Blog: The Diary of a Brocanteuse

My musings, my photos, my adventures buying antiques in France and my love for being a Brocanteuse. The story starts right at the bottom of these entries and recounts each trip to France made since the very beginning.

  • Provencal finds Beautiful Uzes was not far up the road from Castillon. I remembered it fondly from a visit when I was twenty. En route we stopped at a Brocante.  A taciturn man with a head of dark unruly hair nodded as we walked into the courtyard. Every kind of metal work was here. Moustache hinges, door grilles, wine bottle ...
  • Coherence et harmonie Quietly shutting the door of the gite behind me I came through olive trees into the resiny, still night. The vestiges of a full moon hung high over the Pont du Gard. The sky lightened as I drove to the Déballage at Beziers and the sides of the autoroute were beautiful with magenta blossoms and ...
  • Spring in Provence The three large dealer Déballages held in Provence a handful of times a year sometimes fall on consecutive days, and are within two or three hours of each other.  It makes a worthwhile trip. Graham and I stayed near Avignon in Castillon du Gard.  A jug of lilac from the garden welcomed us to our gite. The ...
  • Au revoir Sylvie…. My dear old work pal Sylvie has gone to a new home, and it is time to welcome Nelly, my new van.  I have named her in memory of an antiques dealer in the Luberon. Nelly and I are off next week to visit some old contacts in Normandy and then down to Le Mans.  I am looking forward to ...
  • Not for sale…. With armoires and buffets stowed with the shipper, and the contents of Sylvie rearranged, we left Avignon and drove up through the Rhone wine region towards Le Puy en Velay to see our friend Francoise. Violent winds rocked the van.  First through vines, then cypress and pine as rain clouds roiled above us. Fortresses and ...
  • Les feuilles mortes…. We arrived in good time for the Avignon fair next day.  As soon as the gates opened at 8h on the dot, I headed straight to a particular stand in one of the large halls. A stunning pair of painted console tables stood gloriously together, but the dealer was not yet there.  I perched on one ...
  • Late….. Southern France had been on Orange Alert with “temps chaotique,” chaotic weather. People watched in disbelief as cars were swept away in turbulent rivers. Eery transparent and purple jelly fish were washed up on the beach. The wind continued to howl. I arrived at the Montpellier market late. My alarm had not worked and I bolted ...
  • Provencal colours The professional markets in the south of France start with a surge of people through the gates at 8h on the dot. Buyers run to bag pieces from their favourite suppliers. Things are pretty frantic for the first hour or so. Shipper’s labels are slapped on commodes and armoires and documents hurriedly filled out in ...
  • Joyeux Noel Bright hopes and dreams be yours, and the constant pursuit of creativity and beauty. Thank you for all your support through my tenth year. Bonne Annee.
  • Random finds Driving towards Bordeaux with sun flickering through allées of trees along the road, we were due to meet Steve, a dealer I knew from England.  Steve was never short of a tale to tell, and was now single handedly refurbishing a large barn surrounded by apricot trees. We followed him up the dark, rickety wooden stairs to see ...
  • Bastides The next trip took Graham and I down through France for a scout around the area south of the Dordogne and then to the Mediterranean for three large markets. We left behind a posse of good humoured charity ride cyclists just off the ferry in St Malo, and made for Montreuil Bellay south of the ...
  • Country Brocante at Daylesford Farm The first Country Brocante to be held in the Cotswolds is next Saturday 24th September at Daylesford Farm, Kingham, Gloucestershire GL56 OYG, 9.30am to 5pm. Over 65 dealers and artisans will be setting up shop in marquees at Daylesford. Hope to see you there.
  • A slice of shade Le Mans yielded an armful of good oil paintings (along with the not unfamiliar poignancy of finding the entire contents of a late artist’s studio spread out on the ground), tall hinged shutters, garden furniture and the usual selection of 19th century household items.  A pile of insect display boxes that happily contained nothing more ...
  • Hot day on the road Early that July morning I drove to a vide-grenier on the other side of Nogent. Parking outside the Boulangerie was fortunate and, croissant in hand, I walked past the Route Barrée sign towards the market where villagers were steadily laying out their stalls. I feel a quiet delight in village vide-greniers. Things that have indeed come ...
  • “La Connection Humaine” Back in Belleme, a town of noble houses and winding streets, and many new antiques shops, I turned off the road and drove beneath the beamed porch of a Brocante that had opened up the year before. The large gravelled courtyard was framed by an imposing house and barns on three sides with views over ...
  • A quiet morning in the Perche Sunday morning, along deep green lanes, just after sunrise. A curve in the road opened onto views of wooded hills and ripe barley. I was back in the Perche in search of both the illustrious and the humble, the cobwebbed and the gilded. By 06.30 people were steadily setting out their goods for the annual vide ...
  • Back from Provence Back from Provence with many good things: armoires, Italian chandeliers, enfilade and cupboards, buffets, large mirrors, vibrant paintings and still lives. All to be uploaded very soon.  
  • Remember In the pitch black 5am frosty morning I scraped my windscreen and drove to a Marché aux Puces further round the lagoon.  This was a regular local market with an array of hum drum plastic and synthetic goods, and yet one or two stalls of interest.  Bundled up beneath hat and scarf an elderly man was ...
  • En Mediterranée A sunny morning in Castres and the café terraces in Place Jean Jaures were busy.  As we sat in the bright winter light I recognised Raffael from the market at Albi. We shook hands. He lived just outside Castres, he said, would we like to visit his house? He also added that he would be ...
  • Winter grazing in the Tarn The Marche a la Brocante is held every Saturday beneath the large covered market in the Place du Castelviel in Albi.  This is no ancient timbered medieval hall but a functional concrete and steel construction.  On a damp January morning everything was in a palette of dull grey.  A group of dealers warmed themselves around ...
  • Perfect day for brocante Savigny en Veron held its annual vide-grenier on July 14th. La rue Basse, fringed with trees and dappled clearings, lead out of the village.  A duck plied its way across a pond solid with emerald weed and an egret stood statuesque, brilliant white in the early slanting sun.  The church bell chimed 7h, birds chirruped, ...
