HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF ANTIQUING
One of France’s favourite national pastimes is the brocante – antique shops and makeshift market stalls you’ll find in almost every village, town or city from Calais to Marseille – brimming with treasures from the near and distant past. But when does curating amount to hoarding, and how do you know when something adds value to your life, or just noise? Sit down, pour yourself a cup of Marco Polo tea into a chinois teacup from a silver teapot, and ask yourself these five questions…
DOES ITS STORY RESONATE WITH ME?
Every objet d’art or antiquated goedjie tells a story. Sometimes, it’s quite literally a story etched out in the details of the object’s ornate detailing. At other times, it’s about how it represents the spirit of its times. That’s one of the best things about the brocante; the sleuthing you have to do to uncover a thing’s origins. But there’s nothing worse than getting yourself something you thought was the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, only to find out it’s actually a tempered plastic knock-off from the 90s of something that existed a century before… unless you still love it!
HOW FAR ARE YOU WILLING TO GO TO GET IT?
Some of the best finds are not the ones you’ll find in a shop, but that are still in someone’s possession. Think about it, by the time you see it in a shop, someone, somewhere, doesn’t want it anymore. But also, imagine you gain access to some grande dame’s Aladdin’s Cave of heirlooms, and actually manage to convince her to part with one (or some) of her precious treasures. Doesn’t that make a sweetly satisfying story? (Not unlike the sweetly satisfying tea she served during your visit.)
DOES IT SUIT YOUR STYLE?
Are you the duck-hunting-scene type or more of a pair-of-cranes-in-a-Chinese-pond. The world of antiques is a vast one, and each era comes with its own ideologies, tastes and symbolism. Yes, it tells a story, but beyond that, it was designed to satisfy the zeitgeist of the time. Chinoiserie, for instance, harks back to the French Indochine era, but versions of this treasure trove from the French-Vietnamese heyday popped up in Britain too, and beyond. Knowing where something originated is as much a part of antiquing as the beauty it holds.
DOES IT INSPIRE YOU?
This applies to anything that serves more than a functional purpose but an aesthetic one as well. A simple but beautiful bowl could inspire you to invent a new ice cream flavour combination, just as a fluted art-nouveau-style vase could spark an idea to use it as a wine decanter. Imagine building a collection of things where each item inspires you in some way and doesn’t just fill a space between the kitchen and the living room.
DOES IT SATISFY YOUR SENTIMENTAL URGES?
Let’s face it, very seldom does an antique piece turn out to be the long-lost hairbrush of one of Queen Mary’s ladies in waiting. In the vast majority of cases, real antiques belonged to well-to-do households from the time – respectable, but not necessarily famous. But that doesn’t mean they do not hold value to you personally. Perhaps your grandmother inherited a hand mirror from her grandmother, which is a beautiful story – and a wonderful way of remembering the past – but when its monetary value falls short of your expectations, it doesn’t mean it is not valuable. By keeping it, you’re preserving something of your personal heritage.