Chatou Brocante and Antiques


We’ve been doing a bit of work on the house again, and this time the shower-room is taking shape. There just the physical water connection, a shower screen and a mirror left to do, and when it comes to mirrors, there’s nothing better than trying to pick up an antique one, especially when the antiques faire at Chatou is on.

We’d never been to this particular fair before and so didn’t know what to expect. The brocante is laid out on a small island in the middle of the river Seine, just outside of Paris. It was mid-week so not too many people were there, but it was huge and fabulous, and there were plenty of makeshift restaurants to choose from in the middle of the day.img_1325-2

What I liked best was the artistry of some of the stands, and there was plenty that I would have loved to buy, though the mirror remained elusive!img_1310img_1311img_1326

There were so many amazing urns and cloches, but our bartering didn’t manage to get us any bargains!img_1327I so nearly went for the pineapple, but “husband chez nous” didn’t look away for long enough.. it was after all “mission mirror”!img_1316I loved this one, a grey and gilt trumeau mirror….the price was to die for too!

And after all, why have one when you can have three!img_1318-1img_1322img_1330

So many lovely things that it was hard to head home.img_1309img_1319

But since the great mirror hunt continues, there’s still the excuse to come back for more. The basin is very lonely all by itself.

Junk Shop “Finds” – And Restoring a Table.


Husband à l’Etranger has been home on gardening leave for over a month now, awaiting his next “mission”, and has quite definitely been leading me astray! Not more than two days can pass before he’s chomping at the bit to get to a local brocante and have a rummage through all that’s out on display. There are several antique fairs and junk shops within a few short minutes of our house, and this morning, after both of us had dragged ourselves out of bed at 5am to get our 14 year old to his “stage” or work experience placement, and then i’d been kindly allowed to get back to sleep again while he did the car trip to the boulangerie at the centre of the “stage”, it seemed only moments before bacon sandwiches and freshly squeezed orange juice appeared at my bedside. Clearly Husband à l’Etranger was keen to get “antiquing” before the best things were gone!

Every time we get in the car we say firmly to one another “You’re not allowed to buy anything” – knowing full well that December the fifteenth is nearly upon us and represents the awful day when the council take our “Taxe d’Habitation”(resident’s tax), and our “Taxe Foncière”(home owner’s tax) out of our bank accounts in one enormous, and impoverishing chunk, leaving us destitute moments before Christmas. We always look at each other, our faces a picture of hardfast committment to the “no spending” rule, and then spend the morning hoping the other will crack the first.

Last week, Husband à l’Etranger had come home with two brass “fire-dogs” under his arm, which drew some chuntering on my part about promises and too much junk in the garage until he declared that they cost the grand total of 4€, and would so improve the burning capacity of our fireplace and consumption of logs, that he was let off.

The week before he managed to unearth 12 wineglasses that I had completely overlooked that matched EXACTLY our other 6 wineglasses that I had bought in an antique shop two years earlier. We both decided that this was a special occasion because now we could invite more than 6 people to dinner, and they were only 20€. You can imagine the conversation that ensued – Clearly they were meant for us and no-one in their right minds could turn down a bargain like that…could they? Even after the stall owner took 10 minutes to locate, having gone for a coffee, and with such a “cooling off period”, the glasses left with us. A dinner party is in the cooking.

But the largest item that has come home, is one that I bought without his “say-so”. About a month ago I came home with a dining-room table. It was in quite a state, and no-one in their right minds could say that it was pretty. But I had got fed up with the kids arguing about who could put their feet on the bar running under the centre of our old table, and squeaks about squashed feet, and then I discovered this one in a junk shop with no central bar and I knew that with a bit of t.l.c it was a keeper.

It sat in the garage while I blew hot and cold about it, and then finally a fortnight ago I got to work.

So here it is , all orangey red varnish, looking very forlorn:

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and a day later, sanded clean:WP_20151103_002

I’m not a big fan of varnish, so when I discovered our local DIY shop sold “invisible” varnish I decided to give it a try. Afterwards I painted the legs with a white primer, followed by a pale grey/taupe matt paint and rubbed them lightly to distress them, and here is the end product:

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It has a neat table extension system (rallonges) where the end pieces slide under the main table to shorten it.WP_20151108_002But for now we’re just getting used to where we put our feet…

Perhaps in front of the fire next to the “dogs” suggests Husband à l’Etranger.

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In Which You Can’t Chose Your Relatives!


