Our Love Affair with French Vintage

IMG_3717Why am I so passionate about hunting down antique and vintage items? Why do I forgo the cozy Sunday morning lie-in to wake well before most of the house has stirred – and certainly earlier than any sane person would choose after a long lazy Saturday evening meal with friends? There is some inner passion that drives me, the thrill of the chase and that frisson of anticipation. To put it simply, every antique or vintage item is unique.

Creeping downstairs, wishing the old oak treads not to creak too much I manage to quietly walk into the kitchen, where the dogs are still snoozing; they regard me with one eye half-open, it’s too early, even for them to pay me much attention. I tend to agree as I rub my eyes and make myself a cup of coffee. I’ll be back for breakfast with the family, and so – accompanied by one or more of my bleary eyed girls who have miraculously appeared out of nowhere – we head out the door. That’s the beauty of youth, they look fresh faced and gorgeous within a second of waking and when it comes to weekend brocantes they are nearly as hooked as I am.

We may be heading to a brocante or a vide grenier; here they are much of a muchness. A brocante typically means antiques, but not really the posh, highly polished Georgian kind since everything and anything nowadays can be included in a brocante.vide grenier literally means “empty your attic”; it is usually associated more with car-boot sale type things, but to be honest, certainly in the Charente Maritime, everything is rolled into one – and some more!

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IMG_3062No matter that once upon a time something might have been made in some quantity, now – decades or centuries later – every single one is an exclusive item, and no two things will ever be exactly the same. Time and patina, and wear and tear take their toll and nothing remains as it was, every piece tells a story, and that is where the fun starts. Our minds can run riot, imagining the use over the years of any one thing and then there is the romanticism, the notion that one can bring something into the home, that was perhaps unwanted or unloved and bring it back to life, maybe give it a whole new purpose and use and cherish it once more.

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IMG_3098I have only one rule when shopping for vintage, I only buy things that I would want in my own  home. In fact I am so lucky to have opened our Etsy shop, because it gives me an excuse to visit as many brocantes as I can.

This summer and autumn I’ve found some fabulous things. But it’s not just about the buying, it’s the whole trip. I get butterflies in my stomach, nothing dramatic but a gentle fluttering of excitement that comes with expectation. It’s like entering a giant-sized lucky dip. But, just like any other kind of shopping in France, nothing is ever hurried. Just as we spend ages choosing the right fruit and vegetables at the market, so we take our time. We inspect and touch and feel. It is all very tactile.

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IMG_2787IMG_2426In the summer months these affairs also tend to be a very social. Many villages will hold their annual brocante or vide grenier as part of their fund-raising. The beer tent quickly fills up and children dart here and there, as if to prove this truly is a gathering of locals and friends. We all tend to linger a little longer and soak in the ambience of the occasion. However, in winter when the wind is chilling us to the bone and a slow drizzle seeping into our souls, we hurry, there is no time to dally in the cold months.

No two brocantes are ever the same. One can be walking down a street, quite absorbed in what’s on offer and turn around and find the prettiest houses, totally unconnected and uninvolved with the comings and goings of the village that morning.

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Or one can be in a field, on the edge of a village, or in the car-park of a large supermarket. Half the time it is not in a picture perfect location and it is by no means always, as is so often perceived, the type of thing French dreams are made of. In short brocantes come in all shapes and sizes.

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But every now and then the location will be stunning and the antiques and secondhand items on view become even more appealing.

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But don’t be fooled into thinking that everywhere is crammed with desirable items just waiting to be snapped up for a song. Perhaps back in yesteryear that was the case, but today, at local events that’s a very long way from reality. Which perhaps is a good thing, it makes the treasure so much sweeter when one actually finds anything worthwhile. I have on many occasions returned home empty handed, but never yet disillusioned. There may be a vast amount of old clothing and plastic toys on offer, and plenty of junk too,  but if someone somewhere is making a few pennies then good for them.

Stumbling across a lovely piece of ironstone or some vintage kitchenware doesn’t happen every day, I have often visited seven or eight brocantes and found zilch, leaving with nothing more than a bag full of local melons and a smile on my face. You see anything and everything can be for sale!

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Then there is the other problem. You cannot simply drive up to a stall, parking is usually some way off in another distant field. Even with the helping hands I have accompanying me, getting things back to the car always takes some ingenuity. One time we were at the very far end of the Île de Ré, our only mode of transport, bicycles. It wouldn’t have been a problem if we hadn’t have found far more treasure than we could physically carry, actually a very unusual occurrence. We had a stunning tureen, a huge ironstone wash bowl, jugs and a painting and a large vintage leather suitcase which Millie had fallen in love with.

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Strapped to the back of the bike, the China was wrapped in beach towels, front baskets were filled with our loot, the suitcase was full to bursting, our cargo was stowed and gingerly we pedalled for home.

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Sometimes I will have a list of items I am searching for, requests from people to find them this or that. Some things I have been searching for in vain all summer long, it all takes time and bags of patience. Other times I will just be wandering, browsing, and soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying my morning, only buying if I see something irresistible. Let’s be honest can you ever have too much white ironstone?

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And mixing it with a modern kitchen works a treat. Although it is getting harder and harder to find.

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Blues and whites will never go out of fashion

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and enamel ware still remains a firm favourite.

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Most things I struggle to part with, like this vintage silver coffeepot that has sat on the draining board of our sink for days on end, just because I like looking at it! How about you, are you a lover of ironstone, retro kitchen items, furniture, what rocks your boat?

