I first visited the Marche aux Puces (Les Puces de Saint-Ouen) 5 years ago. I was feeling adventurous and had a new house I dreamed of filling with amazing finds from the famous Parisian flea markets. As soon as I arrived, however, my confidence and sense of adventure plummeted. There was so much, and it was all so beautiful, I couldn’t decide where to begin. I didn’t know if bargaining was de rigueur, and I was timid about asking for prices because I assumed most of the dazzling objects that caught my eye had to be out of my price range (especially since most of them looked like they came right out of Versailles). I found some amazing light fixtures and chairs, but they weren’t going to fit into the overhead bin on my flight home, and I hadn’t the first clue about how to arrange to shipping. In the end, my eyes got their fill of gorgeous pieces but I left empty handed.
Random finds at the Marché aux Puces (Michael Tucker)
My experience, sadly, is not uncommon. The flea markets of Paris can be very intimidating and the vast maze of memorabilia is more than a little overwhelming. My fellow HIP gal pal Andrea knows exactly what I mean; she’s suffered from the flea market frazzle too!
So this summer, when Toma Haines and Franca Giagnacovo from Antiques Diva reached out and offered to take us ladies at HIP on a shopping tour of the Puces, we jumped, of course! After all, these women are bonafide experts on all things antique – maybe they could do something to salvage our dream of decorating our American homes with authentic French finds.
Walking the Paul Bert market at Clignancourt (Dave Bloom)
Our fabulous guide Franca met us in the morning with mini bottles of bubbly and personalized tote bags to carry home the treasures we were to collect that day. She gave us a great info package with maps and a brief description of each market within the Puces so we could pinpoint exactly where to go and what we wanted to see. Andrea and I were both on a mission to feather our nests, so we focused on furniture, house wares and art. She steered us effortlessly through the slightly rough looking streets leading to les Puces and around the sea of cheap plastic knickknacks and designer knock offs that precede the “real” flea markets. Once inside, she knew exactly which vendors had what we were looking for, and she was willing to help us haggle (a very accepted practice). Andrea has the scoop on the amazing treasures we saw.
Like Ariel’s, my eyes were getting bigger and bigger as we moved along in the tour, getting closer to the jewels of the market. There was so much to look at that my head was almost spinning with inspiration, but somehow, with Franca’s guidance and easy manner, the level of intimidation eased away. While we walked past the vendors’ booths, she struck up conversations with many of them, talking about past purchases and previous clients. I have to say; I was as mesmerized by the goods as I was by the vendors and passers-by.
Luckily, Franca’s deep knowledge of the ins and outs of the market helped steer Ariel and I in the right direction, towards the beautiful objects found in the Paul Bert and Serpette markets. I would have needed an entire shopping cart to walk away with everything I wanted. I’m used to scouring American antique sales and flea markets, but somehow everything here possessed an air of timelessness that I find lacking at home. The grand-scale, high-quality, inspirational furniture came with a story, and the aged look, that I just can’t get enough of, was real.
Furniture stall at the Paul Bert market (Dave Bloom)
At Flavien Gaillard’s booth in the Paul Bert market, I admired the beautiful 20th century furniture, especially the pieces by French designer Jean-Louis Avril. Another favorite in Paul Bert was Marc Maison — the fireplace mantels, furnishings and accessories were just gorgeous. In particular, a 1930s enameled sink with modern hardware caught my eye. I could see it fitting right into my 19th century New England farmhouse! While the bigger pieces at the Paul Bert and Serpette markets are certainly pricey, the inspiration is free. With Franca and Ariel, I walked away that day with countless ideas for my future home.
Truthfully, we would probably have ventured into the flea market again on our own (for the sheer love of baubles). After experiencing a guided tour, though, we couldn’t imagine a serious antique-buying spree without our lovely Franca there to guide us to the real gems and ease away our fears with her expert bargaining.
For more information on the Antique Diva market tours, check out their website here