The chaos of WWII resulted in thousands fleeing their homes in Paris. Germans invaded the city in 1940, forcing innocent civilians to head south and out of the military occupation zone. Only able to bring what they could carry, many left their furniture and other belongings behind in the destructive hands of the war.
One of these unfortunate individuals was none other than Madame de Florian, the granddaughter of a famous socialite. Upon her passing, Madame’s family came to discover that her Paris apartment was still intact and riddled with vintage items that revealed unknown truths about the family’s past.
Time To Say Goodbye
WWII tensions heightened after Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939. France anticipated that crisis might strike, leaving many intent on leaving their home country. The need to leave became evident on May 10, 1940, when the attack finally arrived.
France had already declared war on Germany shortly after they invaded Poland, a French ally. After becoming defeated, refugees fled the country to avoid the German takeover. Madame de Florian was only in her early twenties when this occurred.
Where She Went
This map shows the area that the French had to flee to in order to remain out of harm’s way. The French government left the territory on June 10, 1940. Germans officially occupied the area from June 14, 1940 until August 25, 1944.
For those four years, strict rules were set in place for those still living in the area. This included a 9 p.m. curfew and a rationing of food and clothing, which led to higher prices, and scarce supplies.
Only What They Could Carry
Madame de Florian and her family joined thousands of other refugees in their desperate journey out of Paris. They were all forced to leave their home and belongings behind. This picture shows actual Paris refugees at the time.
Madame ultimately made it to the free zone, which had less military presence and more resources. She made a home there, abandoning her former apartment. For all she knew, the war would destroy everything she had left behind.
A Special Apartment
As it turns out, the young woman hadn’t stumbled upon the old apartment by coincidence. In fact, she had inherited the apartment from her grandmother, Marthe de Florian. Marthe was well-known in Paris in the early part of the 20th century. That time was the height of the Belle Epoque era, the period prior to WWI that was characterized by peace and prosperity.
When Madame had to flee the apartment, it also meant that she had to leave her grandmother’s items and the secrets they contained behind.
70 Years Later
Decades after leaving her Paris apartment, Madame de Florian died at the age of 91. Her family discovered that after all of these years, she still paid rent on the apartment, despite having left it.
Seeing that it had originally been the home of Marthe de Florian, the prized possessions inside would need to be appraised by a professional. An auctioneer named Olivier Choppin-Janvry was then tasked with going through the abandoned apartment. What he found inside shocked the entire family.
Madame’s grandmother, Marthe, was a particularly famous socialite due to her association with ‘les demimondaines.’ This group was known for its lavish parties, wild lifestyle, and celebrity status.
Researchers found that Marthe de Florian was born Mathilde Beaugiron and worked as a seamstress. After having two children, the woman climbed the economic and social latter by becoming an actress. She died in August of 1939, leaving her apartment to Madame just before the German invasion.
‘Til Death Do We Part
Since her grandmother had such a prestigious lifestyle, it isn’t surprising that Madame held onto the apartment and its belongings until her death. What was curious is why she wouldn’t have visited throughout her life.
Madame didn’t even bring her family to the apartment, leaving them all unaware of what was inside. This picture shows the actual key and lock to the apartment. The truly vintage home was untouched right up to the moment that the auctioneer and his team entered.
Peeking Into A Time Capsule
This photograph of the dining room reveals the disheveled condition that the apartment was left in. The furniture is indicative of the early 20th century, and the design of the ceiling is far more detailed than most apartments today.
The detail of the ceiling is mimicked in the furniture, which has intricacies that are not usually seen in today’s more simplistic styles. You’ll also notice wallpaper throughout the home, which has lost popularity in more recent years.
Full Of Mystery
The decadent detailing carries over into this room, which is hard to identify. The fireplace suggests that it could have been the living room. However, the room lacks a sofa and is instead full of miscellaneous chairs.
There is also a vanity in the corner of the room, something that is usually found in a bedroom. Regardless of what the room was used for, it is full of antique items such as the detailed vases on the fireplace mantel.
In the corner of this photo, you can see a little more clearly the extravagance put into the crown molding of the home. If we shift our attention to the large mirror, you can see that the detailing at its top is far from simple, and appears to be tarnishing.
