Originally posted on Victorian Paris.
With the streets dotted with busy cafés, with the boulevards and city parks alive with unhurried flâneurs, Paris in the 19th century was an immense outdoor living-room where all classes mixed freely. But what homes did they return to when the day was over? To be sure, the wealthiest headed for their mansions called hôtels privés – not to be confused with a real hotel – while the rest, from the well-to-do to the poorest citizens, lived atop each other in mostly six-storied houses. To better understand this class arrangement, view the picture in the post Living Vertically.
The illustration you see above represents a sitting room of the privileged inhabitants found on the second floor just above the street level and the entresol, both occupied by shops and offices. The rooms on this floor were spacious, the ornate ceilings higher than those on the floors above, the walls and doors treated with elaborate decoration. The large French windows usually lead to a balcony. They provided plentiful light and fresh air in the summer and unpleasant cold drafts in the winter. The only source of heat was the fireplace, where the fire consumed expensive wood logs (coal was not frequently used in Paris) and even the most affluent Parisians occasionally suffered from cold.
In the following picture, we are in a cozy, but reduced dwelling, probably situated on one of the upper floors. A card reader conducts her profitable business in her bedsitter. Notice the old-fashioned built-in bed. If the bed is somewhat shorter than normal, it is for a reason. In the past, Frenchmen used to sleep in a reclining position to ease breathing. The niche in which the bed was inserted was called alcôve and to this day the expression les secrets d’alcôve refers to…