WP_20140119_011About five o’clock yesterday afternoon, mid-tennis lesson, my ex-neighbours and antiques friends sent me a message, inviting me to view their new house, and promising to keep me there until I’d eaten dinner.  Not wanting to turn down a French dinner invitation, by seven I was hammering on their door, my car cleverly already pointing downhill on their narrow road in a homeward direction, thus avoiding any awkward manoevres a wine glass or two later on.

Their house, which i’d seen in a very shabby state of distress a week or so before the removal date was inevitably now a picture of perfection. Antiques husband had just arrived back from the coast with Turbot fresh from the fisherman’s market on the quay and Antiques wife was busy stirring crème fraiche into finely sliced leeks. Cooling on the counter was a freshly baked Tarte Tatin.

Somewhere between the first glass of Champagne and the Tarte Tatin, Antiques husband asked me if I wanted to see his latest purchase and we all trooped into the Salon to view an unframed portrait of very beautiful woman from the early 19th century sitting in her fine blue gown against a deep almost black background. Alongside, cheek to jowel, a multitude of other protraits, all gazing loftily at us from out of their frames.

Having, with a certain level of irony, remarked on the striking family resemblance, the colour of eyes, the angle of the nose and so on, I asked him where he’d found her, and only when he replied ‘The Zenith’ of course, did I realise how close I’d come to missing the most beautiful fair of the Antiques calendar – The Rouen Puces. We laughed about his new addition to the family whilst Antiques husband scrabbled in his wallet and handed me an unused ticked for the final day at the brocante.

So it was that today found me wandering the five halls of antiques and bric à brac and wishing I had a tidy sum of money burning a hole in my pocket.

WP_20140119_019The problem with the ‘Puces’ is that invariably, within about five minutes, it clearly becomes necessary to move house to one with twice as many rooms and several ‘dependances’ or renovate-able outbuildings. Only moments later one is sighing about the misfortune and hardship suffered since the ancestors hadn’t left an enormous country ‘pile’ to inherit. The bearded gentleman above certainly looks a kindly and benevolent fellow, and I considered adopting him and taking him home with me – but first I made a tour of the halls.

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WP_20140119_006I rather liked the detail trim on these Louis XVI chairs,

WP_20140119_007and the paint effects on these pieces of furniture.

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WP_20140119_005There seemed to be more painted furniture this year than last, and in my mind’s eye I had already placed several pieces in my new baronial home!

WP_20140119_020This rather wonderful dresser was clearly essential for my new vast servants kitchen, though since I liked the display of old labelled pharmacy jars on the shelves within, I decided I would need a second closed dresser in which to store the more every-day items.

WP_20140119_002Clearly things were getting ahead of themselves, so I decided to find a more parsimonious ancestor to encourage a bit of frugality and restraint. I felt that he would have been a little more eclectic and inclined to live off the land.

WP_20140119_014But it was hard not to dream, and not long afterwards, my illusions to grandure had once more returned, and I found myself thinking of beds and armoirs, of which there were several to choose from.

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This bed complete with it’s very own ancestor!

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A Louis XV style bureau..

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and this lovely banquette.WP_20140119_021But firmly setting aside all visions of a Louis XV boudoir, and under by the firm eye of this imposing gentleman, I settled to the task in hand ..

WP_20140119_003..to find a small French chair for my rather more modest bedroom. And after several minutes of hard bargaining the stall holder was carrying a lovely battered Louis XV chair to my car, whilst I took one final glance around at the remaining portraits.WP_20140119_001

But this glamorous woman was no match for the outstanding beauty of Antiques Husband’s ‘arriere grande maman’, so I turned my back on her musing to myself that..

While you can’t choose your relatives, you can at least these days select your ancesters!

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Shoaled Out!


WP_20131116_006Inspired by the Normandy coastline, its abundance of little creeks and inlets, and its majestic chalk cliffs which dominate the coastline, this shoal of fishes in fabrics inspired by the Impressionist painters who graced the region around the 1860’s are filled with beautiful scented Provencale lavender.

Last year the entire shoal sold out in a matter of hours, and I find them once again in great demand and have been busy “creating” when I find a rare moment of peace. The scented “poissons” are perfect for laying between layers of clothes in a chest of drawers, or hanging from a lone door handle to gently fragrance a room. I should know, because with 50 poisson already wallowing in the shallows of my grandmother’s old wooden trough, my home smells wonderful!

If you would like a few to buy as gifts this Christmas for an elderly aunt or an ageing grandmother, contact me in the comments section and I will be in touch.