  • Brocante by the water In the damp greenish light, stalls were being set up on the stone quay and along the picturesque river at Montsoreau. This was a market of about ninety professionals. No baby clothes or plastic toys. As I trawled through the stalls, checking prices, loitering to see what was next out of this van or that ...
  • Sleeping Beauty We drove on to a Groupement d’Antiquaires near Nogent, to see Olivier, Laurent, and Julie the dog. Olivier came round from the back in his work apron and we shook hands. Formal, courteous, gracious. They told me in hushed voices that they were planning to open a shop in a nearby town with a ...
  • Christmas thoughts – and apologies With warmest Christmas thoughts and wishes – thank you for your interest and enthusiasm over the past year. Hoping for a year ahead with much foraging and discovering of beautiful delights. A footnote to end the year: I am so sorry that you will have received double mailings recently (there will be one ...
  • The Gods of Happiness….. A slate sign poked out from an old watering can, indicating the little brocante boutique solely for the guests at the chambre d’hote. I rifled out a couple of glorious white soupieres, some pots, a watercolour of a large pig and some beautifully pristine monogrammed sheets. On the tag was written “TBE” which, I learned, stood for “tres bon ...
  • Le quatorze juillet The weekend of 14th July normally offers rich pickings at vide greniers in towns and villages across France. Tricolour flags fly and the boom boom boom of smartly marching bands can be heard streets away. With the regular monthly market at Montsoreau falling on such a weekend a trip, was planned down to the Loire. ...
  • Le Mans with Lesley The Deballage began at 8h and, as always, there were stall holders in clouds of bubble wrap and old newspaper unpacking their boxes and setting out their stands, and others already settled down for the morning, coffee in hand. There were handshakes or kisses on cheeks, the day was bright and fresh, and spirits were ...
  • The soul of things What should have been a three minute hop to the Chartres deballage next morning was a choked up traffic jam.  The main entrance of the Parc des Expositions was closed and only a small secondary gate was open.  Impatience mounted and vans began driving along the verge and straddling a steep bank.  Other people shouldered ...
  • Down to Chartres in good company A trip was planned with Lesley, who had made me so welcome in her stunning shop in Tetbury after the fire at Station Mill Antiques. We would travel in convoy. From Le Havre we drove along the north bank of the Seine as it meandered towards the sea. We crossed at the Pont de Brotonne, then ...
  • Charmed on the way to Le Mans Other establishments had mushroomed in old warehouses and great old farms along the road. We pulled in at the Brocante de Brigitte. I’d called in here a few years before. I found the same tumble of rooms crammed full, every surface toppling over with the detritus of yesteryear. On to the Brocante de Nadine which ...
  • Discoveries en route The car park at the budget hotel near the Parc des Expositions in Chartres filled steadily with vans and tourist coaches. Across the way in the adjacent hotel people met over an aperitif. Most were dealers.  The words that rose above general murmur of conversation were ….. “deballage”, “marchand”, “client”, “debarrasser une maison”, “cave” and ...
  • Up in the attic. South on long ribbony roads, through towns of half-timbered houses in plains of green fields, trees in blossom, towards the tower of La Madeleine at Verneuil on the horizon. The chambre d’hotes was stunning. Set back behind tall iron gates, painted a pale coppery bluey green. The owner, Domi, served fresh apple juice out on the ...
  • Bonne Route, Bonne Chance! Unexpectedly, travel plans changed for a March trip. The big yellow ferry that had done service between Le Havre and Portsmouth for many years was being taken out of service. There would be no crossings the day a new vessel was brought in, so I travelled a day earlier. ...
  • Nice Standing on the balcony I realised I was gazing into the Dufy painting of the Baie des Anges – same turquoise sea, same curve in the bay, same ardent palm trees, same Negresco that had ushered Marlene, Salvador, Grace and Satchmo through its opulent doors. Colour, colour, colour. My blanched, be-wintered spirit was stunned by ...
  • HOMES & ANTIQUES on The Bath Decorative Fair Thanks to H&A for their online feature: “Showcasing a stylish and homely mix of French finds for her first time at BDAF was Gilli Hanna Decorative Antiques……” http://www.homesandantiques.com/feature/antiques/fairs/26th-bath-decorative-antiques-fair-pavilion-bath-0
  • Bath Decorative Antiques Fair The Bath Decorative Antiques Fair is on 6th to 8th March this year, 11am to 5pm. The Pavilion, Bath BA2 4EU www.bathdecorativeantiquesfair.co.uk. I will have a stand there for the first time – so please come and say hello if you can make it.
  • New stock on its way very soon Sorry there is no new stock to show you in this update – I am in France at the moment and will be bringing back some lovely things.
  • A good market at Le Mans The hotel lobby on the outskirts of Le Mans was busy with dealers who were regulars at the Deballage.  Laetitia, the receptionist, handled their jocular high spirits with seasoned aplomb.  The hotel restaurant was passable, and a dinner of steak frites, Tarte Normande and a glass of red wine worked restorative wonders. Just before 8am next ...
  • Le Perche The truck in front of me on the old National 23 from Chartres to Le Mans braked  and swung off down a track.  As I sailed by I glimpsed a large building with Antiquités Brocante painted in large letters.  “Zut!”  I turned around at the next hamlet.  A willow swept over the rushing water outside this former industrial water ...
  • The Market at Chartres It was a dismal morning, not yet light. The parking areas of the Parc des Expositions were full of muddy ruts. Vans were all over the place, backing up, wheels spinning. There were shouts and waving torches. No one could see much through rainy windows.  Having reversed out of the scrum I found a spot ...
  • The day before Chartres Come November I made a swift and functional circuit to Chartres and Le Mans for two dealer’s markets. I stayed in budget hotels near the exhibition parks, where the parking spaces filled overnight with white vans. It was a straight forward drive down from Le Havre to Chartres. As I walked across a narrow ...
  • Decorative Living Fair Thank you to everyone who came to the Decorative Living Fair at Chelsea Town Hall this month – it was a very good day. And to Jo Leevers (BLOG: “Decorative Love”) for her lovely review, a deep curtsey!
