My love affair with Paris has recently deepened – thanks to one man. His wife need not worry, though, as I have come to rely on Christophe de Oliveira and his industrial chic Artisan Lofts merely to satisfy my urban curiosity about the French capital, by staying in his wonderfully inventive and indulgently comfortable apartments in under-the-radar neighbourhoods.
Three years ago, seeking an Easter staycation, I stumbled upon Boulangerie Room (second picture), a bakery-turned-rental accommodation on a quiet street in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. My email inquiry was responded to with an alacrity and friendliness frankly atypical of Gallic hospitality, and our mini retreat in the bourgeois 15th arrondissement – amid a time-warping backdrop of cafés populated by chain-smoking mamans in Hermès scarves and Breton stripes – was a winner. The space is kitted out with charming red and white chequerboard bed linens, kitsch art by de Oliveira’s artist mother-in-law, speedy WiFi and the cosy breakfast nook where we tore off chunks of organic baguette from Le Grenier de Félix, a nearby boulangerie recommended by our Portuguese host.
De Oliveira launched Artisan Lofts (doubles from €100 per night) after completing a finance degree and DIY renovations to his own Paris apartment, and in the 15th he has also created the equally appealing, courtyard-facing Fashion Room, a former designer’s atelier with original wood-plank floors and a skylight. Three years ago we declined our gracious host’s offer to show us around this classic slice of Paris, but we opted in when I discovered that de Oliveira was now offering La Maisonette, a bijou house tucked into the courtyard of a 1789 convent-cum-industrial building near where my beloved Marais meets the 10th arrondissement. Truth be told, I approached this mini-break across the district line with some trepidation; my Francophile grandmother specifically forbade the 13-year-old me from setting foot anywhere near the Porte Saint-Denis arch, calling it “a haven of drug dealers, illegal immigrants and prostitutes”.
Fast-forward 20 years and we are buzzed in by our Portuguese friend, who awaits us with hot coffee and croissants on the vintage café table flanked by Arne Jacobsen chairs inside the 215sq ft abode. Even more enamoured this time around, I reach down to stroke the floral Spanish tiles just as de Oliveira suggests we pop into his three other properties in this building. My inner real-estate-porn addict takes over and I drop everything but my iPhone to follow this extreme-makeover artisan into L’Atelier 34 (first picture), upcycled from a leather workshop with that signature chequered bedding (third picture), market-found furnishings, a skylight and the leather craftsman’s portrait in vibrant blue, red and earthen hues. More feminine and no doubt the setting for my next solo getaway, the whitewashed brick-clad Mini-Loft Design (fourth picture) inhabits a former fashion studio, while next door’s Boulangerie Houseboasts mezzanine level sleeping.
One addiction satisfied, I eagerly agree when de Oliveira suggests a walkabout. We pass an artisanal coffee roaster, an African spice emporium and a Syrian coffee shop before settling into rattan chairs outside a sliver of a Kurdish kebab house called Urfa Dürüm, serving what de Oliveira rightly calls “the best chicken sandwich in France”. I bite into the hot chewy flatbread then notice we’re only a few steps from that landmark arch. “Mon coeur, c’est ici,” de Oliveira exclaims, drowning out my grandmother’s warnings, and with that, we head towards the eight enticing hocks of ham I spy in the window just down the way.