This shoal have been netted by my children’s school Christmas Fête,

..but there are plenty more making their way upstream!

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The Rouen Puces .. And The Tête de Veau!


Yesterday ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ and I went to the Rouen Puces together for the first time since living in France. The Rouen Puces are advertised as ‘the most beautiful indoor brocante in France’ and for a nominal entry fee it is a wonderful way to pass a day wandering amongst beautiful antiques and bric-a-brac.

There are five halls to wander through, brocanteurs packed together, sometimes with tables loaded with lamps, or bibelots (ornaments) and othertimes with complete room-sets of beautiful French antique furniture, lamps and paintings on the walls. ‘Husband à l’Etranger and I were in heaven!

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This year we were both on a bit of a mission. Having stayed in the chateau a few weeks earlier and having some beautiful ornate plasterwork ceilings in our apartment, we were on the lookout for a chandelier, or at very least a pair of Girondoles (table top chandeliers). Having passed a good three hours ‘flaning’ the halls,(a word specific to strolling through brocantes) as every good ‘flaneur’ should, it began to dawn on us that we were getting hungry!

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The Rouen Puces have made over one hall to an impromptu restaurant. However, in true French style, this was not any old basic restaurant! At a guess the hall could seat a couple of hundred diners, and the ‘menu du jour’ was written out on huge blackboards, the tables were surrounded by ornamental urns and pillars each topped with an enormous fern, whilst here and there large cream-coloured outdoor canvas umbrellas helped us believe we were in the garden of a luxurious ‘Cote d’Azur’ hotel.

A small queue of a ‘dizaine’ were waiting patiently for a table, and the Maitre D was calmly shepherding people to vacant tables. Behind a couple of ‘femmes gourmandes’ we were also waiting our turn. Finally the Maitre D approached and said he had a table for four, and if we were happy to share with the ‘femmes gourmandes’ we could eat immediately.  No guessing that we readily agreed!

The ‘femmes gourmandes’ took the aisle seats, whilst we wriggled ourselves through the narrower gap between tables. Respectfully pulling our seats towards the edge of the table to allow the two women their conversational privacy, as much as one can when sharing a small square table, the ‘femme’ next to me grabbed the side of my seat to yank me closer saying..

“Je  ne mord pas”  “I won’t bite” (well thank heavens for that!) and we set to  to studying the menus.

‘Husband à l’etranger leaned conspiratorially across the table to whisper…

“I really think they are going to order the Tête de veau” (veal’s head)

..and a second later, at the table the other side of us, the waiter approached with a steaming blue enamel pot. ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ grimaced at the idea of the skull lurking within, and I leant over to ask them if there was really an entire ‘cerveau’ (brain) inside. The couple and the ‘femmes gourmandes’ roared with laughter and lifted the lid to reveal a fairly innocent looking stew of somewhat floppy meat and vegetables and declared it was delicious.

Moments later a blue enamel pot arrived at our table and the femmes gourmandes rubbed their hands in anticipation and lifted the lid; and just at that moment ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ let out a loud…

“MOOO”

Tête de veau will never be the same again for any of us!

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Clearly, the small ‘pichets’ of wine supplied at our meals were subsidized by the stall holders. Our innocent little pitcher contained a deceptive quantity of wine. We were rather more cavalier after the meal than before and it wasn’t long before we were once more standing in front of the chandeliers and girondolles. Some hard bartering and walking away a few times secured a good price for the pair and we left the Puces happy with our purchases, and having thoroughly enjoyed our day.

The Most Beautiful Brocante in France – The Rouen ‘Puces’


Like much of Europe, snowflakes were falling gently this morning as I headed off to  the Rouen ‘Puces’, a three day sale of the most beautiful antiques from all over France.

PUCES 2012 036 I had to wait for the kids to come home for lunch and feed them before I made an early afternoon escape for the fair. As a result I arrived just as the exhibitors were settling down for ‘dejeuner’.

This is France after all, and since each individual stand holder had arranged, for the most part, their antiques into ‘room sets’ to best display their furniture, paintings and ‘objets d’art’, I was amused to find myself walking through several ‘dining rooms, with each Brocanteur comfortably settled at his antique table, complete with linen table cloth, fine glass ware and three course menu. Every ‘dining table’ distinguished itself with a good  bottle of red wine, and a lovely aroma of Boeuf Bourgignon and Paupiettes de Veau filled the exhibition hall!

Clearly, this was not the time to start a business transaction. I decided to give time for the wine to do it’s work, and spend an uninhibited hour wandering between the stands, enjoying what was offer.

