5 Things We’ve Learned from Paris Kitchens

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Celeste Sunderland)

Why do so many of us have an unabashed crush on Paris, and French culture in general? I know it’s all very romanticized, and yet if a Paris apartment shows up on Apartment Therapy or there’s a peek into a French kitchen here on Kitchn, there I am — drool on face, dreams in head. It doesn’t matter if the kitchen is the size of a shoebox; it’s the size of a shoebox … in Paris.

I thought I’d take a more practical approach today, however, and point out some of the recurring details and interesting features I’ve noticed in many Paris kitchens. It may help explain in part our fascination with French kitchens, but really, they’re just good insights for any small, city kitchen!

1. It looks like there’s always great natural light.

Almost every photo I’ve seen of Paris kitchens shows one large, paned window that lets in an obscene amount of gorgeous light. I realize not every Paris kitchen has a window like this, and it’s because these kitchens are so photographable that they end up in the blogosphere for Americans like me to sigh over, and then assume that every Paris kitchen is a light-filled wonderland.

While I admit I fall prey to this trick, it’s worth stating that good light covers a multitude of sins. (Or rather, it reveals the sins because you can see everything, and yet, you don’t care because daylight is radiant.) If I swoon over a Paris kitchen, 99.9 percent of the time I’m swooning over the light — or the view outside.

2. The refrigerators are small.

Now we move into the practical side of things. Refrigerators in Paris kitchens are small, often half-sized, so they can fit under the countertop. In fact, everything is small! Many kitchen are either galley or L-shaped, with tiny sinks and a limited amount of countertop space. (This is not unfamiliar for anyone who cooks in a city kitchen.)

But even the smallest American rental kitchen almost always has a full-sized refrigerator, so these mini fridges really stand out to me. If you think you couldn’t possibly deal with a tiny refrigerator, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised, as one Kitchn reader did.

“What I was most surprised by was that we did just fine with a dorm-sized refrigerator! In fact, since we shopped every day, the fridge was mostly empty — except for when I stocked up for Christmas. It’s made me rethink how I use my home kitchen and refrigerator. I try and emulate Alton Brown and get rid of unitaskers. We made great food and had a fabulous Parisian cooking/food experience.”

And while the phrase “shop like a Parisian” subscribes to some outdated tropes about the shopping and cooking habits of French people, there is still some truth to buying less and shopping more often. Dana writes more about this here.

3. Induction cooktops are common.

Downsized fridges are not the only thing I noticed in many Paris kitchens; cooking ranges get downsized, too, and are sometimes non-existent. You’ll often find a small induction cooktop instead of a full-sized range.

Induction technology is still gaining ground in the United States, but it’s widely used in Europe. Induction cooktops take up little space, and because they generate an electric current through a magnetic field (instead of by flame), you won’t burn yourself or something else if your prep work spills over onto the cooktop — a not-uncommon occurrence in a tiny kitchen!

So if you ever find yourself in a Paris kitchen with an induction cooktop, and you’ve never used one before, don’t panic — here’s what you should know. Interested in shopping for an induction stove stateside? Start here.

4. You’ll often find the washing machine in the kitchen.

Unlike small apartments in many American cities, where you’ll find the washing machine in a closet or the bathroom, many European kitchens put the washing machine under the countertop in the kitchen. This way it’s close to the water supply, which makes it easy to hook up. It also just saves space!

5. There’s usually a hodgepodge of cabinets.

While it certainly isn’t the case for every single Paris kitchen, I often see an eclectic storage setup with cabinets and shelves in different sizes, shapes, and heights all put together to fill whatever space is available. This is often necessary to fit around water heaters, hoods, and temporary backsplashes.

Even if you have to use cheap cabinets to get more storage, it can still be really pretty. For example, in the kitchen below, the owner uses tea towels as cabinet doors. (“It’s less cold, less artificial this way,” she told Remodelista.) Love that!

Have you ever spent time in a Paris kitchen? What lessons have you learned from its setup and storage that can be applied to any small kitchen anywhere?