  • The road home A mean Mistral was blowing as we started our drive home. Despite tall lines of trees planted as wind breaks, vines were waving in leafy frenzy. We were taking our time, travelling through the Cotes du Rhone. We stopped in Vacqueyras for lunch and to buy wine. Café tables were covered in shreds ...
  • Back to the market at Avignon The Avignon market offered even more to tempt the avid purchaser. In the large open-air spaces chandeliers sparkled in the sun, piled white porcelaine glinted and metal garden chairs curved elegantly. A stunning gilt wood bed side table on such delicate cabriole legs glowed. I had to buy it. “Have a cherry ...
  • Decorative Living Fair, October 2nd 2014 A date for your diary: The Decorative Living Fair, supported by Homes & Antiques, returns to Chelsea Old Town Hall in a few weeks time with an ample selection of decorative antiques, brocante, vintage and antique textiles, gardenalia and hand-crafted products. I will have a stand there. There will be a “shop and drop” room, ...
  • Buying at Montpellier The deballage at Montpellier was vast. A milling crowd of dealers had already filed past the ticket collector into a glass atrium. At 8h precisely the doors to one side opened and we poured out into a large open space where lorries were being unpacked at speed. Cavernous halls stood around another ...
  • Much to please the eye Another afternoon, driving back from les Saintes Maries de la Mer – a village all bright and dazzling by a windy sea, with narrow fisherman’s lanes, a pretty restaurant beneath a mulberry tree, women in gypsy dress offering lavender, and such views of the Camargue from up on the church roof – I saw a ...
  • Camargue The Camargue is a particular place, not like the rest of France. Black bulls, the Guardien cowboys, white horses and flamingos are its usp. As well as mosquitoes and the violent Mistral blowing down the Rhone valley. Our gite was in Montcalm, a hamlet with an 18th century chateau surrounded by vineyards. ...
  • Over the Massif Central Under low cloud we climbed high over the Massif Central, a smooth and exhilarating drive along the autoroute with views of pine forests and ruined chateaux perched above craggy valleys, and over the fabulously daring Millau viaduct. Much easier than a thousand hairpin bends through the gorges. I wanted to visit two dealers in Vic le ...
  • Down to the Mediterranean A bright September morning in Le Havre with Graham, emerging from the cavernous ferry garage, heading for the Mediterranean. Once over the Tancarville Bridge that sails over the Seine we traveled on National roads, past villages with steep slate roofs and needle-sharp church spires, past large tan and white cows, half timbered barns and ...
  • Brocante in the forest I had bought well the year before from an elderly couple in prime position at the start of the five kilometer forest road. They lifted boxes on to the trestle tables and let us rummage by torchlight and do the unpacking for them. “We don’t know what is in the boxes,” they told ...
  • A barn in Normandy Next morning we drove down the Cotentin peninsula to visit another dealer. Graham began making noises about lack of coffee, so at the next small town we parked by the church and sat outside a modest restaurant as it was preparing for its lunchtime trade. Small square tables set with paper place mats, ...
  • Brocante in Normandy As much as the springtime palette of Provence the month before had filled my eyes with vivid colours and light, it was still a gentle pleasure to return to Normandy in May. A brief visit this time to collect an oak buffet I’d bought nearly two years previously, to visit a few dealers and ...
  • Le chateau de Barbentane All of my purchases had been collected and loaded by late lunchtime as a long line of vans trailed its way inside the perimeter fence to begin picking up. The transporter’s lorry set off northwards but my flight wasn’t until the following morning. With the afternoon free I drove south of Avignon and ...
  • The Avignon fair I stood in the growing crowd by the gates at the Avignon dealer’s fair the next morning. The tanned, worldly, elegant with hair swept suavely back, and the portly, gruff and voluble waited in palpable anticipation. At 8am the gates opened and the rush began. In the main exhibition hall stall holders ...
  • Isle sur la Sorgue Later that afternoon I drove from Beziers to see the Mediterranean. A group of men by the port at Agde were intensely focused on their game of pétanque, and someone else was scraping down his wooden boat, listening to a breezy tune on his radio. A few couples sat out on café terraces, but ...
  • Price reductions from 8 January 2014 plus 1794 Paris on sale. Many items at Station Mill Antiques will be reduced from Sunday, 8th January – do come over and have a look. Meanwhile, in her book “Napoleon and Josephine,” Evangeline Bruce shared an extraordinary and evocative description of Paris just after the uprising against Robespierre and the Reign of Terror. Paper money had fallen to one ...
  • The Deballage For the next three days I stayed in the ochre-painted, blue shuttered farmhouse of a delightful couple, Yvette and Alain-Pierre. Behind its tall hedges Le Mas de la Cigale Bleue sat in the middle of vineyards and orchards, Gushing irrigation ditches ran alongside surrounding narrow lanes. The Deballage at Beziers, a two ...
  • Le Temps Perdu….. I stayed the night just outside Arles in a village I had known well. As I walked down the “Passage du Temps Retrouvé“, it was on my mind how in thirty or forty years a place can change entirely, a business grows then closes, someone moves away and is lost. Time can not ...
  • Provence in Spring I wanted to have a look at the big fairs in the south of France. Beziers, Montpellier and Avignon, three major international events all in a line along the coast from Languedoc to Provence. Prices were reported to be high but I needed to see for myself and, for a first time visit, ...
  • Le bonheur n’est pas loin The day before the Autumn Rederie at Amiens could not have been wetter, and the upper most blade of the wind turbines along the road from Dieppe disappeared in low cloud. Graham was with me, as I’d discovered back in April that this market was a hard one to do on one’s own. ...
  • And finally…. Fields adjacent to the market had become vast parking lots and crowds queued at the portable ticket kiosk. I wanted to find the woman who sold an exquisite collection of ribbons, pharmacy bottles, curiosities, tiny pill tins, small music cards from marching bands, bundles of wicks, old parchment, fragments of fabric – all ...