It is also clear that the reflection in the mirror is foggy due to the thick layer of grime over the glass surface. Books and papers are stacked in a small bookshelf and appear as though someone rummaged through them in a rush.
The Walls Are Coming Down
Given that the home is roughly a century old, it’s amazing that it’s still standing. Most buildings that were built that long ago undergo extensive remodeling throughout the years. But here, even the golden curtains are still secure. And after a good clean, the fireplace would look new again.
Even homes that maintain their vintage appearance require extensive upkeep for the sake of functionality. You can see where the wallpaper has peeled off and appears to be damaged.
Cluttered With Memories
Furniture is bundled together as though someone had attempted to package the items. It seems as though Madame was in the middle of organizing her and her grandmother’s belongings when she was forced to flee Paris.
Alternatively, she could have simply been frantic as she decided which things she would have to part with. Chairs are grouped together nonsensically and are topped with paintings and books. It’s difficult to imagine what the home looked like in its prime condition.
Blast From The Past
The vanity is one of the more telling items in the home due to the small and personal items still resting on top of it. Several hairbrushes are neatly arranged along its surface.
Glass bottled are caked with dust at the base of the mirror. Four candles are arranged at either end and are burned nearly down to their holders. Some sort of box, perhaps for jewelry, is placed on one side; something valuable could be inside.
A Room Fit For A Queen
If you thought that the other rooms evoked an air of extravagance, then you definitely will recognize the grandeur of this bedroom. The fou-poster bed is topped with a thick-fabric canopy that adds splendor to the interior design.
If that weren’t enough, the canopy matches the curtains over the large windows. The design on the wall above the dresser is practically a work of art. Two chairs at one window and two chairs at the foot of the bed offer more seating space than you typically see in a bedroom.
Is That An Ostrich?
That is in fact an ostrich, but don’t fret. It isn’t alive. The item appears to be a replica of the flightless bird. We can only speculate why Madame, or possibly her grandmother Marthe, obtained such an unusual item.
One prospect is that the item was valued for its symbolism. Some believe that there is meaning behind the large bird, as an emblem of wealth, abundance, and fertility. Such a meaningful symbol would certainly fit in this apartment.
Original Disney Characters
Sitting at the feet of the ostrich are vintage Mickey Mouse and Porky Pig dolls. The character of Mickey Mouse was created in 1928. That’s only a decade prior to Marthe’s death and around the early years of Madame’s adolescence.
Porky Pig was created in 1935, only a handful of years before Madame took over the apartment. It’s likely that she was the one to bring these items into the home since they came into existence long after Marthe’s childhood.
Meet Marthe de Florian
One of the most exquisite items found in the home was a painting of Marthe de Florian. The painting shows Marthe in a voluminous pink dress. As she was born in 1864, the picture likely depicts her around the turn of the 20th century.
The image evokes her carefree disposition. Many images of women at this time show them having a more modest demeanor, but Marthe wears a slight smirk and has her shoulders pulled back. The question is, who was the artist behind this lovely portrait?
Telling Love Letters
The auctioneer, Olivier, and his team rummaged through the drawers and papers, looking for a clue into the mysterious painting. They discovered a stack of letters tied with a ribbon, resting in a desk drawer.
These letters revealed a string of distinguished boyfriends, which was characteristic of her socialite group. In fact, neither of Marthe’s two children had a father identified on their birth certificates. One of her presumed lovers was none other than the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.
Giovanni Boldini, seen here in a self-portrait, was not immediately confirmed as the artist. The painting was void of a signature and there wasn’t a record of the piece. However, the item was mentioned in a memoir written by Giovanni’s wife.
According to the book, the painting was created in 1898, which would mean that Marthe was only 34 years old when it was made. The letters confirmed that it was an authentic Boldini painting, and it was sold at an auction for an astounding €2.1 million.
Another French Actress
Similar to Marthe de Florian, Cecile Sorel was a French actress. She was born just nine years after Marthe. Cecile is pictured here smiling while putting on lipstick in her Paris apartment, circa 1930.
Her home does not appear to be as extravagant as Marthe’s. She also has a vanity, but one without the intricate carving we saw in the furniture at Marthe’s. However, the fireplace appears to be quite similar, as though this apartment were in the same Paris building.
