As the seasons change and a new wave of excitement fills the air, Erin Choa eagerly embarks on her favorite pursuit: truffling out beautiful brocante bargains. It’s that time of year when flea markets and antique fairs come to life, offering a treasure trove of vintage delights waiting to be discovered. In this blog, we invite you to join Erin on her enchanting journey as she shares her journey of brocante hunting. Get ready to immerse yourself in a world where the past meets the present, and where the hunt for that perfect find becomes an art form.
I find one of the most charming elements of French life is the brocante and vide-grenier season, which is when many villages host public ‘clear out your attic’ sales over long summer weekends, drenched in sunshine. People set up stalls around village squares, selling their unwanted items to others in a community afternoon punctuated by saucisses, frites and local wine.
I love this resourceful and zero-waste attitude entrenched in French culture long before it became a trend, with people pragmatically selling anything they no longer need from car parts to fixtures and furnishings, gardening tools and outgrown children’s clothes, without the taboo or stigma that seems to be associated with more consumeristic cultures who would never dream of buying anything secondhand.
Perhaps the French have always been more sustainably conscious without even realising it, which I particularly noticed with delight when my French family didn’t understand why there was a need for a plastic shopping bag tax in the UK because they have always brought their own baskets or bags to market and just assumed everyone else in the world did too.
They also still make their own home-care products from old household recipes: white vinegar infused with citrus peel and lavender from the garden, using grated savon de Marseilles or savon noir rather than industrial detergents, with tips handed down over the centuries and completely normalised into modern life. So, I’ve adopted these norms, making my own cleaning products, nourishing the Château de Bourneau parquet floors with a hundred-year-old technique that works better than shop-bought chemical products and making our own window paint from my grandfather-in-law’s recipe.
We try to be as sustainable as possible by simply emulating what is just a normal countryside French way of life: we compost our food that feeds our kitchen garden; our own wood heats our kitchen; the ashes nourish our roses; and our deadwood chippings mulch our flower beds. We’re bringing back the hedgerows, planting new trees, letting our fields fallow and enjoying the colourful encroaching scatter of wildflowers that tempt our bees. Bourneau hay feeds Bourneau farm animals.
After all, for hundreds of years, châteaux have often been part of their own sustainable local economy. Oak from their own woods were used to make their parquet floors, created on site by local artisans. Animals and crops were reared or grown on their own land to feed the estate and furnishings from one generation were kept and repurposed by the next – after all, what are antiques if they aren’t just secondhand family furniture kept and maintained over many generations?
With a predominantly unfurnished 1,000m² château and four large holiday cottages, I look forward to this time of year when I can scour these local brocantes and vide- greniers for secondhand vintage and antiques to help us bring Château de Bourneau back to life in a sustainable way, one piece at a time.
Often these pieces only need a creative eye and some loving care to be beautiful once more in a different context and saved from landfill. And the greatest compliment of all is when a guest asks us if an item has always been at the château because it fits into the bones of the room. Sometimes I wonder if the antiques I truffle from local brocantes are simply finding their way home after a few decades on someone else’s mantelpiece. Now wouldn’t that be lovely?
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London-born hospital doctor Erin Choa is the 6th châtelaine of Château de Bourneau, where she lives with her French fiancé Jean-Baptiste and bossy cat HRH Oscar. Read her regular column in French Property News magazine and follow her as she blogs about their château-life on Instagram @theintrepidchatelaine
Lead photo credit : (c)- chateaudebourneau.com