Lovers of all things vintage and French will be well acquainted with images of brocantes and stories of fabulous finds. But are they really as bountiful as we're lead to believe? I've been travelling regularly to France for the last two years buying stock for my website. I've visited lots of brocantes and the quality can be variable. The truth is, it depends what you are hoping to buy.
Much like a UK based flea market, the bulk of the wares are general household goods and small decorative items, such as glassware and china. Don't imagine you're going to find amazing French beds, armoires and buffets. Whilst some brocantes will have furniture, these days it tends to be much smaller items such as chairs and occasional tables.
There's no doubt that rummaging around brocantes is great fun and a wonderful way to submerse yourself in a bit of French culture, but aside from that there are a few items that are really worth looking out for. The first is vintage coffee grinders. These iconic pieces work wonderfully as decorative items, instantly adding a touch of French style to a kitchen. They are also practical (if a little time consuming) making some of the smoothest coffee you'll ever taste!
Coffee grinders can be found in a variety of colours and styles. The most collectible are those made by Peugot Freres, with the distance metal badge (below).
Another maker to look out for is Grulet, easily identifiable by it's diamond shaped masker's mark.
The contrasting colours and styles of vintage coffee grinders look fantastic lined up together on a dresser or a shelf. If you want to dabble in a bit of dealing, there's also a reasonable profit to be made, although prices in France vary enormously depending on the condition and quality.
The other great item to invest in is lighting. French chandeliers are very desirable but not that easy to slip in a suitcase! Sconces on the other hand are perfect. These are essentially wall lights. You can find them as pairs or mix and match at home with individual styles.
Prices will vary according to the age and condition. It's easy to source replacement bulb holders in the UK so don't be put off by broken or missing decorative parts. The only thing you will need to do is to get them re-wired by an electrician so that they meet UK lighting standards. This doesn't usually cost a great deal. Once polished and lit up they can be a real talking point and add drama and glamour to any room.
Ali Stokes is the owner of the UK based online boutique Dazzle Vintage Furniture. The website specialises in selling authentic French furniture and accessories which have been imported from France.