Today is the start of a new series of posts on MFCH. You have told me that you liked to hear about my stylish French girlfriends, but there are many other friends I'd like to tell you about who live here but who weren't born in France.
Women who have crossed continents and oceans, sometimes alone, sometimes with their families, to create a new life for themselves in France. Women who live exciting and creative lives, and who are fully integrated into French life ... for many people they are living a dream.
Let's see what you think!
Betsy is American, I met her in Normandy, where she has a weekend country home. I was immediately charmed by her sense of style and her friendly, open approach. Even more so when I met the whole family and found out about the business that she and her husband have created in Paris.
I tried to ask her the questions that you would like to hear ....
Hi Betsy, thank you for letting MFCH take a peek into your everyday life. First of all I have to ask you: What made you move to Paris?
We were already living in London with our young children. I was working in public relations, and my husband in banking. We started coming to Paris for weekends, we made new friends here, and quickly found ourselves spending more time in Paris than in London.
We bought a little 'pied à terre' apartment in the 7th arrondissement, our favourite part of Paris. We had a lot of good ideas for improving the flat, and that was really what gave us the idea of moving here and starting our own business.
We packed in our London life, moved here full time and opened our office buying small apartments in need of renovation, doing them up and selling them on to foreigners like ourselves who wanted a base in Paris ... loaded with charm but with decent plumbing and a great kitchen!
That can't have been easy! Where did you start?
Well we knew that we only wanted to work in this part of Paris, so we found an office on the rue de l'Université, and started looking for apartments to rework. To begin with we couldn't take on very many projects because we didn't know enough people in the building industry to work on site.
Today we work with about 30 really reliable craftsmen, specialising in antique wooden flooring; kitchens; or intricate plaster work, who have their teams at work on our renovations. This means we can take on several projects at once, and because they are all in the Latin quarter, near our office, we can get round to every site each day on foot!
Did you already speak French when you came here Betsy?
No, I really only had high school French, although my husband could get by already. But you know, people are friendly here; they could see that we were trying hard, and they were patient, so I have learnt as I've gone along. Today we have been here full time for nine years, and I still can't pass myself off as French, but I can get by in most situations.
I can tell you really love this part of Paris; would you share a couple of your favourite addresses?
Oh sure! wow! there are so many places I love to go here, but I guess that for food shopping, my favourite address has to be La Grande Epicerie in Le Bon Marché. When I want to buy myself something special to wear then I head to Irié, rue du Pre aux Clercs, and at the moment my favourite place to eat is the restaurant Cinq Mars, rue de Verneuil
The idea of renovating old property in Paris sounds like many people's dream! What do you enjoy the most?
Well I love the fact that we have access to 18th and 19th century buildings, and that with some careful planning and attention to detail, we manage to make them into stylish, comfortable and modern flats that stay in keeping with the original architecture and style of this part of Paris.
And of course there is always the unexpected, like in this first floor apartment we are currently working on: behind the bright yellow walls in the living room, we have found stunning original oak wood panelling on the walls. This is going to be the most beautiful room when we have finished, but when I first saw it with yellow walls and old blue carpeting.... well let's just say that its appeal was well hidden!
Betsy showed me around several of her current projects.
We only purchase and renovate flats that we could see ourselves living in. There has to be a real 'coup de cœur'. The layout of an apartment is often altered, but the bones have to be good. I love the surprises in my job like when we discover beautiful beams behind a patched up wall
There must be a lot of people offering pied-à-terres in Paris, why do your clients come to you?
People tell us that they love our streamlined and well-finished approach to our renovations. All our apartments are delivered with the original charming window frames and hardware, but with double glazing to keep out any dust and noise. We also install air conditioning which is unusual in Paris and we soundproof ceilings, floors and walls.
And what about your own homes, in Paris and in Normandy?
Well, we have applied the same principals there as to the properties that we sell. We like light, airy interiors that respect the character of the old buildings, but that are practical and comfortable to live in.
Sometimes a renovation requires some serious lateral thinking, like the kitchen in our Paris flat, when we first visited, it was a very messy pink bathroom, today it is a sleek and practical kitchen!
The house in Normandy is a different style but still designed to be welcoming for family and friends, and to be bright and restful to give us the space and time to relax.
Thank you Betsy!
I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed meeting up with Betsy in Paris last week, and visiting her home and the properties she is working on.
If you are dreaming of finding your own pied à terre in Paris, then I highly recommend taking a look at Betsy's website or her blog and giving her a call. You'll find the welcome friendly and the portfolio just stunning!