Visiting The Smallest House in Paris

20221009_155845Parisian houses are notoriously small. But what is deemed the smallest structure in all of the City of Light is miniscule even by Parisian standards–just 1.10 meters wide and 5 meters high, officially deemed two levels tall but in actuality standing only about one and a half stories high.

To put that into perspective, just about every adult and most children would be able to touch both outer walls at the same time if standing in the center either level, and many adults would have to stoop to avoid hitting their heads on the low ceilings.

Here’s a little history of no. 39 Rue du Chateau d’Eau in the 10th Arrondissement, now recognized in record books as Paris’s smallest house.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the small structure now located between two six-story buildings was actually a narrow open-air passageway connecting the Rue du Chateau d’Eau and the Rue Faubourg Saint-Martin. As the passageway was in a prime location–opposite the 10th Arrondissement town hall and near the Marche Saint-Martin–it received extensive foot traffic and was considered a valuable asset.

Smallest house in ParisAs is still often the case with desirable property, greed played a key role in how the once lucrative passage evolved (or devolved, perhaps?) from an open-air corridor to a much less valuable tiny building.
The death of the original land owner triggered a furious inheritance battle between the owners of the neighboring buildings, each seeking to gain a financial advantage over the other by claiming ownership of the corridor. (It remains unclear whether those involved in the legal dispute were descendants of the original owner or simply tried to wrench ownership away from the rightful heirs.)
As legal challenges wore on, one of the two families involved reportedly decided that there could be no ownership argument over the passage if the corridor simply ceased to exist, and they hurriedly built the tiny house to fill in the disputed space. The plan (though today would trigger a slew of lawsuits) worked surprisingly well. Foot traffic dried up as the passageway no longer connected to the adjacent busy streets, and the inheritance feud simply petered out as the value of the space plummeted.
20221009_155904But there now existed a new building so tiny it was virtually useless.
For a time in the 18th century, the structure was deemed merely an extension of neighboring 41 Rue du Chateau d’Eau, particularly since the main level of the new, tiny building was connected to its next-door neighbor. A shoe repair shop that was housed in no. 41 used the small space mostly for storage.
It was only during the beginning of the 19th century that the structure was recognized as a separate building and given it’s no. 39 Rue du Chateau d’Eau address.
At this point, media reports state that the building housed a baby clothing store, and the owners used some brilliant early marketing techniques to link the tiny building with the retail shop. Find tiny clothes for tiny Parisians in the city’s tiniest shop! (Buy buy baby, eat your heart out.)
20221009_155852Over the decades, the space has housed a number of different shops, and even though no. 39 Rue du Chateau d’Eau is officially recognized as a Parisian “house,” it is unlikely it ever served exclusively as living quarters (although the owners of the baby clothing store reportedly kept a crib for their own infant on the second level).
Today the building (which has become rather delapidated) is home to a tiny discount men’s clothing shop called La Marque Chamacco/Sainte Alva Jeans. The remainder of the Rue du Chateau d’Eau is a decidedly working class district, home to many inexpensive clothing stores, cheap cosmetics shops, and a large number of businesses geared toward black and Asian Parisians.
20221009_155832The Smallest House in Paris
39 Rue du Chateau d’Eau
Metro: Chateau d’Eau/Jacques Bonsergent