  • Seaside vide greniers and the big foire Three vide-greniers were earmarked for next morning. I was out by 6.30am but there were only a handful of stands very slowly being set up at the first venue so I continued down the coast to the next market. Here I wasn’t the only person looking for the Place du 11 novembre, only to ...
  • A very wet day for Brocante Deluge had been forecast over the entire country the day I left the Loire. Lowering skies hung over vines and fields of sunflowers. On the route de Chinon, a straight Napoleonic ribbon of road between Chinon and Loudun, the brocante warehouse I’d visited a couple of years before, was, oh joy, open! A vintage ...
  • “Souriez, la vie est belle” I had wanted to visit the abbey at Fontevraud for many years. Five separate monasteries and convents were housed within its walls, receiving the rich and noble alongside the battered, fallen and leprous. It had been decreed that the whole should always be overseen by an Abbess. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France ...
  • Chateaux, vines and brocante Antoinette’s house was in the middle of fields of sunflowers and vines. Down a track, under a walnut tree, through tall metal gates and into a wild garden with barn, apricot tree, hollyhocks and, amongst the flowers and foliage, hidden places with tables and chairs. The tufa stone house was built in the ...
  • Le carnet de Mlle. Olivier Mademoiselle Olivier’s tiny leather notebook was embossed with gold leaf scrolls. Mlle. Olivier lived at 7 rue Charles-Emmanuel in Asnieres, just outside Paris, at the turn of the nineteenth century. She always wrote in her notebook in pencil. It carried lists of fabrics and measurements, sometimes little sketches of a bodice or long ...
  • La vie est courte Sometimes life reminds you not to put off for another year the things you always meant to do. Best then that July to add a couple of days onto my trip down to the Vendée to visit some chateaux in the Loire. Better than just the fleeting glimpse when speeding by a tree-lined drive. ...
  • The Amiens car pound I’d not seen the small printed edict tied to the lamp-post when I parked the evening before, and so I learned a new French word – la fourriere – the car pound. The gendarme in the police station gave me the address on the outskirts of the town. I rang, did they have ...
  • The Amiens Rederie Picardie was having the same wettest April on record as we were in the UK. I took the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, then drove along the coast road towards Amiens trying to think of lyrical descriptions of being in France, but all I could see were the many shades of grey in the ...
  • “Tant de belles choses” Graham met me for a lunchtime Formule du Jour at a restaurant on the rue des Rosiers, a small carafe of rosé on the pavement table caught in the sharp January light. We returned to Vernaison market to collect the glasses I’d bought that morning. Monsieur gestured to us to come in, “Entrez, ...
  • Just back from France Just back from a trip to France and with many small items – porcelaines, books, glasses, galvanised bassines, linens, engravings, girandolles, mirrors, curiosities – as well as shutters, panelling, buffets and tables. Some are already out at Station Mill with the rest in the pipeline and coming soon. Also, thank you to ...
  • Vernaison Out again early the next day. On weekends many more little shops open up and there are trestle tables set out along the quieter streets. Vernaison is the most popular and busy of the markets. It is something of a shanty town of lanes, kiosks with different roof lines, drain pipes finding ...
  • Another day in Paris Large mirrors were stacked up against the wall of one stall in the Jules Vallés market. Mirrors with foxed mercury glass, gilded frames, painted frames, gorgeous crests. The dealer obligingly heaved them all forward, bracing them with his foot, so I could take a look at a large white painted one with a ...
  • Paris puces It seemed like a good idea to go to the Paris markets in January. There would be a plentiful supply of stock. Trawling round bleak country lanes, with not a vide grenier on the horizon for weeks had much less appeal. So Graham came too and we took the Newhaven to Dieppe ...
  • Brocante in a manor house Not far from Sées lived a dealer who had opened up the stables and a couple of rooms in his fine old 16th and 17th century manor house in order to sell brocante. The faded “Antiquités” sign had fallen off the wall and been replaced. As I drove into the courtyard I heard ...
  • Squeezing in just a few more things Monday morning, after a peaceful and restorative weekend with friends, I drove away from the old mill house and back on the road up to the Loire. Another visit Lilianne, a dealer I’d known for a couple of years, in her farmhouse. I only had room for smaller items at this stage but ...
  • Buying in La Chatre Heavy rain cleared after an hour travelling the straight rural roads of the Indre departement. Frederic Chopin and Georges Sand, the love of his short life, had spent part of their tempestuous relationship in this region. I visited a dealer at his home down a leafy driveway, on the edge of in La Chatre, a ...
  • Needle and thread A school book of needlework practice from 1924. One of my small treasures. On the back page is the Table de Multiplication. On the inside cover is a message to pupils about the Caisse des Ecoles. Contributions of two francs a year. ...
  • The old shoe lace factory On my way north towards Thiers, I drove through wooded slopes and mountain forest and stopped in the small town of Ambert. I’d phoned a dealer there and was told, “Oui, je suis la de 8h 30 et, non, je ne ferme pas a midi.” Honey to my ears. There are some ...
  • Beneath cobwebs. Francoise and I discovered another dealer also called Monsieur Michon, also retired, who lived in a village perched on top of a volcanic plug, with a fortress dominating the surroundings. I squeezed the van up steep, narrow streets and Monsieur Michon waved down to us from his terrace. His thick walled, stone cattle barn with low, ...
  • A quiet moment for old books I don’t necessarily read them, but I love to buy them, leaf through them, feel the gritty, rough printed paper, examine signatures and doodles, enjoy the type face and the little pictures at the end of chapters, find slips of paper inside. And consider that there were still kings in France back then.
  • The chateau I did stop at Vic le Compte the next day. Of the ten antiquaires Teddy had mentioned only two remained, and both these were closed. The phone number of one them was painted on the door of his shop but he was away for the day his wife said. She suggested I ...
  • Driving south Another summer trip, this time travelling down into the Massif Central and staying with Francoise, the chatelaine who had become a friend since I stayed overnight at her little chateau near Le Puy. From the ferry I drove to St Pierre sur Dives for the monthly Sunday market held in under the 18th century ...
