can see how much better the space is used in the new plan — check out the master bedroom, the former kitchen which becomes a master bathroom and the reallocation of the long corridor — for washer/dryer, boiler and storage. It wasn't easy to get there!
The renovation started with a practical goal: how could we create a true en-suite master bathroom with the existing layout? Secondly, how we could make the space as open and light-filled as possible. City living means prime property is expensive and this two bedroom apartment was under 800 square feet. The owners wanted everything to feel even more airy, more welcoming, and to have a true en-suite bathroom.
There were two logistical problems in the former layout. Old Plan: Note how the living room in front is located on the far right, with two french doors onto the balcony. On the left side of the living room, there were closets for storage and hidden access to the hot water heater – the little niche became the dining area. A lot of space was wasted by having those closets, but they contained essential equipment.
Wasted space: the dining area
A large section of the living room was walled off with floor-to-ceiling storage space. This contained the air conditioning vent, storage, hot water tank, safe, and the washer, dryer, and clothes closet. Here it is after the first remodel in 2002.
This storage space was located near the geometric center of old Merlot, and it cut out space from the living room. The closets turned the traditional rectangular living room into an h-shaped one. In essence, the living room had a significant amount of l’espace perdu (lost space).
The new layout in detail
Small spaces present the biggest challenges! We wanted to move the kitchen into the large double living area to create a welcoming space for getting together. The kitchen could be transformed into another bathroom but the closets in the living room contained crucial equipment. Where could we put the largest hot water heater in Paris, washer and dryer, air-con outlets, the safe, vacuum and broom storage, and clothes?
I'd like to take the credit for this brilliant idea, but all of it goes to the owners and their “Ah-ha!” moment. Hallways are a huge waste of space and they are very common in old apartments. So, what if we blocked it off completely and gave the living room two openings on either end? You could access the front and back of the apartment and wouldn't need an additional hallway. And, if we blocked off the hallway to access from both sides, we could install the washer, dryer, hot water cylinder, broom cupboard, coat cupboard – in short everything. Wow, what a terrific idea!
There are so many rail-road style apartments in Paris and in other cities and this is an idea that can be used everywhere. Here's the plan below: look at the four closets in the old hallway. Access to one set is from the entryway. Access to the other set is from the living room, where everyone already heads when they enter.
The new kitchen and dining area
The building works began, we removed all the closets and planning started for the kitchen. We also started preparing extraction units for the kitchen and air conditioning. Notice how the builder duplicates a 200-year-old crown molding to create a new frame for the kitchen, in the ceiling. When it was finished, it looked like it had always been there.
Removing the awkward closets freed up the entire wall to install a new kitchen. The open farmhouse look is gorgeous, including the lighted cupboards and something I suggested: LED lights below the counters. A beautiful farmhouse table now sits in front and flows beautifully into the living area.
You can see the new kitchen in progress here. Darek is our head builder and Christophe stands behind him; an excellent carpenter. Big changes are underway!
And, wait for it…here it is. The new kitchen and dining area (below). I'm also proud of my touch, putting a mirror backsplash to open up the space above countertops. It's gorgeous and cleverly designed.
Molding frames adorn the new kitchen and add elegance to the walls and the new dining table seats more people. It also serves as a functional workspace for families to gather and socialize, or use their laptops. Now, whoever is preparing food is not isolated from but surrounded by their family and friends. Voila!
Living room changes
Everyone loves the warm ambiance of the fireplace but we made another change, which meant moving the fireplace as decoration to the left wall. We just relocated it to the other side in the end. I think it works really effectively and the general aesthetic is enhanced.
In the new living room, the ambiance hasn't changed. The only difference is the decorative fireplace that has moved and the sofa sits on the original wall, where the marble fireplace was. The feeling of intimacy and comfort is still there, as always.
Standing in the new living space, two new doorways lead to the new master bedroom. The panel doors slide closed for night-time but can open fully to increase the sense of space during the day. The couch was placed between the two doors.
Apart from being 12% larger, the living room now has new flooring in à bâtons rompus, or “broken sticks” pattern. The old linear flooring was severely worn-out and creaky. The area now has ornate crystal chandeliers instead of the old sconce lighting, new walls, wainscot, and crown moldings. Overall, new Merlot is crisper, cleaner, more spacious, and much more design-led.
Converting the kitchen into an en-suite master bathroom
The kitchen was located on the left as you entered the apartment. It's interesting to see how it looked in 2002 and after the remodel in 2003.
The kitchen had previously been remodeled back in 1900. Thanks to the invention of electricity, washing machines and refrigerators were installed.
The area then remained untouched until 2016.
The kitchen in the original location had several inadequacies. This included a circular kitchen sink that was so tiny, a large pot could not even fit inside it. The stove top only had two burners and no hidden space for rubbish and recycling bins. Cabinets had handles that could not be reached by anyone less than six feet tall – it was quite an issue.
All these problems were remedied in the new kitchen, as it is integrated into the living room now. All obvious appliances such as the refrigerator, dishwasher, and microwave are hidden from view by smart placement. There are matching cabinet doors to conceal items further.
