Paris by Design

Lori Ford of Hermosa Beach’s Gum Tree journals her stylish guide to the City of Lights … and amazing style.

Let me start by saying: I love my job. It’s been just over seven years since I took a chance on a lifelong dream of opening my own shop. Gum Tree is a home and gift shop plus Aussie café here in Hermosa Beach. The Aussie is my husband, Will, who grew up Down Under and runs our café.  

With two small kids and a new puppy, our life is full. On top of that, small business is not for the faint of heart. It can feel like you never have a minute off, let alone a day. But it is also incredibly rewarding, and sometimes it allows us to travel for work.  

The mix of things we carry and how we display them keeps our customers coming in, so consequently I’m on a never-ending hunt for inspiration. Remember when I said I love my job? The hunt is the reason … and it never gets old. Which brings me to Paris. Every January, Europe’s premiere home and gift trade show, MAISON&OBJET, takes place in the magical French capital. I usually hit the shows on my own, but this seemed like a great opportunity to bring my husband along for the ride. What better café inspiration is there in the world, right? And it’s Paris!

I should mention that I’ve been to Paris a few times, but Will had not. He’s been all over the world, but Southeast Asia is more his jam. He says he just never felt the desire to go to Paris. I thought, “Who doesn’t want to go to Paris?” I hoped to change his tune.  

 

DAY 1, Saint-Germain-des-Prés

We took a direct flight overnight to Paris on Air France. Easy, peasy. We are big fans of good public transport, and Paris has one of the very best systems in the world. We hopped on the train from the airport, and 25 minutes later got off right in the heart of the city and also my favorite neighborhood: Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

I booked us an apartment through Airbnb, a sweet little one-bedroom on the top floor of a 200-year-old building with a teeny-tiny elevator and views of the rooftops of Paris and the church of Saint-Sulpice. We met the owner, dropped our bags and hit the streets to find a cup of coffee and something to do to keep us up till bedtime.

It was about 2:30 in the afternoon and only 35º outside. January in Paris is chillier that I had imagined—but just as beautiful as Paris in spring. We decided to stroll our neighborhood to get our bearings, starting with a quick cappuccino and quiche lorraine.

Then it was all about shopping. This is not my husband’s favorite activity, but this trip he was really game for seeing what my life is like on my work adventures. So he tolerated it and, dare I say, even began to enjoy it toward the end of the trip.

There are two darling shops I love on Rue Mabillon: Sandra Serraf for women’s clothing and Laurette for the kids. The tiny, handmade dream catchers at Laurette were my favorite find, and I always love the well-curated jewelry selection at Sandra Serraf.

Then on to Rue Saint-Sulpice for more dreamy women’s clothing shops including Antik Batik for the ultimate in boho embroidered pieces, Vanessa Bruno for that sleek French girl look, American Vintage for great basic tees and sweaters, and Mes Demoiselles for over-the-top feminine bohemian fashion.

By this point Will was getting antsy, so I spared him any more clothing stores and took him someplace I knew he would love: Le Grande Épicerie. Whenever we travel we make it a point to seek out a really good grocery store; food is key to understanding another culture. Le Grande Épicerie is like no other grocery store you’ve ever seen.

The cheese section of this food emporium is larger than our house and smells like heaven. There were aisles of foie gras, charcuterie, fresh seafood and chocolate—among other things. In the center sits a beautiful fresh fruit and veggie section, and just down the steps you’ll find an entire basement full of French wine and Champagne.  

 

DAY 2, Le Marais

The jet lag got to us, and we slept a bit late today… or was it the wine? Anyway, around noon we headed out to another favorite neighborhood: Le Marais. We took the Metro and exited at Filles du Calvaire, which is a very short walk to one of my favorite stores in the world: Merci.  

Merci is a mix of housewares, fashion, art supplies and décor, with excellent coffee! It is basically every good thing under one roof. Speaking of the roof, a giant skylight in the center bathes the whole place in amazing light. There are also three different cafes inside, and the Used Book Café is where we sat for a lunch of sublimely creamy pureed vegetable soup; a salad of burrata, tomato confit and prosciutto; and a perfectly chewy-meets-crunchy baguette.   

Standouts of the store include a section of bedding in a rainbow’s worth of washed linen, the perfectly “Frenchy” women’s clothing section, the kitchen section full of beautiful black-and-white enamel, and the art supply section (I am always a sucker for tiny notebooks, colored pencils and washi tape).  

If there were a kids version of Merci, it would be Bonton just up the block. It’s three floors of gorgeous, from kids décor to toys and clothing. There’s even a vintage photo booth on the main floor. We had a few favorites here: the pops of neon on neutrals in clothing and décor, the golden stars and neon sign on the wall downstairs and the whimsical party goods section. All of these things inspired lots of new arrivals to Gum Tree Kids for spring.