  • A couple of stops on the road home Still in the Vendée, but on our way north, we stopped at a dark and rambling shop which was also the owner’s house. I bought a large wire oyster basket, and from a bucket by the door I picked up a green metal panel on a stake painted in big letters “Respectez pelouses et ...
  • The market at St Christophe Off into the deserted morning before 6am, leaving Graham to slumber. The first mandate, as always, to find a good parking spot near the market. Some dealers were just arriving and the morning’s buying started slowly. Lilianne was carefully lifting off plastic sheeting from her stall. She said she’d barely slept because ...
  • La Fete de la Carotte Monique had set the automatic coffee maker for 5.30am and in the vast, quiet, stone kitchen still smelling of last night’s embers, I poured coffee for us and also for Jean-Pierre, one of dealers, who like us was going to have a look at a vide-grenier not too far away. He, like many other ...
  • A gentle day. On then, over to the west of the Cotentin peninsula to Portbail, a pretty estuary town with palest of grey and ochre hues. The little antiques shop there was actually open and from a huge wardrobe filled with sheets and table linens I pulled out several bundles of large, starched damask napkins tied up ...
  • The pictures they didn’t print. A few pictures that didn’t feature in the recent Country Homes and Interiors article. Clear
  • Only beautiful antiques The Salon des Antiquaires did not open until 10h – how agreable to have breakfast at a reasonable hour, rather than creeping about before dawn! I wasn’t particularly intending to buy at the Salon, but wanted see the chateau again….. Down the allée of lime trees, past the cows and the tractor sheds. ...
  • What you can find Some general pictures of what is currently on display at Station Mill. Clear
  • “No seaside tat” An August trip is planned, and Graham is coming along this time. A large market, held twice a year down in the Vendée has been recommended, and this is where we are ultimately heading, with a few stops on the way. The ferry crossing to Cherbourg was on “moderate to rough” seas (“mer ...
  • Distressed greys, whites and blues We were directed on to another dealer ten kilometres away, and here again there was no outward sign of what lay within. The bare boarded ground floor was open plan and arranged with Swedish sofas, wooden angels, distressed farm tables, foxed mirrors, buffets – exquisite pieces, immaculate good taste. At the rear of ...
  • Country Homes and Interiors In the September issue of Country Homes and Interiors, out now, is an article about the tiny Oxfordshire cottage that is home. Clear
  • Antieks in Belgium Refurbishment work after the fire at Station Mill Antiques in Chipping Norton was nearing completion. I went over to sign my new contract and have a look at progress, stepping over pots of paint and around men in hard hats up ladders. The place looked good and felt bright and spacious. Old ...
  • The Déballage I drove up to Arnage, on the outskirts of Le Mans, a foggy drive through the deepening evening. I found the chambre d’hote and was shown to my attic room in a large house with high ceilings and polished wood floors, sitting neatly behind tall railings. Dinner was just down the road at ...
  • 18th century beauty in Anjou Now, in the life of this brocanteuse there was to come a moment of utter heart-full happiness. The previous year, I’d chanced upon a small shop in yet another beautiful white stone Anjou town. The shop had been closed but it had stayed in my memory. I had not realised then what lay behind ...
  • Thierry’s barn Next morning early I followed the map to Thierry’s house, past the misty ruins of the abbey and on through the forest until the tarmac ran out. His white van was parked by a long stone house and a bonfire of old crates crackled in the courtyard. “Je vous laisse regarder,” he said. ...
  • Quick update – I’ve moved from The Old Flight House Lovely as it is, I have decided to leave The Old Flight House and focus my efforts on Station Mill Antiques in Chipping Norton. My very best to Sally and Michael for all their dedication, hard work and great taste! Clear
  • Brocante along the Loire I’d arranged to meet Lili, a dealer in another fortified house south of the Loire. Along a still, green, tree lined river, and up to her electric gates which opened as I approached. Bon, let’s get to work, we agreed. We began in her new “Tivoli” tent which harboured the overflow ...
  • November in France The question that kept nibbling at the edges of my consciousness back then was where could I find more of the Catch-Your-Breath-Beautiful kind of furniture – the dry-scraped, pale, exquisite pieces one would see in Tetbury and at the Decorative Antiques Fair at Battersea. Wherever that was, that was where I wanted to head. ...
  • Autumn Brocante in the forest I’d put my clothes in a pile ready for the next morning and was out into the early darkness without waking Graham. The market was along a single road through the forest between Bagnoles and St Michel des Andaines – three kilometres of stalls would be setting up, I drove to the far ...
  • No rats. We left Pontorson just as the rain started, and drove east to Ducey. I was already aching with fatigue when we stopped for a coffee in a basic, modern hotel by the river, as the trees dripped and the day felt bleak. On the outskirts of the town we found a ramshackle Depot ...
  • “Mauvaise meteo” We left quietly in the dark next morning and drove to Pontorson for a Vide Grenier. The town, alas, was deserted. Lights were on in a boulangerie, but the blinds were still down. The usual preparations had been made: roads closed, red and white tape cordoning off the space where there ...
  • Wet, misty Brittany A friend gave me an advert clipped from the local paper – a new antiques centre was opening up not so far away and space was available! The next day I met Julia, the owner, and plumped for a double pitch in this lovely old building in the market town of Witney. Quite a ...
  • A bit of a time. Perhaps one shouldn’t be too emotional about selling a van. So as I cleaned and polished Moe ready for sale, I told myself that what mattered most were the experiences that came from our combined input and energy. Those would endure, certainly in my memory, and perhaps in others’ too. Moe had ...
  • Hot summer markets and more The road through La Gué de la Chaine was lined with tall plane trees. The little town was “en fete” with garlands of crepe paper flowers strung along the streets. In the municipal square stood a row of vintage tractors, rather wonderful with their sturdy engines decorated with ears of barley and crepe ...
  • Foire a la Brocante The dogs wagged little tails but didn’t leave their bed as I made a quick cup of tea. Helen had left me a jar of her home made raspberry jam. I quietly closed the door and was off into the still, bright morning. Half an hour later I was wandering past the early ...
