I was walking on Blvd. Beaumarchais near the Bastille a few weeks ago and stumbled upon the most enchanting shop. Atelier d’Autrefois is filled with music boxes of every shape and sort. As I silently perused the shelves of music boxes filling every nook and cranny of the shop, I became intrigued. Some of them had elaborately detailed dolls in costumes, including Pierrot and Comedia de Arte figures set on top of the boxes. There was one extravagant piece which had a stage set with five porcelain dolls in 18th century costumes playing instruments, three of whom were on a propped on a wooden staircase. I kept on looking closely at the exquisite detail on each piece.
I spoke with the owner Maurice (who speaks English), a stout gray haired man with a shy smile who said that everything in the shop, including the wooden boxes, the dolls and their costumes, and even the tiny satin bows on the dolls shoes, he made by hand. Maurice hand glazed and fired the porcelain dolls heads. He went on to say the craft of making music boxes was handed down to him from his father, and that he was the last person of his generation to carry on this rich tradition. He took me in the back to his workroom, which was cramped with tools and small objects used to make the pieces, and showed me an exquisite custom piece he was working on that would take a year to finish. It was another stage set that had a white proscenium around it, while inside were five cats in white minstrel costumes standing on a parquet floor playing string instruments. Each had its own musical mechanism playing a classic Rossini piece.
Since my first visit I have taken almost every Marais tour client to the shop, and each time Maurice has been so gracious to tell people about what he does. He loves to show off his pride and joy, a small wooden music box with a mechanism that has over 2,000 pieces, and he shyly smiles as a tiny, finely detailed bird twirls around and chirps after he opens the top.
Maurice can make a box in any shape or form you like and has an extensive selection of wood finishes and swatches of fabric to choose from.
Maurice and his shop prove to me again why I prefer Paris. After all, where else in the world does a place like this still exist?
61 Blvd. Beaumarchais
Tel. 01 42 77 35 56
Open Monday to Saturday 9AM-7PM
Richard Nahem is a native New Yorker who now lives in Paris. A successful New York City event planner and producer of cultural events, he has worked with many celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker, Whitney Houston, and Joan Rivers. After a teenage trip to Paris made him an instant Francophile, he visited the city frequently until he made it his home (in 2005). With 25 years of rave reviews from friends and colleagues, Richard decided to take his own private tours of “his” Paris public. His goal for Eye Prefer Paris Tours is to provide fun, adventurous, and exciting tours of Paris for the independent-spirited traveler