The French have three general categories for the type of goods shown at their various fairs and markets. A marche aux puces is a flea market. A foire a la brocante features bric a brac and a salon des antiquaires has the highest quality antiques. As importers of antiques from England, Belgium and France, we have run the gamut of these markets always searching for treasures. As interior designers, we have been known to pass up the safe, predictable piece and buy instead the quirky , off-beat item because we knew exactly how it could be used in an interior as a focal point or touch of whimsy.
Buying trips require one to be extremely focused. There is a lot of ground to cover in a relatively short period . Get a good night’s rest, take a flashlight and wear comfortable shoes.
For shoppers who have only a brief time in the following cities, these are the “don’t miss” places:
Camden Passage is located in the North London Borough of Islington and offers both a flea market and permanent shops. The market opens about 7 a.m. every Wednesday . and runs from 9 a.m.. til 2 p.m on Saturday. Although the booth owners may change, the shops have less turnover. One long time business, Keith Skeel, has a reputation for high quality, unique merchandise. By subway take the Northern Line to Angel
Bermondsey Market: By 4 a.m. each Friday, booth set-up begins. BE THERE EARLY By 10:00 all the good stuff is gone. A large flea market with inside and outside booths, Bermondsey has some bric-a-brac but also very interesting accessories. Many dealers buy here. Oftentimes, reproductions pass for the real thing, so novices should beware. Located at Bermondsey St and Long Lane, take the Underground's Northern Line to the London Bridge or Borough stops.
Portobello Road: One of the better known markets, this Saturday event offers merchandise that is a step up from Bermondsey. It is a great source for pillows made from antique fragments, old trims, and lap boxes. Vendors start lining the street in front of the shops at 5:30 a.m. and by 7:30 the street is bustling. Many dealers begin closing at 3:00 p.m..
Many of London’s finest antique shops are located on Fulham Road, New Bond Street and Pimlico Road. It is worth the trip to see some of the city’s finest antiques.
Consider staying at 11 Cadogan Gardens, a small hotel not far from the Victoria and Albert Museum in Chelsea.
If in Paris, even briefly, the one "must see" area for antiques is the Paris Flea Market with about 1600 dealers. It’s open Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 9:30- 6:00, take the subway to Porte de Clignancourt. From there, it is a short walk. Hurry past the tables of socks and t-shirts and head to the areas marked Paul Bert, Serpette, Vernaison and Biron. There you will find the "finds" of the show in both furniture, art and accessories. If you don't speak French, be sure to take a pad and pencil. It’s amazing how you can negotiate on paper.
A charming place to stay, or at least visit, is the hotel L'Hotel at 13 rue des Beaux-Arts. Oscar Wilde was a resident in his later years. On each floor the rooms are located off a circular hallway which is open to the lobby below. The halls have fabric covered, upholstered and button tufted walls and the whole building is truly unique.
Of course there are numerous fairs in these cities and the country fairs abound, the ones mentioned above are the largest and most well known. The vetted antique shows are an educational resource if only to look and ask questions. If you are planning a trip, do your homework and find what is offered during your stay. Then put on those comfortable shoes and head out. Bon chance!
*Published in NFocus magazine August 1998