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Now that I have wetted your appetite for French brocantes I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun. If you’re not in France it might be difficult to hop in the car and satisfy your vintage itch. So with that in mind and not wanting to let you down we are offering everyone a 20% discount throughout our entire Etsy shop from today through to the end of the weekend. And don’t forget we happily combine shipping. I know this is a bugbear for many people, it is for me too but I’m sorry there is little we can do about it, but we can happily package two, three, four, five items all in the same box and we’ll only charge you once, thus you really do get a great saving. Happy shopping, happy vintage hunting and most of all have a great weekend.

Just click HERE or you can find us through our shop on our website www.ourfrenchlifestyle.com 

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35 thoughts on “Our Love Affair with French Vintage

  • First? Really….? Just back from an outdoor lunch in lovely October sunshine and a fabulous menu for only CHF20.- per person, HH treated me kindly before in a few hours, he picks me up (and mountains of dirty washing, stuff, garbage bag and more) and we shall head back to France, to our abode (700km….). And the first thing I find on the computer is YOU!!!
    If my Sundays weren’t dedicated to church, I’d be found every time at a brocante…. I’d have bought that red sofa and have it beautifully upholstered in a sturdy but lovely textile. I would have SO enjoyed sitting on it at every occasion! Instead, I am packing up now, right after my 3rd espresso of the day and I shall be dreaming of getting more….. instead of paying attention to REDUCE drastically my belongings. I’m not one for minimalism, but boy I wish I did! When I think just how many tons of wordly goods we own, stuff we could also happily live without, but go on buying anyway because all of it is SO lovely…., cute, whimsical, intelligent, beautiful….. etc.
    Love your raisin bearing banner – and all your photos. The one thing I would never ever buy again is a heavy soup terrine. I bought some earlier and I literally had to give them away because the number of times you need such a stately thing, be it as beautiful as may be, they just simply take away too much of my precious space. But ironstone…. heart be still! And glorious pottery, be it vases, planters, or more! And old linen…. (takes practically no space!). And all those bols and lamps and rugs and more vases, and and and!
    I have a nice collection of really, really old and very precious suitcases. The best one is from HH’s family of long ago, with name and an inset to store the shirts and stuff. Leather corners, hand-stitched…. I am thinking of selling them on Ebay because…. I will never have as much room anymore and I could do with the money. But coffee first!

    • Coffee is always necessary at the start of the day! Millie fell in love with the leather suitcase, it now sits proudly in her studio in Poitiers, she was even seen going to a Brocante on her own there the one Sunday she stayed for the weekend and didn’t come home. She is certainly hooked! I bought a pair of fabulous 100 year old white bowls a few weeks ago, I use them regularly for serving pasta at lunch or anything else and I always hand wash them afterwards, things back then weren’t made for dishwashers! And every time I do I love them all the more, they are so simple, but so tactile. I will never be able to live without vintage! xxx

  • You have certainly wetted my appetite, heading over right now for some retail therapy. It’s the old kitchen stuff that I love.

  • I don’t follow the crowd, it’s the old pottery in faded reds and whites that I love most. Lovely post by the way.

  • Alas, I had to leave behind a house full of lovingly collected antique treasures when we downsized into a two bedroom condo. But it is fun to remember all the brocante sales we’ve combed through. My husband loves it just as much as me (yes, I know he’s a rare treasure!). But I enjoyed all our finds in the years we had them and then let them go for someone else to love and polish.

  • Although I love where my s-i-l lives now, I miss the markets in Provence, many similar to these. Of course for me, it’s always how would I get something back if it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase or carry-on, but that’s OK. I have plenty “stuff” in my house and need to move some of it out. 🙂 But ahh, that photo of the linens!!

    janet

  • How gorgeous Susan. Yesterday while walking beside the Rhone River, we passed by a huge garbage dumpster, leaning against it was a vintage bread board. I thought this must be a mistake. We paused for maybe five seconds, scooped it up and went on our way. If we had not scooped it up, someone else would have scooped it and be selling it at a Brocant. Strangely that has always been on my wish list.
    Ali xx

  • I guess people all over the world love to go to these sales. I have spent many days antiquing, as we call it, and have several collections of various old treasures. I am sure that someday another person may very well be buying my things in a shop or town fair.

    • Antiquing is fun all over the world I think, I know people do it here and in the UK and in the USA and New Zealand, and I am quite sure in Australia and many other places too. What is not to love about vintage and antiques? xx

  • Oh, thank you so much for allowing us to walk along uttering ‘ooh!’ and ‘aah!’ Fascinating as Down Under is – its youth, and being in love mainly with the latest gimmickry available – is simply lacking in this form of stimulus. You are fortunate in being able to combine your love and knowledge and cost consciousness at such fascinating sales with the ability to make friends around the world able to share . . . Yes well, came to have some retail therapy myself: saw this and that but when freight costs are twice the price of the desired good sense and sensibility have to prevail . . . shall remain on the lookout and when I come to visit you perhaps a fairly empty suitcase will help . . . 🙂 !!

    • Oh I can imagine, we have done a couple in the past and they are always great fun. We have friends in a nearby village who did one this year and they loved it. The whole atmosphere is so much fun xx

  • Just catching up as computer was “acting up”! Love the pictures & my daughter & I would gladly comb through everything! Would also love to look at the linens – always “need” them!

  • I would love to the vintage market with you all. Such beautiful pieces. Oh!!!! I received my Ventage Bread knife today. It was like Christmas. I’m trying to figure how I can send a picture.

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