INSIDE PARIS Discovering the Period Interiors of Paris By Joe Friedman Photographs by Jerome Darblay Rizzoli. 128 pp. $35
PARIS IS not a city like Istanbul that hides most of its charms. Even the most casual walk anywhere between Montmartre and Montparnasse or the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne is full of endless surprises and pleasures. But sometimes Paris can seem almost too perfect, too gray, too reserved, since most of its main axes were laid out by the same man, the Baron Haussmann, who imposed a remarkable uniformity on the cityscape during the Second Empire.
How welcome, then, is this picture book of interiors that follows nothing more systematic than one man's taste. Fortunately the taste is as exquisite as the author's curiosity is lively. Joe Friedman, who put together Inside London, has now selected for us his version of Paris. If in London he led us to discover such obscure treasures as the Byzantine swimming pool of the Royal Automobile Club or the Gothic staircase of St. Pancras Hotel, in Paris he shows us such equally offbeat places as an austerely beautiful classroom at the Lyce'e Charlemagne and a fine Moorish bathroom at the Travellers Club.
Seen quickly and from the outside, Paris may appear to be mainly Second Empire and Third Republic, but a closer look, as this volume demonstrates, can turn up such unexpected delights as the single most beautiful 20th-century house in the city limits, the Maison de Verre, designed by Pierre Chareau for a couple who entertained such painters as Max Ernst, Fernand Leger and Robert Delaunay. Inside filtered light falls on suave but simple furniture crafted by Eugene Printz.
Another full-page photo is devoted to the bathroom of the Hotel de Bouriennne in the often ignored 10th Arrondissement. This bathroom with its white fireplace, marble floor, painted ceiling and slender Egyptian columns supporting a gentle curved wood canopy over the long, skinny tub, seems to have been inspired by Napoleon's Egyptian campaign (1799-1801).
The 1932 Rex movie theater, with architectural elements ranging from Moorish to Neoclassical and boasting a carved wood coffered ceiling, vies in extravagance with the Pagode, another cinema, which started off as a genuine pagoda in Japan before it was shipped to Paris in 1896, a delicious fantasy of gilt monster heads, painted silk ceiling and dragon-shaped bracket lamps.
Another example of the unexpected delights to be found in this book is a stunning Art Deco salon in the Muse'e des Arts Africains et Oceaniens, designed by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, which is a monument to French colonial ambitions. It combines virility with elegance, qualities that characterize its massive leather armchairs, god-sized doors, mammoth vases and exotic murals.
Perhaps the layouts and the unpeopled, carefully styled photos of Inside Paris are a bit monotonous, but any less straightforward presentation would have diminished the documentary value of this sumptuous record. Edmund White, who lived in Paris for many years, is writing a biography of Jean Genet.