First buying trip and tips for buying vintage in France

Feb 02, 2018

In starting Scenes & Stories I knew I was lucky to have the option of sourcing stock in France. My parents are based in Burgundy and I grew up there.

My love for markets started as a teenager when one summer I decided to empty my parents house of what I considered to be “surplus” and go and sell at “Vide Greniers”.

Vide Greniers (literal translation: empty attics) are a merge between what we call carboot sales and antiques markets here in the UK.

Vide greniers are quite an institution in the summer months, with people emptying their houses of wears they no longer need. The thing is, French people don’t move as much as English folk do.

The “Maison de Famille” passed down from generation to generation is still very much a reality and so when it is decided to make room by selling wears at a vide grenier it is not uncommon for genuine vintage and antique items to end up at the display. Leftovers from grandparents and great-grandparents that younger generations have little use for but for someone like me, a vintage and antique craving junkie, they are gold!

I should also add that in Burgundy there are a lot of old farm and vineyard houses that hold an extra dose of beautiful craft wares!

I went on my first official buying trip in June this year. It turned out to be in full heatwave with temperatures reaching 42C. There isn’t much breeze in Burgundy with the sea being nowhere near, so loading and unloading treasures from vans in those sorts of temperatures was a lot more strenuous than it needed to be!

Without revealing all of my secrets, here are my top tips on where to find vintage and antiques in France.

 

  1. Vide Grenier

As mentioned above these are a real treat for anyone looking for French style vintage. They are mainly held on weekends throughout the summer and there are websites you can visit to find out where the nearest are: vide-greniers.org is the main one. If you are visiting France it is also worth having a look on the side of the smaller roads for signs announcing the next big sale.

They start early in the morning just like any market and go on well into the afternoon. There is usually a “Buvette” serving drinks, and if you are lucky a group of local ladies will be making fresh gauffres (waffles) and crepes. Yum! Bring lots of cash and be prepared to haggle, it is perfectly ok and accepted!

At the few I visited this summer I picked up amazing stock for Scenes & Stories but also a few bits for me.

Some great vintage school posters dating back to the 60s, a vintage north African decorative cage, lots of industrial lighting, some grape boxes and many more items which I will keep as a surprise for now.

 

  1. Emmaus

Emmaus are the charity shops of all charity shops in France. There isn’t as much of a charity shop presence on the high street, like there is in the UK and most people will donate to the Emmaus. L’Abbé Pierre founded this charity as a place to welcome and help people get back on their feet and find work. Their donation centres and shops are a huge, well-oiled machine and lots of the people they help actually find employment within their centres, sorting the donations and working in the shops.

There are small local shops with a great selection of clothes, linens, vintage Kitchenalia and some furniture and then there are the huge centres, spread over several warehouses with row upon row of furniture, carpets, every item you can possibly imagine. Of course not all of it is vintage, and of course you need to be ready for some serious rummaging. There is no haggling here, prices are set, and they are rather clever about their prices. Most of the items, including furniture can be picked up for just a few euros and then some pieces, which they know are more valuable, will be more. But always lower than “market value”.

You need to go fairly often to really come across the gems, but I love buying vintage linen from there as well as beautiful embroidered pieces. I have found a few amazing pieces of furniture which once re-upholstered will be going straight into the Scenes & Stories inventory.

Buying from Emmaus is great; it’s like an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures ready to be discovered but at the same time you know you are doing good as all the proceeds go into helping more vulnerable people both in France and in projects abroad.

When it comes to transporting your finds back to the UK, you may have gotten over excited and forgotten that you came to France with nothing but cabin luggage or that your car is already packed with 3 kids and a dog! Don’t panic though there are more transporters than you think who cross the channel ever week and offer space in their vans. I have found that the quickest place to get competitive quotes quickly is on transport bidding websites such as anyvan.com or shiply.com. Make sure you give as much detail as possible, including size of the items and a picture is possible. It really helps the bidding transporter to give you an exact quote and I have found that the more details you give the lower the price goes.

If all you need to send back are a few small items then consider the local post office. If you package everything well yourself, no brown paper though, the French post don’t like it! You will find it isn’t that expensive to send items back to the UK. You can also have a look at places such as www.mondialrelay.fr or www.interparcel.com you will need access to a printer to print the labels but those are websites to find very competitive courier prices, either door to door or to a local drop off point from which you can collect on your return to the UK.

 

If you are going with the specific intention of buying lots, then the best way is still to go with a van yourself. You will save on the cost of your own fair there and back, will have the van to go from one place to another and you can bring everything back yourself at the end of the trip. Just be sure not to buy more than you can fit in, and check which category your van will fall into on the Eurotunnel. Something like a Luton Van must travel through the freight channel, which can be a real pain and take a lot of time at the moment with the extra checks being carried out in Calais.

 

I can’t wait to show you all the amazing pieces I got in France for Scenes & Stories. In the meantime, if you want to get in touch to discuss how I can help you source a special piece you might be looking for then don’t hesitate to email me at jenny@scenesandstories.com or get in touch via the social media links above.