  • Kindness & generosity on the road in France Next morning, after cherry clafouti and coffee, I asked, did Monsieur know anything about gear boxes? Sadly not. They waved me on my hesitant way with a big bag of cherries. I needed to get this problem checked, but drove on further south first to see another dealer. I pulled up after a ...
  • Lovely brocante – but what is happening to Moe? My previous trip had concluded with Moe breaking down. But with her electrical problems sorted out, the main goal of the next trip a few weeks later was an excellent market in the Perche region. I’d been there a couple of years previously and found it stimulating, varied and worthwhile. As ...
  • Joyeux Noel and a reflection on beauty A 1950’s educational school poster gives a glimpse into a French family Christmas back then. Mistletoe takes pride of place, gifts are piled unwrapped. And magic is in the air. I have two small Carnets des Menageres – Housewives’ Notebooks from 1914, used to note daily food purchases. I’d hoped for an insight into a ...
  • Broken down but full of brocante In a brocante a few kilometres down the road I come across some interesting large turned wood “balusters.” The brocanteur corrects me, “ce sont des moyeux,” cart wheel hubs that were sold joined as a pair in hardware shops. The purchaser would then separate them, and adapt them to take the spokes of ...
  • Four kilometres of vide-grenier Provisions purchased for my supper, I drove on to the dairy farm where I was to stay for two nights. Madame rather scowled at me from a field as I drove up the farm track. She was a hard-working woman with big red cheeks and sausagey fingers. Her young son and husband ...
  • Brocanteuses Back in rural Normandy, my next appointment was with a dealer only a few kilometres away and I wanted to get there before lunchtime closing. But Sylvie, as I found out she was called, said, no problem, I will be here. Sylvie showed me round both her warehouse and the two shops clustered ...
  • Antiquities but no brocante! Of course, being a brocanteuse means that wherever I go I will always be on the lookout for a lucious item here or there. But imagine the score in Crete, from whence I have just returned – intriguing Minoan sites and museums packed with artefacts – but no brocante. I did find some ...
  • French farmhouse tables and a stash of linen sheets The following morning breakfast was laid out for me in front of the huge granite fireplace but I took my coffee onto the terrace by the wisteria in full, fragrant blossom. Such abundance. The trees were full of birds and I learned the name for blue tits, “mésonges”. Off into the beautiful morning ...
  • The Old Cider Factory Brocante Jean-Francois had set up a vast Brocante in an old cider factory, with its great brick vats and huge beamed rooves, easy to find on a minor road out of town. Dark haired with ruddy cheeks and a gentle smile, he stood back to let me peer and scrutinise in the first high-ceilinged room, ...
  • Oops, missed a bit (This entry should follow on from Great Finds in Fortified Farmhouses – je m’excuse). Bowling on northwards I see a big sign for Antiquités. Following a narrow road down the side of a forest I find the tiny hamlet of Lernay. Placards and signs indicate that Lernay is up in arms against les aeoliennes ...
  • Antichita in Venice and more French brocante Winter had brought a brief trip to Venice – always utterly beautiful and mysterious. Down one side alley I’d found an antiques shop and lingered, absorbing the atmosphere, touching and looking. Here there was the workshop with pots of rabbit glue and many tools. Fine gold frames waited for restoration. A tawny ...
  • Great finds in fortified farmhouses Rested after a weekend of Nicky’s home-produced food, golden walks along field lanes (Sunday afternoons, Nicky said, the lanes get quite busy with glazed-eyed farmers driving slowly and deliberately back home, avoiding the roads and “les flics” after a heavy lunch), and long conversations by the wood burner, I drive north to meet Lilianne at ...
  • Slim pickings I’d booked a chambre d’hote just south of Le Mans, a large farmhouse with a new wing for guests. Moe was directed to a large open-sided barn where she was dwarfed by some massive agricultural equipment. Dinner would be served at 8pm. The dining room held a table big enough to accommodate ...
  • Autumn buying On a blustery November night I set off for the ferry at Portsmouth, regretfully leaving Graham at home by the wood-burner in our cottage. I’ve got myself a bit wound up actually – the euro rate is abysmal, Moe has been losing a bit of oil, I’ve not sold many large items recently, and ...
  • Just one more vide grenier…… I know there’s a vide grenier near Conches sur Ouche, but on this August day I also have a yearning for a shady patch of grass beside the Seine to enjoy the last of the afternoon. I also know though that I would only regret passing up the chance of finding some last tempting ...
  • Foire a tout on a hot afternoon Back on the road. A 1960’s garage comes into view, pumps gone, but on the concrete forecourt is a magical sign: “Brocante.” The building has been painted in white and blue – this is “L’Atelier de la Chineuse.” I walk over to the door but am too early – the ...
  • Perfecting three point turns 5am. Adrenalin soon kicks in as I load my bag into Moe, get the engine going, headlights on – I am off on a mission. Out of the village and into the deep countryside. I love seeing the day gradually emerge, and the smell of the sweet earth. There was a long ...
  • Following the Seine On a bend of the wide, languid Seine, edged by white cliffs, I came to Les Andelys. River cruise boats moored, groups of people spread out on rugs. I found a weekly market in full swing and a friendly stall holder with boxes and boxes of old linen – a clean but crumpled ...
  • A wedding and an angel head Another hot day followed. I returned to Gisors and found the small antique shop packed with gilt framed oil paintings and furniture in pristine condition. Monsieur said he’d take me round to his storage where he also had many items “dans leur jus.” He shut the shop and I drove round the ...
  • Evening in a quiet village Through a quiet village with a black dog sitting by the church. I turn into a large gravel courtyard, with farm house and many outbuildings (dépendances). A tiny, feisty woman in turquoise with a tangle of straw coloured hair comes out to greet me. My room is up a narrow wooden staircase ...
  • On the road I drove on eastwards and my list of dealers dwindled due to many closures, retirements and deaths. But, turning off my route, I found a brocante in an industrial unit sitting in the middle of farmland, all shuttered and very “Fermé” The sign announced it would open at 14h 30. A hot ...
  • An August wedding trip There is a wedding invitation waiting for me back at home. The daughter of Colombe, a friend, who I’d known in Paris in my twenties. Alice was just a little girl when I last saw her, and I cannot miss the chance to celebrate her marriage, and to see Colombe again. ...
