Design Inspiration: Paris

Paris is beloved for its historic charm, but it’s very much a thriving, modern city too. Creative types from all over the world descend on the city to see the latest design trends at the twice-a-year Maison et Objet trade show. But I find even more inspiration by exploring Paris’ eclectic streets. Modern architecture punctuates the historic neighborhoods; museums display the world’s premier art collections; and independent shops create the trends worth watching.

Exploring Classic Paris Sights

Paris is definitely a city to enjoy on foot. I try to avoid the Metro whenever possible; each arrondissement has its own unique character, with unusual shops and galleries to explore. Of course, I never miss a walk along the Left Bank of the Seine, and a hike up to Montmartre for the views. The historic Galerie Vero-Dodat on Montmartre is lined with intriguing antique shops.

Any trip to Paris should include the iconic Eiffel Tower, the jewel-box Sainte-Chapelle, and the Louvre museum. The Louvre collections are enormous, so it’s nice to pop in for an hour or two and focus on a few galleries. I think one trip up the Eiffel Tower is enough; but the fantastic view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe is always worth the climb.

The Opera Garnier is of course, the home of the Phantom of the Opera; but it’s a must-see for the fabulous ceiling painted by artist Marc Chagall. Grab a snack in the Phantom restaurant to see contemporary design in a historic space.

Phantom Restaurant; image by Roland Halbe

Notre Dame de Paris is at the heart of the city, and despite the tragic fire it’s still a Gothic masterpiece. From the cathedral I like to cross the bridge to tiny Ile St. Louis for a relaxed lunch, far from the tourists. Then I can check out the Boulevard St. Germain’s high-end shops on my way to see Impressionist works at the Musee D’Orsay.

Rising above the Bois de Boulogne like a ship, Frank Gehry’s dynamic curved-glass design for the Fondation Louis Vuitton contains 11 modern art galleries.

Fondation Luis Vuitton

Nearby Maison La Roche is an iconic spot for fans of modernism – it’s the glass house designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in 1923.

Since modern design is definitely my style, my favorite Paris museum is the Musée National d’Art Moderne – the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe, located in the post-modern Centre PompidouRenzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Gianfranco Franchini shocked the architecture world in the 1970s with their inside-out design. Color-coded tubes for plumbing, electrical and climate control cover the facade.

The Pompidou Centre

The Pompidou sits on the edge of the eclectic Marais neighborhood, my favorite place to explore vintage shops, trendy boutiques and art galleries. Nearby you’ll find Atelier Brancusi, an exact replica of sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s studio.

Atelier Brancusi

Galerie Perrotin occupies a light-filled courtyard space in the Marais, showcasing avant-garde art. The Marais is also home to the Picasso Museum. This Baroque 17th-century mansion has been renovated with a modern, all-white interior to display a rotating collection of 5,000 pieces by the master.

Inspiring Design Shops In Paris

While upscale galleries and museums showcase high-end art and design, I love traipsing through Paris’ famous flea markets, Marché Paul Bert and Serpette in Saint-Ouen. Here you’ll find almost anything, from ancient pottery to Jazz Age leather chairs and mid-century lighting.

Paris’ independent boutiques are another great source of design inspiration. Deyrolle is truly a cabinet of curiosities, full of ancient artifacts and taxidermy. Fleux is made up of five boutiques along a street in the Marais. Here, colorful modern upholstery mixes with geometric tables and contemporary accessories.

Empreintes is the concept store for an online marketplace dedicated to fine French crafts. This converted factory has four stories of original handmade pieces, a book store and a screening room.

Lighting and Ceramics at Empreinte

Portobello celebrates mid-century modern and industrial style in a collection that’s comfortable and inviting.

Portobello Furniture

At 59 Rivoli a squatter’s outpost has been transformed into 30 artists’ studios with exhibition space and a concert venue, located on the Rue de Rivoli.

Paris Hotels For Design Lovers

Paris is known for its intimate boutique hotels, tucked into historic buildings. Highly decorated interiors have been part of Parisian charm for centuries. Today’s boutique hotels offer a cleaner aesthetic, with modern spaces hidden behind traditional architecture.

Amastan makes clever use of dark blue oak parquet on the walls and floor, with spare interiors that play with light and shadow. The library is styled with antique books and modern ceramics.

Amistan Hotel

Hotel C.O.Q. is described by its owner as “the spirit of a Parisian home, combining elegance and the cool attitude.” Rooms feature vintage oil paintings, Danish modern furniture, Charlotte Perriand wall lamps, and contemporary photos. The lobby’s plant-filled conservatory has a Bohemian vibe.

Hotel C.O.Q.

Les Bains, the mythical 80’s Paris nightclub, is now a 5-star Boutique Hotel. Phillipe Starck’s original mosaic floors and basement pool are still there; plus there’s a bistro with outdoor patios, a spa, and a concept store.

Black and White Floors at Les Bains
Les Bains Hotel

Hotel National des Arts et Métiers is a favorite of mine in the Marais. Tucked into a historic building, you’ll find cozy, minimalist rooms with concrete plank walls.

The rooms have chic velvet sofas with a 1930’s glam vibe.

Photo Courtesy of Cate St. Hill

In the hotel’s restaurant, Art Deco banquettes are topped by abstract murals that channel Monet’s water lilies. The rooftop bar is perfect for unwinding at the end of the day with a cocktail and a view of Montmartre.

Restaurant, Hotel National des Arts et Métiers

Cafe’s and Restaurants in Paris

La Parisienne: Paris’ best baguettes with the awards to prove it. Head to one of their seven locations for a coffee and pastry to start the day, or a croque monsieur for lunch.

La Chambre Aux Oiseaux: Traditional Parisian charm for breakfast or lunch with floral wallpaper and vintage decor.

La Chambre aux Oiseaux

Le Pure: Fans of the film Before Sunset will appreciate this quintessential Parisian cafe’; tufted velvet banquettes and well-worn chairs remind me that I’m definitely in Paris!

Le Pure Cafe’

Septime: The Nordic-inspired interiors feature a beautiful spiral staircase. The seasonal tasting menu is great for lunch or dinner – and they’ve earned a Michelin star.

Chez Janou: Locals and visitors line up here for traditional French cuisine; you’ll definitely want to make a reservation.

Le Loulou: In the Louvre garden facing the Tuileries; it’s the perfect lunch spot, serving fresh Mediterranean dishes in a bistro with mid-century flair.

Le Loulou

Bouillon Julien: A romantic spot to take your date, this restaurant’s Art Nouveau paintings and patterned floors are timeless and cozy.

Buillon Julien

Of course, a trip to Paris isn’t complete without a sunset view, aperitif in hand! Rooftop bars and restaurants are all over the city – next trip, I’ll be working my way through them with this handy list from Vogue. You’ll need to bring your own drinks for sunset on the steps of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre, but it’s yet another not-to-be-missed Parisian moment.

Paris calls us back again and again, and with good reason. It’s somehow both eternal, and always changing. I hope you’ll add my favorite places to your Paris bucket list! When Paris is ready to welcome us again, what are you planning to see?

Ciao, Jonathan

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