Simone B moved to France from America in 2011. She discovered the French ‘brocant’ (a cross between an antique fair and a flea market) and a love affair ensued. Here she tells us how and why everyone should take up fleaing this summer.
“I’ve been creative and very visual for as long as I can remember and I love things that are one of a kind. So my love affair with the flea market was probably inevitable! My first trip to France changed the way I looked at things. It was probably the ‘ah ha’ moment for me and I was addicted.
Lots of people are beginning to appreciate the quality and appeal of vintage pieces, and I think this is why the whole shabby chic or ‘pre-loved’ style is growing in popularity. Also, with a vintage piece you always know that your look is going to be unique – it’s not going to show up in everyone else’s home! I really enjoy having items in my home that have existed much longer than I have – it gives them a character and soul that new items just don’t have.
Last summer I started a blog called ‘Fleaing France’ as more and more people started to ask me about my flea market and brocante experiences. I want the blog to be for everyone – those that love vintage will be drawn to it for the photos taken in the brocantes. My hope is that anyone inspired visually finds something in the images or the words to spark their creativity.
If you’re heading to a flea market or a brocante for the first time, making your first purchase can be overwhelming. It’s really important not to be afraid of making a ‘bad’ buy. The price you pay may not be the cheapest you’ll ever find, but if you love the piece it will always be worth it. The pieces we’ve over paid for don’t haunt us, it’s the ones that we’ve walked away from and can never find again that we regret.
I sometimes feel that every trip I make to a flea market is like a history lesson. Listening and learning about French history can be helpful in developing your knowledge in the long run, but if you like something you find, it really doesn’t matter what year it came from. You’ll find every era and style at a flea market.
People often ask me if there’s a particular frame of mind or set of objectives that they should have before heading to the flea market. You do have to be willing to accept what is in front of you. It can be helpful to know what you would like to find, but you have to be prepared to appreciate what you do find. You never know what the day’s market will hold and that is part of the excitement!
I’m also often asked if there is a best time of day to head to a flea. But that’s a trick question! Arriving too early means that vendors aren’t set up and you could miss something at another stall while you’re waiting for a dealer to unload. Of course there’s also the chance that if you arrive after the first unpacking, you’ve missed out on the best pieces. I believe that you find what you are meant to find, no matter what hour you arrive. I’ve found amazing pieces at the beginning and at the very end of a day at market. I recently found at 1700s wooden crown as I was leaving a brocant, after being there for over two hours!
The rule of the flea or brocante is cash cash cash. Credit cards are a rarity. Most dealers in France will accept cheques from a French bank but you’re always safest with cash!
When it comes to bargaining, everything depends on the dealer. Some are notoriously difficult and others are more gracious. First and foremost, always begin your conversation with ‘Bonjour Madam’ or ‘Bonjour Monsieur’. In most instances your time to browse through the wares of a stall will remain uninterrupted unless you choose to engage the dealer. Always ask the price of an item before you begin to negotiate. Many dealers will offer a lower price right away, but it’s better to know what price you’re bargaining from! Finally, remember that the flea market is often the livelihood of most dealers. Being courteous and appreciative of their items goes a long way when you’re working to negotiate a price.
Of course, many of the treasures you might find and buy at a flea market may be in need of some tender loving care. If you’re new to furniture restoration, I’d suggest putting together a starter kit including a hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, a spirit level and a measuring tape – these are the essentials. It’s also helpful to have a good glue, clamps or twine to hold things in place and some steel wool, sand paper or a sanding sponge to get rid of paint and what not.
It can also be useful to create a visual or physical mood board of what you like before you head out to a market. A theme will emerge in colour, style or both. Shop from the basis of your mood board, choosing items that fit your style and remember that you won’t go wrong if you buy what you love!”
Follow Simone’s flea market experiences around France and gather more tips and useful information on her blog.
There’s also a great list of flea markets across France, listed by individual departments on www.brocabrac.fr