  • Chance finds Later in the day Graham and I visited Argentan sur Creuse, prettily perched on the river. We strolled down past the old water mills, along the tree-lined banks, and – oh, look, c’est un Antiquaire! We went in to the shop at 19h 30 but Monsieur reassured us that he wouldn’t be closing ...
  • Sleeping Beauty – a different story Saturday morning, sun rise, clear sky, air scented with earth and green, happily bowling along towards discovery and possible treasures. This feeling is priceless. On down windy wooded lanes and I come to La Foret. In the small square outside the stone and faded grey facade of La Mairie is a long ...
  • Gilded orbs, hedgehogs and ladies’ bloomers While offloading and inventorying the contents of Moe before they are stacked in the Gite’s barn, I become aware of faint snufflings and shuffling in the leaves by the enormous old barn doors. Two adolescent hedgehogs the size of baked potatoes have emerged under the door and are out for their daily forage. ...
  • De Bouche a l’Oreille Francoise handed me a fine linen sheet with beautifully worked drawn threads (this is called Jours de Venise, Days of Venice)and monogramme. We examined it reverentially. “It’s good that I don’t also have a magasin de brocante,” she said, “because we’d be in competition here – we like all the same things!” And ...
  • A house near Clermont We set out at 7am for the drive to meet Francoise at the old house near Clermont. The landscape changed from wooded hills, pastures and farms to wide plains with volcanic mountain plugs on the vast horizon. I’m so looking forward to seeing Francoise and the possibilities of the day ahead. After ...
  • Perfect day We arrive at our ivy covered Gite in a hamlet with a population of four. Extravagant bushes of blue hydrangeas surround the house and barn. Monsieur and Madame are there to welcome us and show us around. They open cupboard doors to show us where they keep their cherries in eau de ...
  • Off to the Limousin I am sitting in a deeply lush, sunny garden that runs along the canal just outside Loches, a lovely town with fortified royal chateau. Across the water, next to our stone built chambre d’hote, sits the old Moulin with its ancient water wheel. This June trip is the first of the year – ...
  • The key to the old orchard Madame had left a kettle and tea on a tray with a packet of Madeleine sponges for my 5 am petit dejeuner. Catherine opted for a more leisurely start to the day, so I drove off as quietly as I could, into the dark morning. Another stony grey day in Lisieux. ...
  • Lisieux November in northern France is not the most agreeable month for visiting brocantes and markets. We find a few dealers in their cold barns, all bunched up in padded jackets, but there is little to inspire. So we drive south to call in on a dealer I’ve been wanting to visit, and park in ...
  • Commodes and mirrors A November trip with my good friend Catherine. We’ve come over for the annual large Vide Grenier in Lisieux, and are fortunate that the date coincides with a large “Puces” market in Caen. We drive straight off the boat on a chill Friday morning and straight to the Parc des Expositions. Two ...
  • A week in Provence is not enough We drove out to see Madame in Vaugines. In her white painted village house with a fig tree in the courtyard she had still more boxes of books. She told me her grandfather had been a baker in Biscarosse and sold me some enormous registers from the early 1900’s documenting his ...
  • The road to Provence We drove on hairpin bends through the Ardeche gorges and into heavy mist and rain. Tendrils of cloud fingered the mountain slopes. Graham headed off towards scenic mountain passes and I headed for a brocante outside Montelimar – nothing too inspiring, but loaded a few folding chairs and a side table in the ...
  • Diary of a Brocanteuse appears on YouTube I am experimenting with posting my blog in words and pictures on YouTube. This is the “pilot”!
  • Chateau adventures In September Graham and I set off on a trip down to the Luberon and the Mediterranean – he on his bike, me in my van. We travel in convoy part of the way but inevitably lose each other outside Orleans. I arrive first at our Chateau chambre d’hote on the outskirts ...
  • Le Mans I leave the next day for Le Mans and take a meandering route through rolling landscapes and forests to call in at a few more dealers. Fleeting, drive-past glimpses of grand houses down allees of trees. Eventually negotiate the tangle of dual carriageways around Le Mans to find my chambre d’hote, a picturesque ...
  • A perfect summer day Next morning as I’m tiptoeing out the kitchen, I spy the two family dogs in comical array. Oscar, the wire haired hound, is barely contained in a little dog bed and George, the Jack Russell, spreads out in the large one. George apparently likes to share Oscar’s bed, Oscar prefers to sleep alone ...
  • Good relations Further on I stop in a village to meet up with a dealer I’ve visited before. A wedding celebration is in full swing under a marquee next to the church. In the large warehouse I find an 18th century wooden altar surround stacked in pieces. I buy the dusky pink, elephant grey and ...
  • Can you still buy Quinquina? July. The weather is hot. I’m on an extended trip over to the Perche region and down to Le Mans for one of the large dealer’s fairs. I’m covering new territory, but also crossing the tracks of weekend visits made in my early twenties with my Parisian boyfriend to his father’s ...
  • Blockades and paddling Back again in May. French fishermen are blockading ports. Red painted slogans strung up on old sheets, and thick black smoke from burning tyres at many of the roundabouts as we drive out of Caen, instead of Cherbourg. I have brought my mother with me on this short trip. She has ...
  • En route! We drive to visit an English dealer who seemed oblivious to the fact that I might want to look around the shop, or eventually to leave! We were regaled with tales of poor health and many operations. I didn’t find anything to buy there either. A few kilometres down the road we ...
  • February buying Three months later, I am back at the same café in Falaise, at 7.30am, this time with Graham. We are both glad of a grand café creme as the town shows signs of coming to life. Our first stop is back at Raymond’s to collect my pile of little objects, that have sat ...
  • Fingerless gloves and hot chocolate The next day we met a dealer in an industrial unit with shutters rolled up to let in the light – and the freezing morning air. Fingerless gloves are a must! We talk as I make some purchases – a pleasing oil painting of a Provencal town, a sturdy fruitwood chest of drawers. ...
