“When I first got to Paris I had two babies and a dog,” says Ashley Maddox, recalling her move to France from Los Angeles in 2009. “I knew that the French didn’t love Americans but they loved babies. I thought I would be set. I went to the same bakery every day for six months before the guy behind the counter finally said, ‘Bonjour madame’.”
Now she is more established in the city, the 41-year-old businesswoman still chooses to frequent the flagship store of esteemed patisserie Gérard Mulot, a Paris institution with display cases stocked with everything from multi-tiered fruit tarts and macaroons to almond croissants and fresh baguettes in the 6th Arrondissement. It is just steps away from the new apartment Maddox shares with her husband, the film producer Cuotemoc Malle, who is the son of the late French director Louis Malle. The couple’s brood now consists of three children, including a newborn, and a golden retriever called Cassidy.
“In France there are rules for everything – it’s a codified dance,” she says. “There is the place you get your pain au chocolat and then there is the place you get your baguette. If you don’t say bonjour to someone it’s breathtakingly rude. What I learnt is that if you follow the rules, your life suddenly becomes so much easier and more delicious.”
At first, following that strict Parisian etiquette did not come easy to Maddox, who describes herself as “not a great rule follower and terrible at hierarchy”. Yet, very quickly the enterprising and energetic former McKinsey consultant, ended up turning the city’s aversion to change to her advantage.
Maddox has always had two fairly polar sides to her career path: an interest in “the fun stuff”, by which she means design, media and real estate; and an aspiration, as she wryly puts it, to “save the world”.
When the Malle family moved to Paris, they bought an 108-sq-metre apartment in an 18th-century building near the Palais Royal. Maddox immediately got to work redesigning the interiors. She hired the Paris-based interior architects Double G and stripped the rooms down to their chic Parisian bones – high ceilings, ornate parquet and mouldings – and added some fun modern details: mid-century lighting and furniture, a high-tech media system, custom shelving and contemporary art.
It was a eureka moment for Maddox. “In London and New York City, every inch has been developed,” she says. “but in Paris there are so many beautiful apartments that haven’t been touched in decades. Or developed badly. There are three-bedroom apartments with only one toilet and no closet space. Or apartments done by people that rip out the beautiful floors and install horrible modern gleamy Miami-style faucets.”
Maddox was not the first to recognise the potential in Paris real estate but she was one of a few that had the patience to deal with its obstacles. “The quality of workmanship is incredibly high but you are never given a timeframe for when things are done. They are just done when they are done.” Like everything else in Paris, renovating flats has to be done in the French way.
She has since reinvented three more apartments; three of them are part of a portfolio of holiday flats available in her fledgling company, called Where I’d Stay. “Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world and the tourist season is all year round, yet amazingly there are not enough hotel rooms and those that exist are small and overpriced,” she says.
The flats are well located and full of light – two are next door to the Louvre gallery and one is in the buzzy, chic 6th arrondissement – and all feature at least two bedrooms and a spacious, well-equipped kitchen.
Although Maddox and her family live in the 6th, which is now considered the city’s most expensive neighbourhood, she believes it is easier to find apartments to buy in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements. “The 6th will always be a safe bet, but in terms of purely a financial investment, the 1st and 2nd are more rewarding.”
One would think juggling three children, a dog and a business would keep Maddox busy, yet she still manages to find time to satisfy her passion for philanthropy and social rights work.
She recently helped launch the website for the Tocqueville Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation founded by Jean-Guillaume de Tocqueville d’Hérouville, an ancestor of the 19th-century French political historian Alexis de Tocqueville. She also served as director of the foundation’s Prince’s Prize for Innovative Philanthropy, an effort jointly sponsored by Prince Albert II of Monaco.
“The non-for-profit sector is also really undeveloped here,” says Maddox. “Yet there is an increasing interest, particularly in young people, to engage with their communities.”
She jokes that much of the work that gets done within the foundation is thanks to American women. “Our French counterparts like to push papers around,” she laughs.
Maddox believes her work in both real estate and the not-for-profit sector benefits from her outsider perspective but also requires a greater understanding and appreciation of her environment. “Just as you wouldn’t want to design a Parisian apartment in a purely American style, it’s more about introducing American concepts and figuring out how they can work here.”
Maddox’s verdict . . .
● Landmarks and attractions like the Louvre, the Seine, Bon Marché, and the Jardin du Luxembourg
● The city’s great infrastructure
● Properties in prime areas are limited and expensive
● It can take time to settle, but if you follow the rules, it gets easier
What you can buy for . . .
€600,000 A one-bedroom flat in the 7th, 8th or 16th arrondissements
€1.2m A larger one-or two-bedroom flat in the same areas, with about 70 to 100 sq metres of living space
€2.5m A 200 sq metre apartment, with three bedrooms, in the 6th, 7th, 8th or 16th arrondissements
Best accessory shop Marie Mercié sells extraordinary handmade hats that are playful, quirky and elegant
Best croissants Gérard Mulot patissier is my first port of call when I return from abroad – for pain au chocolat, croissant au beurre, and leek and chèvre chaud quiche
Best lunch ‘en plein air’
For great Franco-Japanese cuisine, Nanashi is a jewel-box of a lunch spot hidden in the courtyard of the extraordinary Parisian flagship of Bonpoint, the children’s clothes shop
Best party favour In one of those ‘only in Paris’ conveniences, we live upstairs from Cire Trudon, a candle shop that was founded in 1643