Firstly a big hello, and thanks to Emily for having me! As a long-time personal reader of The Beetle Shack, it’s a privilege to be writing here.
I’ve run my own online vintage business for some years now, and it’s led me to discover some wonderful markets (often before dawn!), and also parts of the world. Hopefully I can share a little of my own thoughts on vintage style based what I have seen, take you on some ‘virtual’ tours through some amazing markets, and also write a little about solo travel…a new-found passion of mine, and something I would recommend to anyone.
Today though, is about vintage style in France, and how the French approach buying for their home. In Australia, we tend to follow trends more closely. We have successful magazines presenting us the latest interior trends, and this can help us choose what to buy. Possibly things like copper, concrete planters, bunting, rattan, multi-coloured felt ball rugs, anything with a chevron print. Sound familiar?
So let’s hop over to France and consider their outlook…
The French don’t follow trends. This also rings true with their approach to other things, like food, and fashion. The French stick to what is tried-and-true, and what they love. In the home, this often means much of their furniture and decorative items are old, and kept for many years, sometimes generations. Just like a vintage Chanel bag, an antique farmhouse table, for example, is something that surpasses trends and its style doesn’t fade. My advice would be not to be guided by home trends, and look around at what you have already. If you want to add something, shop only occasionally, and only choose what you instinctively and immediately love!
The French love to repurpose their vintage and use it in every room. Most of the vintage I find for my online store is French, simply because it is classic and excellent quality. The French made things exceptionally well, so it would be wasteful not to repurpose beautiful things where they can. Fabric is a good example of this: linen tea towels are made into pillow covers; at large vintage markets you will find armchairs upholstered in old linen; grain sacks are used as doormats; and old linen sheets made into curtains. This is carried through the home – not just the odd statement cushion. To some of us it may still seem a little quirky, but it is a common approach for the French. So too, is bringing a folding outdoor table, rust and all, into the living room, or even vintage terracotta pots wired up as pendant lights. Perhaps that’s not for you, but it’s easy to find a chipped jug and use that as a vase, instead of buying a new one. I have a huge ‘La Parfait’ old preserving jar I got for one euro that stored all our lemons…then it was a vase…and currently it’s housing coffee pods.
Vintage markets are a way of life. In France, vintage & antique markets are called ‘brocantes’ and smaller flea markets ‘vide-greniers’. And there are a lot of them. Of course we have our vintage markets and fairs in Australia, but the French take it to a whole new level! Anyone and everyone, young and old, will be at a weekend brocante. Not just for avid lovers of vintage, it’s a common past-time to spend a couple of hours looking for useful, decorative things for your home. (I think the French secretly know their vintage wares are just too beautiful to pass up.) If you have a weekly bric-a-brac market near you, visit more often – the earlier the better – a bonus is you see the sun rise. Then reward yourself afterwards with pain au chocolate!
Imperfect perfection. Chipped wall paint, cracked tiles, frayed edges on armchairs, a mismatched collection of old pots and preserving jars in the kitchen, a broom kept in the corner, that antique farmhouse table with its hundreds of scratches. Thanks to Instagram, we love to style our homes. In real-life French homes, it’s a lot more rustic. It is imperfectly perfect, but how? The French don’t tend to overfill a room with ‘stuff’. Houses, particularly in rural France, are sparsely and simply furnished, with well-loved and valued objects. Pare it right back.
Have confidence and know what you like. Ah, the quiet, inner confidence of the French. Instead of letting trends guide them, they may add something to the home, but only if they truly love it. There is emotion tied up in our homes, so add to it slowly with objects you have a connection with. For me, it’s often vintage pieces full of charm and chippy character that have a story behind them. So whether you’re passionate about vintage or not, toss that copy of Home Beautiful aside, and go with your gut feel! If you would like inspiration, I would recommend a photography book, instead of magazines (for French vintage, try books by Sebastien Siraudeau and Josephine Ryan).
Alison created Bayside Vintage in 2011, an online store for authentic vintage, and blogs about vintage finds and French travels. She lives Bayside in Melbourne in an old weatherboard cottage with her husband and their two energetic boys. Alison’s passion for hunting down treasures has seen her scour flea markets through Paris and Provence. Her vintage has been featured in publications in Australia, the US and Europe. At The Beetle Shack she will share her thoughts on vintage in the home, take us on tours of some amazing markets, show us some tiny French villages, and talk a little about solo travel.