Bebe’s back and this week it’s our favourite subject…vintage, or as they say in France, ‘Brocante!’
Anyone who knows me is more than aware that I have a magpie mentality when it comes to collecting. My house is full of useless twinkly-tinkly things which I like to think are artfully curated but I am sure most people probably see as piles of junk. My mother called them all ‘dust harbourers’ and poor T.O.M has been dreaming of a modern minimalist interior for 45 years.
Happily for me, I have never understood the reasoning behind the less-is-more aesthetic and so despite 20 packing cases full of nick-knacks still lying unopened in Chez Gigi’s capacious attic I am more than happy to have swapped my previous weekend habit of trawling my local high street – the Kings Road – to indulge in France’s national pastime, the brocante.
The latest season kicked off on Easter Sunday on one of Haute Vienne’s prettiest villages, Angles sur L’Anglin, a magical location full of honeyed stone streets, Disney-eque roundel towers and a ruined castle. Perfect bargain-hunting territory.
Everyone I know loves a good brocante, a cross between a UK antique fair, a marche des puces and a car boot sale.
Angle sur L’Anglin didn’t disappoint with everything from antique linen (yes please), to rusted antiquarian farm implements (charmante but keep on walking), vintage perfume bottles (stop right there), pictures and paintings that you feel you could MAYBE grow to love, boxes of unidentifiable bits of metal (from which Harry-son-in-law managed to fashion me a doorbell) and a myriad things in between.
Think old lustred marmite pots (lovely but not very me), old china, sets of copper pans (costing a fortune in London’s chicest kitchen shops), vintage coffee grinders and old kitchen scales, garden statuary and unloved-but-lovely, decades-old French furniture.
Prices were unbelievably cheap. 15 euros for a painted marble-topped washstand? It’d be rude to refuse. So I didn’t and after a bit of TLC from Harry-son-in-law, it now serves as a new desk in my hall. Needlepoint cushions – 5 euros for two ? Don’t mind if I do. And this week’s haul has given T.O.M the opportunity to spend Sunday afternoon attaching a 5 euro 6ft high, wrought-iron coat stand to the hall wall as we speak. (It only needed 2 screws but he’s been at it for over an hour so I suspect it’s not going well……)
I am not sure how many more bits of lace and embroidered tablecloths I can cram in our already overloaded drawers but I’ll keep on trying. And on my got-to-get list for next week are library steps, an ornate drawer knob (for said marble washstand) and a large garden planter to stand by the kitchen door.
It doesn’t matter what you collect there is always something for everyone’s eclectic taste. My eye naturally alights on anything ornately kitsch and gilded whereas Beady-Eyed Daughter has happily gone home with her particular cri de coeur, mid-century glassware and a pair of Jean Cocteau-styled engraved plates.
Our local big city, Poitiers, plays host to a weekly flea market and once a year holds the Mother-of-All-Brocantes with a mammoth Collector’s Fair full of heart-stopping specialist stands selling nothing but miniature scent bottles, embroidered linen, vintage fashion illustrations, dolls and retro silk scarves. That’s without something for the boys, including dye-cast toys, postcards and old film posters.
Marginally less exciting but still well worth a visit are local vide-greniers. Attic sales in Anglaise. Here it’s a happy hunting ground for cheap-as-chips collectable household items like Kilner jars, stone-stoppered lemonade bottles and stoneware gratin dishes alongside racks of pre-loved clothes and old Johnny Halliday albums. Of which there always seem to a lot. A sort of Frenchified jumble sale.
I love the fact that stall holders at brocantes bring with them a true sense of French joie de vivre, laying trestle tables for a full-blown lunch and cracking open the vin rouge at 11am, while magpies like me shop till I drop, bringing home a little bit of unique history every Sunday.
(Anyone else need to know the next Eurostar to France?…just getting out the timetable now….Ax)