The rest of the day was spent wandering the tiny, charming streets on our way to dinner with a friend at L’Indochine. We popped in and out of many little jewelry stores, wondered how there could be so many shops full of only sunglasses or tea, and bought my mom jars
of tapenade and mustard in a gor-geous little épicerie. She’s a fantastic cook and she was home with our kiddos, so we picked up gifts for her and our beloved sitter, Rianna, all along the way.

If we had more time in the day I would have loved to pop into The Picasso Museum. This is also a wonderful neighborhood to walk on a Sunday, as it’s one of the only areas where shops stay open.

After a delicious dinner at L’Indochine (French-Vietnamese) we walked home in the chilly night, passing the glowing pyramid at the Louvre, crossing the river Seine and marveling at the architecture at every turn. Finally we hit the Boulevard Saint-Germain, where we made a stop for a nightcap at the famous Café De Flore. Hot chocolate for me and a glass of Moët for Will. We sat amongst some beautiful people and wished we spoke French so we could properly eavesdrop.

 

 

 

 

DAY 3, MAISON&OBJET

This is the reason I came, to walk the MAISON&OBJET show. We started with a quick and supremely delicious quiche with goat cheese, a pain au chocolate and a couple of cappuccinos at the beautiful little bakery Gérard Mulot. Sitting in the window, we watched everyone from chic Parisian grandmothers to construction workers pop in to grab a baguette wrapped in paper for breakfast. How do they all stay so thin?

MAISON&OBJET takes place in a very large convention center near the airport on the outskirts of town. It’s about a 25-minute train ride, which I always love because of the opportunity to gaze out the windows at some incredible graffiti. It lines the tunnels and train tracks the entire way, and the riot of color makes me happy and hopeful. On the train back I catch up with my journaling. It’s refreshing not to have to think about traffic—or driving at all, for that matter.

This is a trade show, so it’s not open to the public but rather designers and shop owners like me who go there to place orders. These vendors are way ahead of the trends here in the States. It’s endlessly inspiring to see how they set up their booths and to get a sneak peak of what’s to come in home décor.  

I was struck by all of the beautiful natural materials we saw—a lot of wicker in furniture and lighting. My favorite treatment was the multitude of hanging basket lamps: black and white, mixed with natural wood and marble. It felt so clean and fresh and would work well for our casual lifestyle in the South Bay. For color direction I loved the range of blues, from indigo to aqua, a bit of fresh mint green and the pale, peachy pink of the sky during sunrise.

I placed orders for rugs, storage trunks, pillows, ceramics, baskets, beach towels and more. I only regret not ordering any of the hanging lamps. They are exactly what I want for our newly renovated shop, and I assumed after seeing literally hundreds of them that I would find at least one the following week in New York, but it was not to be.

After a long day of show walking, we hightailed it back into the center of town for a dinner that was without a doubt the most memorable of the trip. We landed at Chez Julien in Le Marais after a lovely walk across the Île de la Cité. I don’t think I’ve ever had better steak frites in my life. Will had the lamb, and we topped that off with plenty of Côtes du Rhône and a superb cheese plate. This restaurant was the perfect mix of very old Parisian space, excellent friendly service, great modern music, a fashionable crowd and perfectly prepared food.  

I should mention that this place had the most striking bathroom of the trip. I have a thing about bathrooms in restaurants. I don’t understand why many restaurateurs in the South Bay ignore the opportunity to bring their aesthetic into the bathroom; it’s such an easy thing to do and can make such an impact.

This one was perfection: black lacquered walls, a clean white pedestal sink, excellent lighting and a single white rose in a glass vase. I didn’t know I needed a black-and-white bathroom until I saw this one. Now I know.

 

DAY 4, Montmartre

I began this day early and on my own at another trade show called Premiere Classe. This show focuses on jewelry and accessories and was an absolute treasure. A Perrier-Jouët Champagne lounge perched itself right in the middle of the show floor. Vive la France! Here I placed orders for some gorgeous scarves from Denmark and India, embroidered clutches for the upcoming spring season and lots of new jewelry from a selection of French designers.

Around noon I popped on the Metro and headed off to meet Will in a neighborhood I’d never explored before: Montmartre. This was an absolute treat. I think next time I’ll stay in this gorgeous area so I can more fully explore it. We began at the Metro stop Jules Joffrin and walked up the back way to the famous Sacré-Coeur—the giant white basilica on top of the hill with the very best views of the city below.  

But first, lunch. We lucked out with a fantastic classic French bistro, Café Francoeur—chosen when I was stopped in my tracks at the sight of their exquisite bistro chairs and red awning outside. I have a thing for French café chairs. Inside was even better: all-white subway tiles, old mirrors and the best onion soup and stuffed mussels one could ask for on a winter’s day.

