A unique Paris apartment: Inside a domed rooftop home

There’s something so intriguing about the domed rooftops in Paris. These cupolas began to appear on the Paris skyline during the 17th century and were largely found on churches or buildings linked to the republic. But it wasn’t long until the Parisians themselves wanted to replicate the style on their own homes to show off their prestige, wealth and faith.

The most well-known domes in Paris are on famous buildings like the Galeries Lafayette department store, or monuments like Les Invalides and Sacré Cœur. But I’m more interested in the mysterious residential domes so noticeable on the skylines of the 17th and 16th arrondissements.

They’re dotted around other parts of Paris too, like in the seventh arrondissement, but if you look up in the 17th you’re bound to find a lot. Our tip: look out for them on the street corners.

But the question remained: What’s inside them? What’s it like to be a dome resident?

As luck would have it, an Earful Tower follower from the US named Sarah happens to live inside one of them. As a part of this week’s podcast on the 17th arrondissement, I climbed many flights of stairs (the elevator was out of order) to visit her dome home and to learn a little more about her life in the rooftops.

Here’s an abridged transcript of the podcast, plus a bunch of photos from Sarah’s apartment, pictured below. Note: the interior pictures feature the living room, which is the only room in the rounded dome. There were other rooms, too, just like a normal apartment.

Q&A with a Parisian dome resident

Do you get used to sort of living in a bubble?

No. You have “pinch me” moments a lot. 

Are there things that are spatially annoying about it? Are you kind of like, “I wish I could put a picture on that wall – but it’s round!”?  

Definitely, if there is anybody who is willing to help with the design of a round room, I would be open to that.

You never know, there might be someone that could help.

It’s a really special space. It poses its own challenges but never, ever do you get used to it.

And you have these incredible views going everywhere. I’m interested, do you get sort of cupola envy, when you’re walking around?

You know, it’s the perennial problem living in Paris, that you see people living with a terrace, and you think, “Your life must actually be better” and then I have to have a sober moment, where I have to say “Mmm, I think what I have is just fine.”

Have you ever had people down on the street level try to ask if they could come up and have a look at this?

No, I don’t think it’s even that obvious exactly where the entrance to this building is.

So, our meeting was really fortunate. I get these kind of weird fascinations with things in Paris and these “cupolas” as I believe they’re called, was one of them and I was sharing pictures of them and then you reached out and said “Well I live in one”.

I think you were pretty obvious and you said “I would die to get inside one of them”, and I said “Well, it’s your lucky day.”

Did it make you feel guilty that I said I’d die to get inside of one of them?

No, because when I find myself in different areas of Paris, I think these cupolas are so different, and when I go to other cities I really do remark how unique it is to the architecture in Paris. Plus, if you think about how many buildings there are in Paris but how many of them have this architectural style – there must not be more than 100.

And they’re specifically in the 17th, 16th? 

I think so, I’ve seen them in other places, but I think that would be an interesting thing to mark down where they exist in this city.

Now that you say that, I think there are some of them are on the left bank – in the 7th for example.

But to think people live in these round parts of the building and then to be on the top floor and actually get the 180° view is pretty unique. I know that in the apartment right below, this is their master bedroom.

Ah, so is the building round all the way down?

Yep, all the way down.

And last question: I wonder if there are meetups for people who live in these – and you just don’t know about it yet?

I think this is the platform to set them up – let’s do it!

The Earful Tower podcast episode

You can listen to my interview with Sarah in the podcast episode on the 17th arrondissement, the interviews kicks off at the 22:25 minute mark. Stick around to the end of the episode where my wife, Lina, and I share our findings from the 17th arrondissement and give the district a score out of 100.

Video guide to the 17th arrondissement

Here is our 17th visit in video format, from our YouTube channel, so you can feel like you’re there too! We’ll be making one of these every week, so be sure to subscribe (you can do it in one click via this link).

The dome visit begins around the 4.47min mark.

And that’s it! A big thank you as always to the Patreon members who make all this possible. Join them here for exclusive extras (and that guide to Paris below comes free on signup).

This blog post wraps up our visit to the 17th arrondissement. Read all our tips for the district’s best restaurants, cafes, and attractions here. Otherwise have a look at all our Paris countdown blog posts here.

Oh yes, and you can also support our work by buying one of our children’s books, or my guide, below. Or indeed, hang an image of Parisian dome on your own wall at home via one of these prints from Lina, here. Merci!

All the episodes from this season

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