Lessons in Living a French Life

Bringing a touch of French culture to everyday life

Brocante Season: The Art of the Hunt

Vintage FindsKaren Kriebl
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I am a caretaker of old things. I see to it that antique and vintage finds are passed from one individual to another, making a connection with each person along the way. It is what I do. I hunt for useful and beautiful objects that have a story to tell and more life to live. I find these simple everyday treasures and I connect them with others. I adore every moment of the search, the discovery, and the sharing of its history.

I have always preferred pieces from the past. In particular, I love simple, worn objects that have been used and loved. I share the French appreciation of craftsmanship even with utilitarian objects. I have a passion for French linen fabrics. No matter the condition, I can rework them into something new. Slipcovers, duvets, pillows, napkins, even the tiniest pieces of vintage fabric can be used to cover buttons and then adorn a child’s pinafore. I love white French pottery and porcelain wares on a worn wooden French farmhouse table. Simple in its design, the plain white looks modern in its line and curve. Old things can have a timeless appeal. Classics that never go out of style.

“Je n’en ai pas besoin, mais…”  I don’t need it, but . . . Those are words I often say to myself when I’m at a brocante and come across these silly jam jars. I just love their simple style and utility. I use them for everything . . . including holding homemade jam.

“Je n’en ai pas besoin, mais…” I don’t need it, but . . . Those are words I often say to myself when I’m at a brocante and come across these silly jam jars. I just love their simple style and utility. I use them for everything . . . including holding homemade jam.

I will stop for any pile of French handwoven linens and antique lace. I know there will be a project one day for each and every found textile.

I will stop for any pile of French handwoven linens and antique lace. I know there will be a project one day for each and every found textile.

With the warmer weather, more and more French towns are having their annual brocante or flea market sale. It's an occasion to find a new antique treasure, listen to live music, and taste the local specialities. Each region offers its own flair and local history. In Alsace, I hunt for kelch textiles - a sturdy cotton and linen fabric woven in a checkerboard pattern. In Normandy, I am looking for rustic pottery pieces and copper cookware. In Provence, I hunt for provençal, vintage fabrics.

Vintage silverware is another of my weaknesses. I can pore over a bin of flatware for longer than Tim can tolerate. So he knows when I find that booth, it is time for him to relax with a cup coffee. After 30 years of marriage, he knows me well.

Vintage silverware is another of my weaknesses. I can pore over a bin of flatware for longer than Tim can tolerate. So he knows when I find that booth, it is time for him to relax with a cup coffee. After 30 years of marriage, he knows me well.

Most brocantes are small community affairs. But some are grand events that if you have the chance, you must experience. Since the 12th century, the city of Lille closes its cobbled stone streets to traffic and covers what seems as every inch of pavement with wares to sell. Its legendary braderie is always the first weekend of September and is touted as Europe's largest brocante. With more than 10,000 vendors and 2 million bargain hunters descending upon the city, I think I have to agree. The event can feel overwhelming. My advice is to know what you are looking for and stay focused. It will be impossible to see everything, so be present and enjoy wherever the path leads. Remember, if you see something you love, buy it. Even if you are lucky enough to find your way back to the same spot, it is unlikely your treasure will still be there. Unfortunately, I speak from experience.

You can find a lively brocante each Wednesday and Saturday morning in Strasbourg. Here is where I hunt for all my Alsatian treasures. I know the vendors and it is a morning of socializing as much as it is hunting for the perfect finds for my online shop.

You can find a lively brocante each Wednesday and Saturday morning in Strasbourg. Here is where I hunt for all my Alsatian treasures. I know the vendors and it is a morning of socializing as much as it is hunting for the perfect finds for my online shop.

Antiquing in France is an art. First, you must carefully scour the goods for sale on makeshift tables. Then, when your eye delights in something, you begin a dialogue with the vendor as to its story. This is an important conversation; for, it is just as much about the owner deciding if you are worthy of a discount as it is about your decision on how much you want to pay for it. You discuss its story and strike a bargain.

Sometimes you never know what will catch my fancy. I look for things that are both attractive and useful. I love hand painted porcelain ware and objects with a patina. I seem to have a knack for attracting demitasse spoons. They come home with me and with a bit of polish, they are brought back to life.

Sometimes you never know what will catch my fancy. I look for things that are both attractive and useful. I love hand painted porcelain ware and objects with a patina. I seem to have a knack for attracting demitasse spoons. They come home with me and with a bit of polish, they are brought back to life.

Paris is a mecca of fine antiques and collectables. The city’s legendary Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen de Clignancourt can easily provide an entire day of searching for one-of-a-kind treasures. The vendors are organized into clusters of shops and stalls linked by tiny alley ways. Long gone are the days of bargains but you can still politely negotiate for a better price. Porte de Vanves is my personal favorite Paris flea market where I blissfully lose myself hunting for vintage fabrics. I am also enchanted by an enclave of shops and stalls in the Village of Saint-Paul in the Marais district. I move at a slower pace compared to the larger Paris flea markets and my morning includes a stop for tea and time spent in a pretty square under the canopy of tall ancient trees. Les Puces de Montreuil is eye candy for fine antiques. Too rich for my wallet but nonetheless enjoyable to walk through and enjoy the fine craftsmanship of objects that beg you to come closer. Serious antique hunters can also explore Le Louvre des Antiquaires and Saint-Germain antique shops. While you might not find an affordable object to bring home with you, inspiration is sure to strike and fuel your creativity.

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I have hunted for antiques since I was a little girl. I planned on opening a boutique one day that would showcase a curated collection of vintage objects that I had brought back from my travels in Europe. As I was preparing my recent finds for the online shop, I remembered this dream and smiled for I realized that I had achieved my desire. While Le Shop is not the brick and mortar boutique I had envisioned, it is a place where I can share beautiful and useful things that contain a story with clients who appreciate quality, history, and my love for all things French. It delights me to receive a photo from a client of something I found at a brocante in Gers, France and now is lovely placed in a newly completed kitchen in Vancouver, Canada. The stories of that object are intertwined with mine and its new owner. It is so much more than a nineteenth-century ironstone pitcher or a set of French table linens. The value is our participation in the history of the object. We become a part of its story.

If you are looking to add a bit of French quality and style to your home, be sure to browse my collection of curated vintage finds in Le Shop. If you have any questions about an item, just send a note. Remember, everything is lovingly packed and shipped from my home to yours.

À bientôt,

Karen

I add a blog post quarterly to Karen’s Atelier - more or less with the changing seasons. For a weekly dose of something "short and sweet" and a nod to French culture, be sure to subscribe to my Weekly Voilàs on this website. For those that have already subscribed, merci. Your support encourages me to take the next step in “living a french life.” It is a privilege to share this journey with you.