This photo of a bedroom was captured in 1935 and is a part of a luxury apartment in Paris. The style of the room predates even the 20th century. The modest room has crown molding and a small chandelier over a twin-sized bed.
The walls are covered in framed photos, a trend that has drifted out of popularity as minimalistic design has become more prevalent. The furniture is mostly simple. However, the small, round table and accompanying chair is something unusual by today’s standards.
Do You Recognize This Famous Author?
Photographed here is the famous author Gertrude Stein holding her beloved poodle while sitting next to a young sergeant. Though she was raised in California, she moved to Paris in 1903 at the age of 29.
Gertrude remained in France until her death in 1946. This photograph was taken in her Paris apartment in 1935. Her decor looks modern in comparison to the over-the-top design of Marthe’s apartment. We’ll see more of Gertrude’s style in the next image.
Also Fond Of Artists
Marthe de Florian wasn’t the only one to be painted by a famous artist. Here, Gertrude Stein poses in front of her portrait, which was created by the now-iconic Pablo Picasso. He painted the portrait of Gertrude in 1906.
Stein’s love for experimental art is evidenced in her decor. The walls are covered in artwork and the fireplace mantle is lined with decorative pieces. She was a renowned art critic and kept famous works in her Paris apartment between the two World Wars.
A Mourning Duke In Paris
Posing by the fireplace mantel was clearly a popular photography choice in the 1930s. This photograph shows the Grand Duke of Russia, Vladimir Kyrillovich, leaned against his fireplace in his Paris apartment circa 1938.
The Duke looks at a photograph of his father, who had just recently passed. The picture is placed on the mantel next to exquisite art pieces. A long doily covers the length of the fireplace and dates the style of the 1930s home.
The Most Lavish Of The Lavish
Two models pose in the Paris penthouse of Charles de Beistegui. Charles was an eccentric socialite who had the penthouse built for him by a famous architect in the early 1930s. Clearly a wealthy man, he also had the roof terrace designed by artist Salvador Dalí.
You can see that the decor was chosen to match the luxurious style of the house. Large, glass candle fixtures are placed before mirrors with lavish frames. You would have to be a model to fit in with this home.
Home To The Famous Coco Chanel
One of the most influential designers, Coco Chanel was a revolutionary fashionista whose popularity soared around WWII. Here is the living room of her home in Paris, where she remained throughout the war.
The home is lined with books along one wall. It maintains the extravagant look of the era with its chandelier and artwork throughout. The wooden furniture is carved with designs as is the frame of the large mirror on the wall.
A French Designer’s Home
As you have probably deduced by now, Paris in the 1930s was the home of many artists of various mediums. One such artist was Madeleine Castaing, who was so revolutionary that her last name is now a style of interior design.
Born in 1894, she was an antique dealer and interior designer in France during WWII. This photograph of her home in Lèves, a town about an hour from Paris, reveals her whimsical style that transcended the gaudy look of the 1930s.
Inspired By Castaing
This image further evokes the WWII-era eccentric design of Madeline Castaing. The long, golden curtains are similar to those in Marthe’s Paris apartment. There is also the familiar wallpaper, only this version is striped as opposed to the standard floral designs.
Instead of a mirror over the fireplace, Castaing chose an art piece in the shape of a mirror to hang above. Some of the furniture has the classic look we’ve seen, while other parts look more modern and simplistic.
The 1930s Are Back
This spacious home in Paris is currently on the market for $4.5 million. That’s a high leap from what it went for back when it was built in 1930. The home is more than 4,000 square feet and sits on the second floor.
The older home has various features that most modern home designers would omit, such as a drawing room and parquet flooring. Though the home has undoubtedly been through extensive renovations, it still feels like a space from the ’30s.
The large living room of this Paris home evokes even more of the 1930s qualities than the previous room did. The crown molding adjoins an intricate wall design that frames floral wallpaper. The furniture was also chosen in accordance with ’30s decor.
As we’ve seen in many of the previous rooms, wooden chairs were often used to excess in living rooms, whereas nowadays they are rarely seen outside of the dining room. The chandelier hangs from the ceiling like a cherry on top of a truly stunning vintage home.