‘My strongest wish for Dublin is for it to grow upwards, not outwards’
Having lived in miniature spaces in Munich and Paris, I can appreciate the benefits of apartment living
In the early days of our relationship, the days when I made deliberate efforts to speak slowly and clearly due to my disbelief that a French man could understand English to a competent degree, my boyfriend described to me his Parisian apartment: a two-room space on the sixth floor that to him was beginning to feel too loose of a space just for one.
He had explored the idea of surrendering the apartment to move into a house share with a good friend. To me this all sounded in the reverse order of rites. In Dublin I had tolerated dark cold house shares in the mews lanes of Dublin 6 until I eventually took the plunge during the recessional downturn, and moved into a small but bright one-bedroom flat in Dublin 6W. The rent was ¤660, a trivial amount in today’s money.
Although cold during the long Irish winter, I was hardy after 10 years of Dublin house shares. It had become second nature to take out that second duvet for the winter bed. I also knew that seeing my breath temporarily immortalised into dense white fog would pass after the country had lifted itself out of the hump of the worst of the winter. I was very happy there and saw my future in only more spacious and warmer terms.
I was living in a house share in Munich when I met my French boyfriend. It was a Wohngemeinschaft – a literal living community – where I rented an 18sq m room un- furnished but equipped with its own balcony. Outside Ireland I have learned the language of square metres. With Munich being one of the more sought-after German cities, the common living space is sacrificed to make way for an extra bedroom. This to me seems to run counter to the aspiration of the Wohngemeinschaft being its own community, but what the hell.
Sitting on my balcony taking in views of the green garden enjoyed under the more outgoing Bavarian sun, I felt more than compensated. Since leaving Munich the balcony still commands a special place in my heart as I grapple with and become numb to the compromises of Parisian living. The need for such a balcony is greater in Paris than in Ireland given that the sun does smile down on Paris to share its warm rays more regularly. But the greater reason is that in the typically small Parisian living quarters, a balcony would create the illusion of having a place to escape to, something to covet among friends and foes alike.
To strip it down to its bones, the two-room apartment is a 40sq m rectangle with a bedroom, living room and separate kitchen. I think to describe it most clearly to those not inducted into the lingo of square metres, the apartment feels like two hotel rooms stuck together. Visiting but resident Parisian friends always compliment the apartment, blessing it with ad- jectives such as “bright” and “large”. Many Parisians have paid their dues by living in studios as petite as 9sq m.
Such small confines often encourage the occupiers to stay out and enjoy this beautiful city more. I have done things in my apartment that on first impressions I thought could not happen, such as living in harmony with another human beings and throwing big parties. Living in Paris makes you more tolerant and brings you to an understanding of life negotiated under different norms. I now appreciate why the apartment was making my boyfriend feel lonely. I understand why he found himself contemplating living in less space. Most in our network of Parisian friends humbly do so with little complaint. Many Parisians have paid their dues by living in studios as petite as 9sq m.
The lessons from Parisian living have changed my outlook on what we actually need to live comfortably. Peculiarities in how we have built with bricks and mortar in Ireland now seem glaring. One of the best observations by my boyfriend was why we build such small houses in Ireland. If a house is only going to be 70sq m, why not make it an apartment if it is not deserving of being made into a bigger semi-detached house? I see the sense in this.
‘‘ To describe it most clearly to those not inducted into the lingo of square metres, the apartment feels like two hotel rooms stuck together
But an apartment removes the opportunity for a garden, and arrives us at my mother’s favourite question – where do Parisian children play? My strongest wish for Dublin, as a person who adores its proximity to the mountains, is for the city to grow upwards and not follow developers’ Machiavellian plans of extending outwards. We will never get our countryside back after the concrete slabs take root. We are compromising further our air quality as cars driven by city workers make long commutes.
Please, Dublin, grow up and think about small apartment living. It really isn’t so bad.