A Toehold in Paris: Kein Cross

AS a designer, Kein Cross is pretty good at estimating space, and when he saw the 18th-century courtyard house in Paris in an ad, he knew it was small ó maybe 9 or 10 feet deep.
But walking into it on a rainy day in January, Mr. Cross realized his estimate was far too optimistic. The house, which he would later describe to friends in New York as a carriage house, was a respectable 19 feet wide, but from front to back it was only 6 1/2 feet. The living room, minus the area taken up by a stairway, was less than 4 feet deep ó were Mr. Cross to stand in it, arms outstretched, he could easily touch both walls. The kitchen was so tiny there wasnít room to open the oven.

Mr. Crossís reaction?

ìWow! It was like God sent this to me,î he said, ebullient as a soufflÈ. ìRegardless of how small it is, you have two floors and a stairway, so you can create light and space. I was so excited, I told them I would pay three years in advance.î

Mr. Cross, who has an apartment in Greenwich Village as well, continued: ìIt needed me. It was a diamond in the rough. Honestly, what I think it is, I walked up to it and I saw exactly the way I would make it, and exactly the way it would become, and without me it would never become. And what could be more fun than spending a month in the mother ship of dÈcor doing your own house?î (It should be noted that Mr. Cross is someone who seeks out unusual spaces; his New York City duplex, which was featured in Home two years ago, has a three-foot-square dumbwaiter that he turned into a bathroom.)

Mr. Cross, 49, travels to Paris frequently for business, and for several years ran La Maison Moderne, a housewares shop in Chelsea. Living in Paris has been his dream since he was 21. ìI was going to live in New York for a year, then move to Paris,î he says. ìIt got delayed 26 or 27 years.î

What finally pushed him to make the move was the death of a friend.

ìMy assistant, Brian, had bought a house in Marrakesh with his boyfriend, and he was talking about moving there,î Mr. Cross says. ìLast September, I was in Paris, and when I came back, I couldnít get in touch with him. Then his brother called me and said he had had a heart attack and died. That kind of threw things into perspective, that you better do things when youíre thinking about it, because who knows if youíre going to be around next year.î

He began his search this year and quickly found his house a few blocks away from Notre Dame in the Fourth Arrondissement. The exterior was battered and marred by a bricked-up window; the kitchen had an old water heater that ìstuck out like a sore thumbî; and the bathroom was grubby. But the owner was happy to let Mr. Cross do anything he wanted, and the rent, which Mr. Cross would prefer not to disclose, was half market rate.

His budget was $25,000 and he kept to it, with an eye for sales and a fearless ability to repurpose furnishings. He brought in a contractor he had worked with before, and the two shared the house for two weeks, tearing out most of the kitchen. ìWho uses an oven?î Mr. Cross says. ìInstead, I put in a two-burner cooktop, black ceramic, by Hotpoint, and I got an incredible coffeemaker, a Nespresso as big as my stove. You only need an oven to bake, and the last thing I baked was a turkey in 1986.î

New cabinets, under the cooktop and the island, were made out of bathroom vanities. Mr. Cross replaced the doors of a cabinet on an adjacent wall with white lacquered doors from a bathroom cabinet he bought, and put a console underneath as a desk. The leftover wood from the bathroom cabinet became a canopy over the kitchen sink. The total cost of all this, plus the two rolling storage boxes he uses for seating, came to about $3,400. (There were also a few splurges, including a cement bust of Bacchus that was about $2,800.)

Mr. Cross used just three colors ó white, gray and black ó with his trademark black-and-white stripes. He camouflaged the water heater by painting it and the wall behind it dark gray, then striping the wooden canopy above it.

The living area was so small there wasnít room for a couch or even a pair of chairs. So Mr. Cross created what he calls a pashaís bed: ìanything you can put in a little, narrow space and put pillows on it and make a place to relax.î In this case, that was the end of a modular sofa that cost about $1,000.

The bedroom was another challenge. Hoping to evoke the romance of sleeping on a train, Mr. Cross bought a bunk bed with a futon that opened to a double bed on the bottom. But the futon was so uncomfortable he threw it out and bought a full-size mattress that doesnít fold up. Even so, it is a cozy space, with the bottom of the upper berth covered in striped wallpaper and a cushion against the back wall.

In the bathroom, he replaced the sink and mirror, regrouted the white tiles, installed $69 glass shower doors, added two rows of black tiles and striped the bathtub with black enamel paint.

Much of the renovation magic was done with mirrors. Mr. Cross covered the outside of the bricked-up window on the second floor with mirrored glass. Then he glued on pieces of wood to mimic mullions and dressed the windows in inexpensive gray shades and flowerboxes. Opposite the front door is another mirror that visually doubles the size of the entrance. There are also mirrors in the kitchen and bedroom walls.

In reality, the space between Mr. Crossís bed and the wall is so narrow that to get into the bathroom, he has to turn sideways, and the door, which could not be opened, had to be replaced with fabric. But to him, it is worth it. He is in his dream house, in Paris.


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There's the holiday article about Christmas decorations in Paris from the website "I Prefer Paris":

Also Parisian of the month from "I Prefer Paris":

New York Times article about 2009 Christmas Bazaar:

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