For two weeks every year (and sometimes twice a year) we sojourn in the South of France. No, we’re not on vacation. We’re on one of our inspiration trips. In France we travel the countryside searching for long lost antiques and forgotten treasures to be the muses for our future designs. And most often we find what we’re looking for at the fairs the French call brocante.
By definition brocante means flea market, but that hardly describes the magic of these pop-up bazaars filled with everything old you can imagine. They are usually in the streets and open spaces, although we also discover some of our favorite antiques in huge barns and secret spots. Cities like Avignon, Nice, Arles and Montpellier host brocante once a month or once a year depending on the location.
What would you find if you traveled with us? You name it! Antique dressers, cabinetry, tables and chairs. Vintage jewelry, linens, lamps and chandeliers. You’d even find centuries-old statues, urns and architectural fragments. These are some of the reasons people call the brocante a portal to an era gone by.
The tradition is to arise early and walk the aisles of the open-air markets lined with laden tables. You have to be part archeologist, history-buff, shrewd bargainer and design visionary. And you have to try NOT to be overwhelmed!
Trends start at French brocante. The emergence of decorating your modern home’s gallery walls with ornately sculpted wood and stone artifacts from ancient buildings sprouted from inspiration at the brocante.
French and European antiques have stood the test of time because they are exquisitely crafted. The skilled workmanship it took to make an iron and aluminum bistro table from the early 1900s was as important as the table itself.
Most of all, you are enchanted when walking through a brocante. The history of legendary eras is all around you and so are the stories. It’s hard not to look at jewelry from one hundred or more years ago and not think about the people, and parties around it. And one sight of a bergére chair from the 1700s and your mind time-travels to the court of King Louis XV. The experience is truly incredible and we’re lucky to experience it so often.
Thankfully, you can virtually experience it too…without a plane ticket. Visit softsurroundings.com click on Bedding and Home, then the word Brocante on the left. There you will find all of our finds from our trips to the French brocante.
You’ll see everything from chairs and china to grain sacks and plenty in between. We thought it would be fun to point out a few of our favorite pieces and a little bit of the story behind each.
It’s easy to fall in love with the category of chairs when shopping brocante antiques. There are so many styles, shapes, materials and methods, it’s like that proverbial candy store. Just the different designs of legs alone are inspiring!
On our site you’ll discover dozens of dreamy options: bergéres, slipper chairs, chaise lounges, settees and more. Most of these beauties have the original upholstery removed to reveal the antique muslin, wood frame and nail head trim underneath. This is a great way to see the lines and design, rather than get distracted by torn or unappealing fabrics. We leave it to you to have one of our undressed brocante chairs upholstered just the way you want it. You might even consider recovering it with antique fabric you can find online or in your own local flea markets. On the other hand, a modern textile on a vintage chair is pretty special too!
We are big fans of our own Chateau de Chinon Armchair. It has such majesty—almost a royal bearing. We are drawn to the balance of the high scrolled back with the slightly flared scrolled arms. The turned legs are the crowning touch. We can see it upholstered in elegant French linen or rustic ticking stripe.
Another chair that ranks high on our staff’s top ten is the Napoleon III Tufted Chaise Lounge. Chaise lounges always have a certain feminine drama to them, but this one tops them all. We love the sweep and the size. The tufted back is so inviting and the length of the single slender rolled arm is just gorgeous. We might cry when this one leaves our clutches!
But if you’re looking for a vintage chair complete with its original upholstery, take a look at our breathtaking Aubusson Settee. From the hand-carved ribbons and beads of the beech wood frame to the glistening gilt patina this piece is amazing. But the pièce de résistance is this settee’s authentic aubusson needlepoint upholstery on the back, seat and armrests. Its tapestry features a loose bouquet of pink roses tied with a streaming blue ribbon. Stunning. A phenomenal way to set the tone for a special room in your home.
Like many other cities, Paris is almost always under renovation. Modern designers like open spaces and that means the removed remnants of Louis XV architecture often makes it way to the flea markets in the south of France. A brocante is a fabulous place to find doors and doorplates, locks and knobs, mantels and corbels, mirrors and columns. And don’t forget the outdoor pieces like shutters and statuary, urns and planters.
Our site has lots of all of the above! From the simple refined carvings on the Sainte-Rose Door to the faded weathered patina of our Martinique Slatted Shutters, architectural fragments are a gorgeous way to add an eclectic presence and a bit of the classic to a modern or transitional room.
When we saw the Giltwood Cornice, now on our site, we had to have it. We were told it was originally the header on a Louis XVI armoire and it shows. It has intricate carvings and hand gilding. It’s opulent down to the silk cording and tassels that dangle from its sides. We can picture it on an accent wall in a masterfully decorated master bedroom or as a mantel above the bed.
We would love to wax poetic about all of the brocante pieces on our site; they’re that special to us. But we think you get the idea! Please take a look and be sure to check back often because we add more and more all the time. Have fun traveling to the South of France.