The kitchen becomes a stunning new en-suite bathroom
The new master bathroom is 50% larger and exclusive to the master bedroom. There is a toilet – having two toilets is the biggest accomplishment of all in Paris apartments – and a gorgeous rainwater shower that occupies the entire back wall of the former kitchen!
The result is a delightful bathroom with a walk-in shower, rainwater tap, hidden toilet and a perfect sink.
The owners found the antique silver mirror at the Puces. It's my favorite mirror place on Rue du Rosier.
The new master bathroom also has much better lighting, as seen above. Soft, hidden LED lights along the ceiling reflect the beautiful mother of pearl tiles on the shower wall and sink backsplash. Although both the bathrooms in the old and new Merlot may seem small by American standards, for Paris they are much larger, more practical, and very stylish.
Like most Parisian flats, Merlot had a long hallway. It occupied over 10% of the total surface area of the floor plan. We needed to remedy this so we got our thinking caps on.
The previous master bathroom
With the new kitchen located on the wall of the living area, Merlot’s master bathroom could be created in the former kitchen space. The master bathroom was located at the end of the hallway between the two bedrooms. It was charming but not completely efficient, as it had a bathtub and shower combination and very little storage. Its location also cramped the size of the master bedroom.
The biggest issue was it didn't have a toilet because Paris apartments only have one evacuation pipe in each apartment, which was near the kitchen. While flexible, a combination tub with a shower can be awkward to climb in and out of. The old master bathroom is below.
Moving the master bedroom
A more subtle idea was to swap the master bedroom with the living room. In the original plan, the master bedroom was at the end of the hallway. If you were standing at one of the three sets of French doors in the apartment, the master bedroom was on the far right – on the other side of the dining table wall. As the owners saw how they could move the kitchen to the living area, it freed up the former kitchen to become a luxurious bathroom.
Previously, the master bedroom was at the back and didn't have an en-suite bathroom or WC. Due to the complicated set of closets, there was only one small closet with no drawer space.
The former Merlot's master bedroom was also located next door to the second bedroom. The new master bedroom has moved to the opposite side of the apartment for greater privacy. So, why not flip the bedroom and the living area, so the master bedroom could have its own en-suite bath?
Here's how it was accomplished. As mentioned, there are three sets of French doors in the apartment. The living room has the first two sets as you enter the apartment. The master bedroom has the third set, on the far right. We pushed the entire living area to occupy the last two sets of French doors, so we could put the bedroom on the far left.
Master bedroom (after the renovation)
The new master bedroom is 30% larger. It has triple the closet space with built-in drawers and shelving, and an en-suite bathroom. It also has a new wall and crown moldings. There is better lighting with a new chandelier and wall-mounted reading lamps. Also, the air-conditioning ductwork has been reorganized. It was inelegantly and visibly piped along the corner of the old master bedroom. Now, it is completely hidden above the kitchen cabinets.
The second bedroom
The new second bedroom follows the same footprint as the old bedroom. However, the single beds were a trundle bed system, with the second bed underneath (as seen below).
It has updated flooring, new furniture including a marble-topped verdigris dresser replacing an oversized white armoire. There’s an antique mirror, updated curtains, fresh beds with new linens, paint, and lighting. The remodeled second bedroom has been totally uplifted and is very cozy.
We then put in a bistro table to use as a desk, next to the window.
The owners had three children and wisely decided to purchase new beds and layout (as seen below), it was much more convenient.
The second bathroom (before the renovation)
In comparison to the old second bathroom, the new bathroom also follows the same design aesthetic, but with new open shelving and iridescent glass mosaic tiles.
It replaces the drab beige tiles and also has a brand new shower and sink, making it more cheerful in general. New Merlot has two toilets which are truly uncommon in Paris; where even large four bedroom apartments usually have only one. This is because traditional Parisian buildings only have one exhaust pipe to handle solid organic waste. Having two bathrooms is really an added convenience when a whole family is getting ready to go out for an evening in Paris.
Before and after Merlot plans
You can see the before and after Merlot plans below. Before, on the left: the long hallway from the entry door and master bedroom in pale green at the back of the apartment. The master bathroom (called salle d'eau in French) sat between the two bedrooms. Note the kitchen on the far right in pale blue, next to the powder room.
After, on the right: there is the same entry door, but the hallway now has four closets – two on each side. The living room has been pushed all the way to the left and the floor space has increased considerably. In pale green is the master bedroom, moved to the far right. The new layout has given it a lot more space since the old master bathroom has been removed and reinstated where the kitchen was.
We were amazed at how a few excellent changes can add so much to the floor space and comfort of this apartment!
A treasured space
Above all, with its sun-filled rooms – a treasured commodity in Paris – our Merlot apartment is a happy place. Merlot faces south and is located on the preferred 5th floor with a full-length balcony. As they say in French real estate, it has no vis-à-vis, meaning, there is no apartment building directly across the street from it. This translates to lots of light and privacy. When you go out on the balcony with a glass of Chablis in hand, the view of the Eiffel Tower is arresting. You'll understand exactly why guests fall head over heels for this apartment.
Merlot feels so open and welcoming after this redesign. It has two full bathrooms, two bedrooms, and a gorgeous open living, kitchen and dining area. Guests love staying here, as do the owners when they are in town. If there was ever a place to dwell in the most romantic city in the world, it’s here.