Why 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. A 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!
No 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.
I 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.
In 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.
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.
But every now and then the location will be stunning and the antiques and secondhand items on view become even more appealing.
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!
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.
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.
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?
And mixing it with a modern kitchen works a treat. Although it is getting harder and harder to find.
Blues and whites will never go out of fashion
and enamel ware still remains a firm favourite.
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?
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.