  • Ce soir a la lune….. We had a rendezvous in a neighbouring hamlet that afternoon – with the younger brother of Papi. Three people emerging through a picket gate from the allotments pointed us down a narrow lane. Raymond was out for the day hunting (my mistake with dates) and he had told his wife that she should ...
  • A Winter Trip I take a winter trip over towards Lisieux with my old friend Hope. We roll off the ferry at 6.30am, seeing a glimmer of dawn on the horizon. We stop for a coffee when the cafes open at 7.30 and look over the day’s itinerary. I usually have with me a long ...
  • Brocantes and Depot Ventes Sometimes I find nothing or little of interest as I drive from place to place, and then I chance upon the unexpected and delightful. In a small village, next to the worn stone church tower, I found a brocante in what had been the local theatre. Faded, painted canvas was still hanging over ...
  • White doves and sailor boys Off again, direction Angers and beyond. In Le Lion d’Angers I stopped to visit the local antiquaire but regretfully only bought some 1940’s postcards of the town. “Ah, but you have a photo of me!” he said. The little boy standing in front of the Vieille Eglise, he assured me, was him, ...
  • Suits of armour, moustaches and woodworm. The chambre d’hote in question, at Ruille Froid Fonds, was an ancient farm house, creeper clad, populated with suits of armour, beautiful furniture and an ancient wooden staircase that leaned. I asked Monsieur how long his family had lived in the house. “Only five generations,” he said from beneath his generous moustache. My plan ...
  • More dust, more cobwebs! I like September trips to France, when the hubbub of summer is over but there are still plenty of markets happening. Graham and I set off on a bit of road trip – me in my van and he on his motorbike. 1,300 miles of hot and glorious days, getting grimey ...
  • Sunny seaside marketing Sunday morning, at a more reasonable hour, was the annual Vide Grenier at Barneville Carteret – two small seaside towns of great charm on either side of an estuary. Highly reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s “Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot” – what a dose of hilarious seaside nostalgia. We parked up in a field and Elizabeth ...
  • A flower pot, a spider and a bunch of plastic flowers. Elizabeth and I arrived for the auction at 14h, held outside a large shed on Rue de l’Ancien Presbytere, a narrow stone walled lane down the side of the cemetery. A crowd was gathered and soon the spectacle began. The auctioneer, Le Commisseur Priseur, addressed as “Maitre”, took the stand. “Hands ...
  • A vide grenier and an unexpected auction. Downstairs, Madame had set up the automatic coffee machine the night before, and left me a newspaper clipping next to the pots of home-made apricot and greengage jam: an auction of the contents of an antique shop was to be held that afternoon. Good news doesn’t come much better than that! ...
  • Our first stop was an antiques fair at Briquebec. Our first stop was an antiques fair at Briquebec, a pretty town with ruined castle and the quintessentially French, ivy covered hotel with red awnings nearby. Fairs offer not only the chance to browse all under one roof, but also to meet new dealers and those I had already visited. Madame Lannaud is ...
  • Summer trips are easier in every way. Summer trips are easier in every way. A calm late afternoon Channel crossing with broad horizons of palest greys, gentle clouds and shafts of creamy sun. My dear friend Elizabeth came with me early one July to stay at the lovely manor house near Valognes. The dainty purple and yellow violas were ...
  • The Marche Paul Bert was more lively. The Marche Paul Bert was more lively, with some beautifully presented stands opening onto the narrow lanes. At lunchtime the dealers, mostly in sheepskin hats, thick coats and scarves, pulled up eighteenth century tables and chairs and sat down to their hot lunches, baguettes, cheeses and bottles of wine. Not a plastic packed ...
  • The next trip however was made in mid-winter. The next trip however was made in mid-winter, to the well known Paris markets at St Ouen. Whilst I’d had no concerns about leaving a van parked up full of furniture in the countryside, I was less sure about Paris. So I’d booked a hotel with underground car parking. Arriving from Le ...
  • As I’d been buying pieces….. As I had been buying pieces, I’d been decanting them into the old barn at the Preuilly house. The morning of our drive up to Cherbourg became a focused exercise: How To Get Everything Back into Moe. Another realisation: two people packing a van will probably have very different ideas of how ...
  • I’ve developed a sort of half trance way of looking at markets. I’ve developed a sort of half trance way of looking at markets. Whilst oblivious to whatever else is going on around me, it is a sort of visual grazing. In order to stop and buy there has to be a positive internal reaction, a “must have it” urge. Over time I have ...
  • Loches was the venue this time. Loches was the venue this time. And the white barriers were out across many of the streets with “Route barree” signs scattered around. We weren’t the first to arrive but there was still a good deal of unloading going on. My attention was drawn to an open backed lorry stacked with metal ...
  • The first purchases were made… The first purchases were made from a dealer with a large showroom, courtyard and barns. The barns were full of items still “dans leur jus” (- in their juice) as the French say, waiting for restoration. I found I was much more interested in the contents of the barns – climbing over obstacles, ...
  • Getting ready for the first trip… Getting ready for the first trip over to the house in Preuilly was full of excitement and sleepless nights – I researched markets and dealers around the Touraine, ordered Millers Guides and French parallels. A friend put me in touch with an English dealer who had lived in France – he offered many helpful ...
  • I’d lived and worked in France… I’d lived and worked in France, I’d worked as a tour guide, I’d worked as an interior decorator in the past – and this new venture promised to weave so many strands of my life together: the chance to use the language again, to map read, plan itineraries and discover lanes and vistas, staying in ...
  • I’d really, really like to hire a van… “I’d really, really like to hire a van and go over to France and buy up loads of brocante….” I’d been saying this for quite some time, years actually when, following a walk in the Derbyshire Dales with my friend Hope, a thrilling plan emerged. Hope’s new partner was selling his house in ...
  • Vague signs were there from early on, I suppose… Dreaming repeatedly, as a child, about a room – always the same red walled room, my dreamer’s gaze moving slowly around it, taking in detail after detail of how it was arranged. A bed time chapter of “The Borrowers” arousing a sleepy intrigue about the tiny dwelling of those resourceful little people, how they made their ...