Thursday, 18 November 2010

Les Puces du Canal

Apologies for the long delay in updating the blog and thank you for all the email and text reminders! The trip to France was a highlight of the year, so great! I've always wanted to visit a proper French flea market and we certainly found that in Lyon, well actually in Villeurbanne. Despite being called the Lyon flea market, it's actually located on the outskirts of Lyon. We'd done our research though and stayed in a very economical hotel (E-Tap) in Villeurbanne (on a roundabout popular with HGVs and drunk students). It wasn't great but for EUR 43 a night we weren't complaining. 

According to my guide to flea markets, getting to Les Puces du Canal by car / van is apparently complicated. I can verify this. We left the "hotel" at 6am sharp thinking it could only be 20 minutes looking at the map. It should have been about 5 minutes (we realised afterwards) but of course it took us a good 45 minutes and even then we ended up at the wrong market which seemed to sell a lot of stolen goods and had only a tiny section of rather crap looking furniture. Feeling more than a bit heartbroken we spotted a friendly-ish looking vendor and asked for directions to the legendary La Grande Boulangerie du Canal. It was at this point I was drawn into a bit of a shouty conversation which I didn't really follow at first but sure enough those French lessons paid off and he revealed a) we were in the wrong market b) gave me directions to the right market and c) I'm pretty sure he called me an idiot or something similar and then smiled sweetly at us and sent us on our way with several hand gestures (not rude ones though, result).

So we finally made it to Les Puces du Canal after only a few more navigational hiccups including driving along what looked like a bike path in a park. Nevermind, we got there and it was incredible. 400 vendors split into 3 areas: Le Hangar, a permanent warehouse type building with individual shops inside; La Halle, which is located under a metal roof outside and L'Annexe which is tucked away on the far side of the market. Inbetween La Halle and L'Annexe is an area where the vendors who come for the day in a van pile out their wares onto tables or even just blankets on the ground. The market setting is exceptionally basic and exudes zero french charm or style. However, what it lacks in setting and scenery it makes up for in atmosphere. This is a bustling market frequented by locals and those from further afield who have come to participate in one of their favourite pastimes - la chine (searching for finds). As we walked through La Halle we saw lots of vendors gathered around beautiful antique tables sharing saussison, cheese and bread and of course several bottles of red wine - all before 10:30am. Most vendors kept a glass of red on the go throughout the morning, it was freezing cold and raining non-stop so fair play really. 

Les Puces du Canal is an eclectic market with a good mix of rustic and decorative wares. There was a lot of agricultural paraphernalia including cow bells, milk jugs and fireplace bellows as well as the more mainstream furniture and accessories. I picked up a fantastic walnut table and a beautiful old cupboard as well as a lovely mirror and smaller bits and pieces -- all in dire need of some TLC but really great pieces. 

Some of the more "eclectic" wares included a sofa and chair made entirely of antlers (revolting and also pretty uncomfortable):

 A full suit of armour proudly displayed by one vendor in La Halle:

And a trio of ceramic teddy bears available for just EUR 300. Whatever floats your boat. 

Since it was raining pretty much non-stop all morning we needed a bit of sustenance to see us through. Luckily the market has a number of smaller cafes amongst the stalls which serve fairly hearty plats du jour as well as sausages in baguettes. The best place though is La Grande Boulangerie du Canal which is situated in the middle of the market.

Decorated with flea market finds and full to bursting with local visitors and stall-holders nipping in and out for hot drinks and baguettes, it is the perfect place to have a quick croissant and a cup of hot chocolate. SO good.

And once the batteries are recharged you can get back to the serious business of la chine and bartering as if your life depended on it. One thing I was worried about was impulsively buying something and ending up driving back to the UK with a white elephant in the van. Luckily for me, Lucy who came with me is not only honest as the day is long but also a bit of a star at picking stuff out (she found the mirror nestled between two tables in Le Hangar).

The market finishes at 1pm but because of the rain lots of vendors packed up and went home early and the crowds really thinned out by 11:30am. This ended up working in my favour though because as the morning progressed vendors became much more keen to make a sale and I picked up three of my biggest purchases in the last 30 minutes of the market.  Once the van was all loaded up we headed back for a well-deserved nap ahead of the long drive home the next day. It was a great experience and I can't wait to go back to France and explore other flea markets in the different regions. 

In my next blog I'll do a before/after feature on the pieces I picked up in France. I'm working on them at the moment so that they are all ready for the photoshoot next week. Those photos will be used on the website which should be ready early December. So exciting!

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Les Puces du Canal

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Restoration Course in Cornwall

Wow! Back from Cornwall where I was doing the antique furniture restoration course run by Peter Thomson, a fourth generation master restorer. Aside from getting to spend a week doing something I completely love, it was in the most spectacular setting on the Lanteglos Highway, near Fowey. Surrounded by wild rolling hillsides and rumbling clouds of thunder, it was just incredible. The view above is from the nearby B+B I stayed at which was about a 10 minute walk down to the worskhop each day. The lovely Mrs. Hare took great pains to convince me to go for the full english breakfast each day, "just toast thanks" went down like a lead balloon. She was not dissimilar to the woman from Father Ted -- Mrs. Doyle?? "You will have another cup of tea, won't you?" and so on. Anyway, below is the view from the Retreat workshop, so beautiful and v atmospheric with all the mist etc.

The course covered different aspects of cabinet repair and traditional hand finishing techniques needed to sympathetically restore antique furniture. Now I'm back home with a head full of ideas and a car boot full of finishing materials to get me started. One thing I was concerned about with the repair side of restoration (removing veneer, dismantling furniture etc) is that I would need to spend a shedload of cash to buy the equipment. Turns out I shouldn't have worried, at all. The top 10 list of seriously essential kit is below:

1. Hairdryer (small)
2. Iron (old, don't try and reuse domestically)
3. Toothbrush (new)
4. Rags and bits of cloth
5. Selection of jam jars w/ lids
6. Masking tape
7. Slow cooker (old, not be reused domestically)
8. Paint scrapper (metal)
9. Syringes (agricultural)
10. Saucepan with a pot inside (old, to heat glue in)

So as you can see I'm probably not going to bankrupt myself just yet splashing out on fancy equipment. The only vaguely technical other thing you might want is a metal detector (to check for nails when you're taking a piece of furniture apart) which my Dad gave me anyway. Winner. 

Anyway, I learnt a lot of really useful restoration tips - like don't use linseed oil to get out a scratch in wood. They had a grandfather clock in the workshop a few years ago that was worth around £56,000 and a little boy had scratched a duck into it. Then the father has rubbed linseed oil into it in an attempt to remove it. The restorers used some super fine wire wool and wax to rub the scratch out and it disappeared completely. Unfortunately, the next day the oil had risen to the surface and the duck had re-appeared. The duck carried out re-appearing every day for another 2 weeks until the restorers finally succeeded. 

My first project will be the antique pine blanket box I picked up a few months ago. Some dedicated football fan has scratched West Ham into the side and it is covered in ink stains (at least I know what not to use). But before I can start that I'm getting ready to leave for France. I'll be hitting the flea markets in Annecy and Lyon in the hope of picking up some beautiful furniture and smaller bits and pieces to bring back and restore to their former glory. Well that's the plan anyway, am hoping a) the strikes don't get in the way and b) my french lessons pay off. Souhaitez moi bonne chance!!

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