Whether braving the enormous Marche aux Puces St. Ouen flea market or browsing a local brocante, visiting a Paris flea market is becoming a must-do for those visiting Paris. But, knowing exactly what to do can be intimidating so I’m sharing an interview with Annie Brahler of the interior design house Euro Trash to give you a professional’s insider tips.
Annie has appeared in House Beautiful and Country Living magazines as well as styled events in Paris. She searches Europe for the best undiscovered treasures that she then imports back to the United States to give new life. Annie believes that “everyone should celebrate their own personal style.”
How did you get started as an importer and interior stylist?
I started my career quite by accident like a lot of people with a passion for something. After I purchased a Beaux Arts style historic home, the first thing I did was remove all the artificial bits that had been used to decorate the massive structure over the years. The time I spent doing that demolition work on my own was hard work, but it taught me to get to know a space intimately before deciding on how to proceed with its refurbishment or design. By the time I had spent a full year stripping the home back to it’s original surfaces, I knew I had to do the architecture justice and be just as honest and unapologetic in my design as the home I felt so much a part of now. I have always been drawn to authenticity in all things. I don’t mean that to say the things I am drawn to are expensive, just real.
There were already more than a few raised eyebrows when I tossed out brand new solid surface counter tops and cherry cabinets made in the 1980’s. When I tore off the plate glass that a former owner had encased the front porch inside in the 1970’s, people were straight up horrified. The disapproval I encountered only strengthened my resolve and the drive to give the home what it deserved; its soul back. I traveled to Holland, Belgium, and France looking for things that would, first and foremost, function the way I needed them to in the space, and that, for whatever reason made me weak in the knees. If I was going to use it in the project, those two things had to happen. This is a philosophy I have stuck to ever since. Of particular note also, was that I was working with a very small budget, but I knew if I stuck to my guns, I could do more with that budget than if I were to order reproduction press-board furniture from catalogs that are Photoshopped to just look like the real thing, but cost four times as much as the real deal.
While foraging for the things that moved me and prior to new airline restrictions, I was hauling home broken chandeliers in garbage bags to fix up and hang in the house. As things progressed, my design got the attention of a few fellow like-minded designers that asked me to find things for them as well. In no time at all I was on my first official buying trip loading my first container with Euro Trash. My company name is no accident. More than a few times my things were referred to as trash, albeit behind my back, so the name seemed pretty perfect.
Do you primarily shop for specific items for clients or go in search of items to offer in your business later?
For the most part when I load a container, I try to simply look for things that I can see functioning in a certain way, or multiple ways and that have a depth of character for whatever reason. I have shopped for everything from entire building facades to teaspoons. In this business, it is mostly about discovery. If you are too strict in your intention, often times you miss an opportunity.
Can the general public purchase your finds?
I have a warehouse in Jacksonville, Illinois and anyone is welcome to come to dig. I am on design projects and working off site quite often, but I am happy to make time to meet anyone there that wants to shop.
March aux Puces St. Ouen is so massive, how do you suggest the casual tourist tackle it?
I don’t generally make it a point to shop St. Ouen. I do shop it, but don’t make it a must. I much prefer the smaller street markets, The Porte de Vanves market is one I never miss. It is my absolute favorite Paris market. If I like a dealer there, I sometimes venture back to St. Ouen with one of them to see more of their things.
Avenue Marc Sangnier and avenue Georges-Lafenestre , 14th arr.
Saturday-Sunday 7:30 am-2 pm
closest Métro: Porte De Vanves
A lot shop owners in Paris do not want you to touch their wares, is this the same for flea markets? How best does one search for hidden finds?
Flea markets are a lot more casual than shops. It is important to have good manners and ask in any setting, but in the markets, they are not pretentious…they want you to discover things.
What do you suggest taking when visiting a Paris flea market?
I always bring light weight bags to unfold and slip my finds into. I also carry small plastic grocery sacks to double as packing. A lot of street dealers don’t have things to pack a purchase. Finger-less gloves and a flashlight are also a must. If you are doing a street market, get there predawn when they are setting up!
What are your tips for negotiating the best deal?
When negotiating in France, the only thing to do is to remember your manners. Always, always, always, say hello when approaching a stall. You are coming into their space. Make eye contact, smile and say hello. When asking for a price, don’t interrupt any one else, and regardless, say excuse me before asking if the price can be lowered (it almost always can)….don’t play hard ball, it won’t work. Say something like, Madame, I can pay only 10, is this possible, please? Honey is better than vinegar.
For the tourist that finds a large item like a piece of furniture or art work, what tips do you have for shipping back to the United States?
There are tons of companies that ship collective containers and many have offices right there in the Paris flea market
Lots of great information from Annie on shopping Paris flea markets!
It is also part of the monthly #AllAboutFrance hosted by Phoebe of Lou Messugo.