Ultimately though, no single bottle of red was going to help reduce the very beautiful ‘banquette’ from 1700€ to an affordable 100€, nor an armoire from 1500€ to 150€!

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I took this sneaky one, just after one couple had got up to get back to work.

PUCES 2012 004 These were a few of the stands that I passed during the afternoon….

PUCES 2012 011A quantity of maritime paraphanalia, and old sports equipment..

PUCES 2012 015Lamps and busts…

PUCES 2012 020…. and one of the lovely banquettes.

PUCES 2012 028Several old model boats…

PUCES 2012 027Old urns and chests of drawers…

PUCES 2012 029Antique French linens…

PUCES 2012 024 Distressed wooden frames…

PUCES 2012 018It may not be everyone’s idea of interior decoration but these antlers in the huge stone vase looked incredible in this room-set made up of browns, naturals  and taupes….

PUCES 2012 032…and I was very tempted to take home this ‘serre’ (greenhouse) – sadly the bus driver wouldn’t let me on the bus with it!

PUCES 2012 023Taxidermy, and Butterfies….

PUCES 2012 025Lamps from old bobbins…

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PUCES 2012 013A good quantity of Retro -( excuse the photo quality)

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PUCES 2012 005I was sorely tempted by the small chandeliers!

In the end I took home a little wooden lion because he was distressed, and who so closely resembled my clay lion with a friendly face waiting for me still to collect him from the UK. Luckily the bus driver didn’t spot him as we climbed on the bus by the back door!

I wonder if you can spot him amongst these photos?

PUCES 2012 035I did spot where the empty bottles ended up though!

Sunday Breakfast in Rouen.


When I heard someone say that on a recent visit to Rouen one sunday morning, they had finally found sustanance in the local Macdonalds, I nearly sat down and wept!

Had they only known to turn left out of their hotel door and not to the right, they would have found ‘le monde’ in all its colour and vivacity, the air full of aromas and scents and the hubub of the masses going about their business at the big sunday market at Place St Marc.

I stopped a few people to ask where would be the best place for ‘petit dejeuner’, and they looked about smiling at the surrounding crowds- well you do what the French do of course.

Firstly:

…park your bike and find a seat in a local cafe, if indeed a seat can be found!

…have a strong coffee and muse over the ‘marché’ on the other side of the street. Many cafés are right next door to a patisserie, and most will provide a croissant or two when asked!

Then get down to business: the real french business of ‘petit dejeuner’ – which of course literally translates as ‘little lunch’…

A fresh crèpe would be a lovely start – nutella, citron sucré, confiture…

…then there are little morceaux of home made ‘Pain d’Epîces’, a local honey producer’s spicy honey cake to try.. and maybe a pot of honey to take home…

a few strawberries would be nice..

..or an apple or two. But being Normandy, with over 13 varieties of apples on display it becomes a difficult choice. More than likely, I will be sweet-talked by the producer, and will wander away with several bottles of  locally produced cider!

..before I know it I am sampling the cheese..

The cured salami and olives are delicious..

…and I am impressed by the queue for locally grown cress and mushrooms. It must be good!

There is Neufchatel cheese, formed in the shape of hearts and traditionally given to the allied soldiers by the Normandy dairymaids. Little morsels are on the counter to sample!

… perhaps a spicy paella?

Appetite appeased, it’s time to wander through the brocante at the far side of the market..

I can’t resist the flowers

But wait – If a strong cup of coffee and sampling all the produce at the market don’t constitute a fully satisfying breakfast, why not try either of these…

Appreciate the  interior of this great café, dedicated to discussion and the meeting of ‘minds’. One might expect to meet the great thinkers of the ‘Belle Epoque’. Open every sunday morning from 10-2, the owner serves food on weekdays, but is open to clients selecting their vienoisserie from the Boulangerie next door to enjoy with their coffee on a sunday morning.

..or if a formal breakfast is in mind – Try the Couleur Café on rue Eau de Robec where for 5€ an immense ‘petit dejeuner’ can be ordered with the most incredible selection of teas and coffees and vienoisserie.

Now there’s just time to drop the flowers, cider and ‘finds’ from the brocante off at the hotel before going to visit the…

Musée de Beaux Arts

…or the Musée de Ceramiques,

both open for free the first sunday of every month.

or perhaps the Jardin de Plantes,

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for a game of petanque,

or perhaps just a stroll along the Seine before dinner.

Bon Apetite!