Did I mention the stairs? After lunch we traipsed up what felt like thousands of stairs, past immaculate white stone buildings with black railings and their classic blue tin house numbers. Finally at the top, we came upon the back of the Sacré-Coeur. I think this was key to our enjoyment, as we were able to wander through a gorgeous, quiet neighborhood before entering the plaza full of touts peddling selfie sticks.

If we had come up the magnificent front steps, my husband may have turned around. He has an aversion to anything even slightly touristy, despite being a tourist himself … but that’s another story.

Don’t let this stop you from seeing this magnificent cathedral. Sacré-Coeur is stunningly beautiful. The brilliant blue in the mosaic on the interior dome must be how the color name “French blue” originated.  

Wander down the front steps toward the heart of the village and glance back up at the basilica’s grandeur. You’ll find a gorgeous carousel at the base of the steps. Turn right here and onto Rue des Abbesses for a walk down a charming street full of exquisite independent shops—be they fashion, décor or food.  

We lucked out big-time here. It turns out there was an oyster festival going on this evening. Vendors set up tents on the street in front of the lovely cafés, where they shucked fresh oysters and served them on a paper plate with some lemon. Will was in heaven.

By the way, again the bathroom in the café we chose was sublime—all pale green and grey tile, a mix of mosaic for the walls and ceramic on the floor. So pretty.

 

 

 

 

DAY 5, The Flea Market

Whenever I plan a Paris trip, I make sure to include a Sunday stay. My experience would not be complete without a trip to my favorite little flea market at the Porte de Vanves. In a nondescript neighborhood, just a quick Metro ride away from the city center, this is a small market full of little treasures.

There are many markets in Paris selling gorgeous, big, fancy antiques, but I can’t fit these in my suitcase. So I come to this little market in search of beautiful artwork and unique bits and pieces that will remind me of Paris when I set them on my nightstand at home.

This time we struck gold at my favorite art vendor. We were captivated by the work of Raymond Debiève and came home with three of his pieces. I’m in a black-and-white mood these days, so I cannot wait to frame these beauties.

We also had to have some fabulous turquoise- handled knives, circa 1980—yep, that’s antique now. We would have come home with a vintage motorcycle helmet if it had fit my husband’s head. I’m a bit sad we didn’t bring it back; it would have looked great on a shelf in our son’s room. Here’s my flea market tip to you: Just buy it. You’re never going to see it again if you don’t.

After the market we hit another trade show—this one for kids, called Playtime Paris. The color inspiration here was fantastic. It’s no wonder all the children you see on the streets of Paris look more fashionable than me on my best day. These clothes were stunning. We placed orders for some amazing rugs, sweet handmade mobiles, fine knit baby blankets and more.

After four straight days of French food, we decided on Indian for dinner. A friend recommended a place called Ravi in our neighborhood, and it was such a treat. It was tiny, all of 10 tables, with one jovial server, beautiful carved wood walls and absolutely delicious spicy food. We even skipped the wine in favor of a crisp, cold Kingfisher beer.  

After dinner we took a trip to the Eiffel Tower, because no matter how touristy it is, there is nothing more magical than watching the lights twinkle on the tower at the top of every hour after the sun goes down.

 

DAY 6, Au Revoir

We wandered down charming Rue de Buci in search of our last Parisian breakfast and found it at The Smiths. The name is the only thing that’s not French about this little place. We sat outside—just as we did this whole trip—under heaters, bundled up in 40º weather with everyone else.  

After plenty of espresso, a baguette with salmon and cucumber for Will, and a chicken curry quiche for me, we headed to the cathedral of Notre-Dame—because if you are in Paris, you must see it. If French blue didn’t originate from the mosaic on the ceiling of Sacré-Coeur, then it came from the stunning color in the stained glass windows of Notre-Dame.

Take some time here to marvel at the way they must have built this incredible structure before heavy machinery, elevators or electricity.
We walked back to Le Marais in search of what we heard was the best falafel in Paris, and we were not disappointed at L’As du Fallafel.

But perhaps even better than this sublime falafel from the decidedly no-frills walk-up counter was the tiny macaroon shop next door, Damyel. Not just the best macaroons we’ve ever had, but the prettiest space I think I’ve ever seen. Every detail, from the aqua in the floor tiles to the exposed beams, soft white paint, graphic wallpaper, simple industrial lighting and the aged bent wood chairs … it was just beautiful.

We took our time strolling back to the apartment, savoring every last minute of our time together in the City of Lights. This time we hopped in an Uber to the airport, because our luggage had somehow grown far too heavy to drag into the Metro.

Until next time Paris, je t’adore.