Originally from the Bay Area, California, Michelle completed her Master of Architecture at Yale University, and has lived in Berkeley, New Haven and most recently, Miami. With an affinity for the arts, including design, dancing, and yoga, she’s been soaking up the simple pleasures of Parisian life, such as enjoying a great cup of coffee. “Don’t take life too seriously - it’s the small moments that contribute to life’s happiness” she advises.
Michelle’s story involves a stroke of serendipity along the way. She met her partner, Zain, in Paris in 2013 and discovered that they both had grown up in the Bay Area, just 45 minutes apart from one another. After getting married, they decided to enjoy some time back in the City of Lights, before settling down and having more responsibilities. While working across different time zones can be tough and tiresome, relocating has worked in Michelle and Zain’s favour. “With Zain working remotely for his New York-based company, the time difference allowed us to have plenty of morning hours together, which isn’t possible when we are both working full time in the U.S.” explains Michelle.
Before making the move, Michelle worked for an architecture start-up in San Francisco, whose objective is alleviating the housing crisis in California through affordable ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units). “ADUs are essentially second homes that can be built on a residential property, zoned for single-family homes and rented out to a separate tenant – it is an awesome way to densify suburban landscapes and create more housing stock” Michelle thoughtfully explains.
While Paris is famous for its historical architecture of grandeur, the excitement Michelle has for becoming a licensed architect lands on the opposite side of the spectrum. “I’m driven to design spaces that feel comfortable, inspiring and playful for the people who use them. Designing a kitchen renovation excites me just as much as designing a new art gallery, as long as it positively impacts the users’ daily life.”
Michelle and Zain had originally booked a month-long stay at what they thought was just an Airbnb accommodation. “We liked the apartment, but after checking-in and realising we had access to a whole new community, coworking space and events, we immediately asked to extend for 6 months” Michelle recalls. As a huge advocate of co-living and having pitched multiple projects with co-living in mind, it’s no surprise Michelle has integrated into the COCO Community with ease. After all, shared values always bring people together.
Finding the right tribe is often all-consuming for expats, though the biggest difference between Miami and Paris, Michelle has found, is the sense of community Paris has over the ‘Magic City’. Although finding Miami to be an amazing place, belonging to the right community in such a big city was hard. In Paris, Michelle feels lucky to have found herself to be apart of more than one community - the COCO network and a smaller community within their building. “Our neighbours will often get together in the courtyard to share meals and stories while kids played in the background. This is the image I will cherish most from my time here!” she recalls fondly.
Spoken like a true flâneuse, Michelle also loves spending her time getting lost in winding streets, people-watching on the canal and marvelling at the views of the city from above. But from time to time, she also enjoys indulging in the luxurious glamour Paris is known for.
It helps to add, Michelle and Zain cites COCO Community being responsible for making Paris feel like home, minimising the tourist experience. Without it, she imagines life here would have been isolating and monotonous. “Zain and I would mainly have each other as company, with the exception of the occasional friend and family visit” Michelle says. “With COCO, we felt more integrated into the city, we had more purpose and people around us.”
She goes on to emphasise not only the diversity of the community, but also the authenticity and generosity of the people within it. “It is filled with diverse people at different stages in their lives who all made the move for one reason or another. Hearing their stories always revealed shared experiences or insights” she reflects. “Aside from the colivers, the in-house COCO team really transformed the experience with their kindness and community-building efforts. I went to coworking daily, so we really got to know each other and learn about one another’s backgrounds, vices, indulgences, and goals. We would exchange business ideas, debate global issues, share recipes, have dinners, and gift one another sweets or spices…” she says earnestly. “The team have became family!”
Referring to sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the ‘third space’, a place people have outside of home and work, Michelle describes COCO as the perfect third space. “It’s a place that’s comfortable, where everyone knows your name. At COCO, you could grab a coffee, do some work, chat with others, learn about different topics during the evening talks, or throw a party all within the same four walls.”
Michelle concludes her time with us by letting us in on her biggest takeaway from the experience. “COCO reminded me that kindness and generosity should have no bounds. Any small gesture really goes a long way and helps a person feel loved”.
You can learn more about the work Michelle does here: https://mbadr.co/