We have always loved antiques, and even as a young couple, we filled our house with an eclectic collection of bits from antiques fairs and auctions. More often than not they had the bumps and bashes of a life, hard-lived, and needed a bit of work doing to them, to stop them falling to pieces, but the nice thing is that many of them are still with us today. We have always bought things that we have loved, rather than pieces that are in vogue, and over time that has stood us in good stead.
So it seemed only natural, when we bought our little place, that we would head to the local brocante markets, and village vide grenier events, to start finding pieces for the house. The great thing is that we have some superb, well-established Brocante markets nearby, so we can pick and choose where we go, to see what we can find.
Before moving here, we had been avid viewers of a Channel 4 series called ‘A French Collection’, where contestants spent time buying pieces at French markets, before having to sell them back in the UK, and we had seen many of our local markets featured on that, so we knew we would have plenty to choose from.
In fact, I ended up taking part in the show as a contestant, which was great fun (although we went to Toulouse rather than any of our markets here), and when I was chatting to the presenter and the production team, I found that they all spoke very fondly of our local markets, especially the ones at Villeneuve Les Avignon and Carpentras, which was lovely to hear.
When we started here, we had a totally blank canvas, having to buy everything from scratch, which has just been so much fun, and we have found some incredible pieces along the way. Although our dear friend, often looks at what we have bought, saying that her grandmother had one similar, but that just makes us smile, rather than making us feel we are a bit old-fashioned.
Some of our main pieces of furniture have come from our local “Recyclerie’ in Apt, an excellent social enterprise that has created and now supports a number of local jobs, but also maintains a project to help local homeless people. We don’t always find pieces when we drop in, but our incredibly beautiful bed came from there, along with a few chests of drawers, cupboards and mirrors, all happily delivered to the house.
But we always need more, and there is something exciting about heading off, first thing in the morning, simply wondering what we may find. We have never really had a plan of what we are looking for, we just see things that we fancy and then work to make them fit.
If I were to be pushed, I would say that my favourite brocante is the one that takes place, every Saturday morning in the car park, below the Chateau at Villeneuve-Les-Avignon. I’m always happy to get going early to be there by 8am, having a quick scout around before settling down for a coffee and croissant at the little cafe, in the heart of the market, watching as it really starts to get going.
It has a fantastic atmosphere, with a wonderful selection of stalls, and inevitably some unusual finds that just have to come home with us. On one visit, I was looking through a large collection of prints and came across some beautiful, hand-painted wallpaper designs from the late 1800s. They were pieces that had been completed by a student at the Dijon School of Beaux Arts, and each one was a work of art in its own right, so naturally a few found their way home with me.
Then there was a collection of designs for incredible vintage lights, that must have been drawn by an interior designer, including one for a child’s bedroom and a fantastic, flower-festooned chandelier for the summer dining room. Each one was delicately painted on tracing paper and once again I couldn’t walk away from them, so they now have a new home with us.
Then there is the market at Carpentras on a Sunday morning, which is also superb, although whereas Villeneuve is buzzing by 8am, it always seems as if there is a prize for the stallholder who sets up last at Carpentras, with not a lot happening at all before 10am. At first this totally flummoxed me, but now I am very happy with this slower start, as it allows us to have breakfast in L’Isle Sur La Sorgue and quick browse of the stalls there, before heading up the road.
A few times a year there is a much larger event at Carpentras, that sees the market move from its normal location in the large car park at the side of the town centre, to the huge open space called the ‘Marche Gare’ on the outskirts of the town. This time, an early start is a good idea, as the selling starts from 4am, under floodlights, and it takes a good few hours to walk around the whole site to see what is on offer. I have done this a couple of times, arriving at 6am to find the site already busy with people, doing their best to fill their trollies with the pick of the pieces.
Of course, the big markets are just one place to look for bits, and we have found we have managed to get some lovely items from the village Vide Grenier events, where there is often a mix of people, simply clearing their house out of unwanted bits, and some professional ‘brocanteurs’ too.
I especially love the Vide Greniers that take place in the heart of the villages. They have a unique atmosphere, often with residents simply opening their doors and selling the pieces from their doorsteps, or front hallways. Over the last 5 years we have bought so much from events like these….
Whether it’s an old zinc tub or container that can be used as a planter for the garden…
An old door with a beautiful panel that will need a bit of work, but will go somewhere….
Or a little decorative piece that just screams at us to take it home …..
We also now have quite a collection of beautiful blue soda syphons, etched with the names of the bars and brasseries that originally owned them ….
In some ways we are already at the point where we have all the furniture we need, but by shifting things around we manage to fit in a few more finds, and we always have room for more paintings!
I suppose heading off ‘brocanting’ is a bit of a hobby, but it means that we have found pieces that have helped make our little house a comfortable home, filled with pieces of furniture and decorative bits that bring with them their own bit of history.
As ever lots of pieces have ‘seen a bit of action’ and are far from perfect, but that is part of their charm, and I wouldn’t want it any other way…
And I’m sure we’ll find space for a few more things yet!