Before arriving in Paris I thought I had an idea of what the Marche aux Puce de Saint-Ouen would be like- large, confusing and probably a bit overwhelming for a non- French speaking antiques buying novice. But I was not expecting how absolutely wonderful my first experience in the Puce would turn out to be with the assistance of Danielle, our indispensable Antiques Diva. We arranged our guided tour well in advance of our trip through Toma Haines at antiquedivas.com and it was well worth every euro we spent.
Prior to our trip Toma and Danielle spent time asking us questions so they understood what we were looking for and what we wanted from our visit to the Puce. They also provided much needed information regarding international shipping so we wouldn’t waste time dealing with that once we arrived.
A native Parisian, Danielle picked us up early from our hotel in her little car and zipped straight through the streets of Paris to Saint-Ouen and parked in a little spot that almost appeared to be reserved just for her at one end of the Puce.
Our first stop was to be the mirror shop as we had expressed an interest in Louis Philippe mirrors. It was not yet open, but Monique's shop was just next door and voile! the buying adventure began. A wonderful Napoleon III settee and a striking metal ewer were my first purchases. My designer sister, Barbara, purchased a pair of wonderful chairs and a gilded mirror. Monique is your quintessential elegant Parisian woman who actually speaks a little English, but Danielle’s native tongue was invaluable in negotiating, as well as in discerning the detailed provenance of each piece. The settee caused a bit of concern, for while the fabric and frame were perfect the cushion was sunken. We were discussing how much it would cost to have it repaired stateside and Monique was immediately on the phone and said someone was coming then to take it to be repaired. Two gentlemen actually arrived while we were still standing there and she said to stop back by at the end of the day and it would be ready. We did and it was.
We next wandered down a narrow outdoor alleyway with tent like structures on either side and a long row of wonderful booths of mid-century pieces as well as true French and Scandinavian antiques. This is where I spotted it- the Danish tall clock with the reddish patina underneath the white weathered paint. I was hooked. I had been looking for this piece for years and this one was perfect.
In the same booth was an 18th century Dutch chest and a set of eight French chairs with an absolutely wonderful patina. I instantly knew I wanted the clock and the chest and thought the chairs were fabulous either as a set or individually. Danielle worked her magic and negotiated heavily for us and succeeded in getting the prices down to where we needed them for shipping home. I could have bought everything in that booth from the stools and grain sack covered chairs to mirrors and rustic tables, but it was only our second stop and we literally had miles to go.
Next we were off to find copper, large door knobs and crystal decanter tops. Success, all before lunch. The copper shop was fantastic with two walls covered in nothing but copper pots and another wall with nothing but lids. You find your pot and then go find a lid that fits. There were wonderful bottles and demi johns as well. I found two pots, one of which I left with the vendor to coat so it could be used for cooking. Danielle graciously offered to pick it up in two weeks time and ship it directly to me, which she did!
Barbara found her door knobs to use on a custom chest she was designing for a client and we discovered a lot of about 50 crystal decanter tops that we decided to split. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but have ended up selling them just as is and they make lovely decorations on a stack of books or in a grouping in a silver or wooden bowl. A tiny touch of Paris is sometimes all you need to create that French elegance.
Lunch was calling and Danielle arranged for us to eat at the cafe right there next to the market. We probably never would have discovered it on our own as it is a bit off the beaten market path. Duck confit, green beans, fingerling potatoes and a French rose' wine. Oh, and the bread! Always the bread in France. Danielle’s birthday was the day before and the cafe owner brought over an incredible cake- we were so taken with it that we attempted to decipher each layer in hopes of recreating it at home.
Then off to another part of the Puce! Just wandering around is quite an experience. The design is so very inspiring in Paris that everything you find has endless possibilities for creating a wonderful space. Framed etchings in a basket just outside a shop caught my eye as did loose vintage and antique photo postcards in another shop. Barbara found some Limoges dessert plates and we each bought some pieces from a wonderful lady that had mounds of silver in a glass case. It was piled so high that it was hard to see everything, but I spotted a three piece antique dessert and hors d’oevre set by Puifourcat tied together with a lavender ribbon. Barbara bought a serving piece and a lovely card case that is perfect for her square business cards. I found some more coffee spoons and serving pieces in another shop and the rest of the day was spent wandering and soaking up all the stories and endless styles and designs from centuries ago. Architectural pieces, statues, decor, china and porcelain, display items such as old hat stands and bowler hats, quirky prints, old prints, planters, jardinières, zinc, baskets- you name it it was there. Barbara found some lovely prints that she picked up for a steal and has since framed several. They are beautiful!
We headed off to the shipper’s to unload our smalls and make arrangements for pickups for the furniture. At the end of the day as we headed back to the car we stopped by Monique’s shop again to see my settee that was all repaired and just waiting to be shipped. The mirror shop was still open and while Barbara narrowed down the three she wanted I spotted the lonely one propped against the outside door. It was not as ornate as some of the others and had a wonderful reddish hue peeking through the gilding. It is majestically propped in my music room awaiting a permanent place, but I am sure it doesn't mind since it has been hanging around different places since the 1830s.
I didn’t realized it at the time , but there was a bit of a theme for the day for me. The ewer, the clock and the mirror all have reddish hues peeking from beneath a layered texture. It is so much fun to notice those connections after the fact.
I cannot imagine exploring the Puce without Danielle. Throughout the day we saw several other groups with a guide and it looked as if it was simply a tour guide talking about the Puce in general and then allowing their group to shop a bit before being escorted back to their hotel. Unless you are fluent in French, know where to shop for what you want, and are a savvy negotiator, you probably will not accomplish much that way. If all you want is someone to show you where the market is and tell you a little about it then such a tour would work for you. But if you want someone like Danielle who is knowledgeable of antiques, the vendors and of who has good quality and good prices, then spend the additional money and time. Danielle actually negotiated for us and was pretty hard nose in telling them it was for export. She taught us how to complete each ticket so we had all the information the shipper needed for pick up and even for paying on a few items. Measurements were taken for each piece. Danielle steered us away from the beautiful Gustavian chairs that had straw stuffing and the ivory walking sticks, knowing they would be destroyed or confiscated by U.S. Customs. We would have never known how to do all of this if not for Danielle. Seasoned international shoppers would, but we did not. I am constantly asked if there are still any deals left in Paris. My response has been a resounding “Yes, we certainly found some”. The shipping does add cost, but you still can find some amazing pieces for great prices even with the extra shipping costs added in. For resale, you can still make money and if buying for your self there are spectacular pieces with amazing stories. But you need to know where to go or have a guide to show you.
At the end of a very full day Danielle dropped us off at our hotel. Still full from our lunch of Duck Confit and cake, we had a wonderful light dinner with a glass of wine, then slept dreaming of all the sights and sounds that are the Puce and of the possibilities for next time.