At home for Christmas
Catherine Turner and her husband Jonathan have lived in France with their two children – William, aged seven and four-yearold Emilia – for four years, their home a 130-year-old apartment right in the heart of Paris. Catherine runs her own business, BEG Bicycles ( begbicycles.com), and Jonathan works in pharmaceuticals.
“Four years ago when my husband Jonathan first broke the news that he’d got a job offer in Paris it was a complete shock, but I knew we just couldn’t say no to the opportunity,” says Catherine. They first lived in Catherine’s hometown of Cambridge and then moved to Maida Vale in London, where they stayed for 15 years. Both felt it was a good time to try something new before William and Emilia started school. They loved London for its urban villages and knew this was what they wanted to find in Paris.
“Luckily the city is all about local communities,” says Catherine, “and with its very distinct quarters it has even more of a village feel than London ever had.”
Their biggest issue was how they could possibly take time out to find an apartment with Jonathan working out the notice period of his previous job right up to the last minute and Catherine looking after their two small children?
“We ended up using a relocation agent in the UK to help us navigate uncharted territory,” says Catherine. “They were really good and were very thorough with all our requirements. I think we would have been really out of our depth otherwise.”
After looking at a variety of apartments, many of which were not in quite the right area or wouldn’t suit their family lifestyle, they eventually found the perfect Parisian apartment. Located in the 7th arrondissement, an affluent area of the city very popular with families, the classic Haussmann pierre de taille (dressed stone) apartment had high ceilings, parquet floors and huge windows.
“The layout of the apartment really appealed to us as a family,” says Catherine. “It’s all on one level with a large hallway and long corridor connecting to each of the rooms, giving the children loads of space to play freely. We don’t have that sense of feeling cooped up here as the huge windows make it so light and airy.”
THE BIG MOVE
At the beginning of 2009 the family moved lock, stock and barrel out of London into their new home, which at that time was an empty shell. “There was absolutely nothing in it,” recalls Catherine. “There was no kitchen or bathroom, and it didn’t even have any central light fittings. “It was just the bare walls, paneling and exquisite fireplaces.”
Much of the work that needed to be done was cosmetic. There were no problems structurally and central heating had already been installed. The biggest job was to tackle the kitchen and bathroom.
“We had to buy the kitchen having seen the room only once and ended up purchasing it in London and bringing it to Paris in a removal van, a rather hair-raising journey to say the least,” says Jonathan.
Within three months they had all the basic elements in place. The kitchen and bathroom were fully fitted, and extra storage cupboards were custom built to tie in with the paneling and mouldings.
“Parisian kitchens are notoriously small in size so we kept everything minimal and as streamlined as possible to maximise our space,” says Catherine. “We wanted a family home as well as a stylish, clutterfree environment. The family mantra is to have out only what you love and need most and everything else store away so the large closets fitted in every room make sure we stick to that.”
“Decorating the apartment was an absolute pleasure,” says Catherine. “In the UK we’d always had very contemporary interiors so the cool whiteness of the rooms and the detailing of the plasterwork on the walls really appealed to my taste, and formed a
fantastic backdrop for all the furniture and accessories I chose. I’ve kept the window treatments as simple as possible to maximise the light coming into the rooms all the year round. We put up curtains in most of our rooms but dressed them very simply with a pinch pleat or eyelet heading and when drawn back they sit beyond the window’s edge. The blinds are a pale grey sheer which blends with the walls and allows light in when closed.”
Catherine likes to mix her more modern furniture with ornate French vintage pieces and accessories. “In every room I’ve tried to get a good balance of practicality and style that also blends well with its architectural features,” she says.
“I also love using tones of grey, beige and taupe that work really well in our home combined with the occasional flash of bolder colour, especially in the children’s rooms.”
The living room, dining room and master bedroom were easier to decorate as Catherine could incorporate her own tastes, but the children’s rooms needed an injection of their own personalities. The unusual raised bed in William’s room and the bold red cupboards tie in well with his vibrant and adventurous spirit, while the vintage white metal furniture with pink curtains and pretty patchwork bedspread is a perfect match for little Emilia’s tastes.
The more unique finishing touches Catherine has added to the apartment, such as the bow-fronted console table and leather swivel chair, have all been bought in France. “Paris is full of little ateliers and designers which I’m always on the lookout for when I’m cycling around the city,” she says.
Christmas decorations are done in a similar way. A simple, coordinated colour scheme of white, silver, hot pink and natural tones
“The children and I always finish off our decorating by buying spruce branches and eucalyptus from the local flower market”
“There is nothing better for me than sitting at my little desk in the corner of the dining room looking out onto our cobbled mews and courtyard listening to the gentle buzz of Paris”
is combined with a mix of elegant vintage, rustic and modern-looking baubles.
“I like to keep the Christmas decorating as simple as possible so I can get the children involved. It’s turning into a bit of a family tradition now,” says Catherine. “The children and I always finish off our decorating by buying spruce branches and eucalyptus from the local flower market and cutting them into small sprigs, which we scatter about the mantelpieces and tables. They look and smell so Christmassy. Emilia then adds our quirky little owl decorations to the Christmas tree as a final finishing touch,” she says. LIVING THE DREAM
Having now lived in France for almost a decade the family seem very settled and established in their home. “I love Paris – it’s so magical, especially at Christmas time,” says Catherine. Living here has given them a fantastic lifestyle as well as a new business venture. Inspired by the French capital’s cycling culture and chic people, Catherine started her own online business selling vintage bicycles and accessories, something she never imagined she would end up doing.
“There is nothing better for me than sitting at my little desk in the corner of the dining room looking out onto our cobbled mews and courtyard listening to the gentle buzz of Paris, and talking with customers about one of my favourite pastimes. It’s bliss,” she says.
Left: Catherine’s bike is used as a quirky Christmas prop in the hallway, which is light and airy thanks to the neutral wall colour and large window
Above: Festive greenery adds colour and Christmas spirit to the white fitted kitchen, which has been kept as minimal and streamlined as possible to maximise spaceTop right: The family return from an early evening walk around the local food and flower markets with Christmas foliage to decorate the apartmentBottom right: Son William’s bedroom is large enough to accommodate a striking raised bed/den, while baskets on wheels for his toys keep the space tidy
Above: The fireplace in the dining room has been decorated with fresh spruce sprigs
Bottom left: Emilia enjoys reading by the Christmas tree
Left: Hot pink is a dominant colour in daughter Emilia’s bedroom
Bottom right: Catherine chose shell pink and grey tones for the master bedroom