An indescribable feeling greets us when we step into the streets of Paris. What is it about just being there that creates such a stir within us? All at once, we are surrounded by physical beauty and by ethereal stimuli—the smell of the streets, the sky, the street signs, the light. Can the air really be that different? Europe in general, and Paris in particular, fills us with a tingling feeling; our senses are constantly titillated. This heightened sensual experience stays with us throughout our visit. Can we bring it home?
When I was a young girl traveling to France and Europe the first few times, I had a physical reaction to being somewhere foreign. This strangeness or foreignness wore off over time; the feelings are so ingrained in me that they have become part of who I am.
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Living in Paris presents an array of everyday chores made nicer by the surroundings, the choices, the attitude, and the idiosyncratic Parisian lifestyle. Parisians are greatly influenced by intangibles like the seasons. Food, wine, colors, habits all reflect seasonal differences. Parisians rarely leave their arrondissements. Each one supplies all they need—the marché, the bistrot, the café, the school, the doctor, and favorite stores are all there.
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I became an interior designer by happenstance. Trained in child psychology, I found myself doing interior design. I was influenced by Barbara D’Arcy’s design book as well as by my parents and by friends already in the field. I dabbled with my own apartments, first in Chicago and later in New York, supplementing my instincts with courses at the New York School of Interior Design. As a young girl, I had watched as my parents decorated their home with the help of an interior designer. They chose Spanish-style furniture when all their friends chose faux French. The effect was chic and tasteful, so much so that when they moved some thirty years later, my friends couldn’t wait to buy the furniture. The pieces I kept are chic and in style even today.
Bringing Paris home is not as simple as adding lace curtains or provincial pottery to your décor. It is something much more subtle and much more personal. It has to do with the philosophy of European living and many characteristics. To understand those characteristics, we need to take an exploratory stroll through the streets of Paris, eyes and ears open, to see what we observe . . . bringing home both the intangible as well as the tangible treasures that abound.
Excerpted from Bringing Paris Home by Penny Drue Baird. Copyright © 2008 by The Monacelli Press/ Penny Drue Baird. Excerpted by permission of The Monacelli Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.