Instant Heirlooms

Tis the season to be a-giving: fa-la-la!

We read so much in the media about gifts, and buying and shopping and cyber chaos. Not to mention footprints, bounty, trash and returned items…where does it all lead? Why do we put ourselves through this all year in, year out?

Gifts: a problem? A challenge? An opportunity?

We have scaled back, and downsized this year. Less is more! We have attempted to think deep and hard about those individuals we want to give a gift too: not something old, borrowed or blue, but something worth cherishing for years to come. The current fashion for vintage certainly helps. And as we are truly vintage minded, instant heirlooms (of all shapes, sizes and values) are what we hunt!

What makes an item an instant heirloom? The words imply age, value as well as spontaneity.

One of the best moments I have ever experienced as a gift giver was when I gave my Complete Works of Shakespeare – dog eared and studied to the hilt – to a teenager fascinated as well as proficient in English lit. Instant heirloom for sure.

Before running off to the crowded mall, hustling for a parking space and purchasing more of what everyone already owns, let’s look to possessions we have cherished for years, and pass these along to younger generations. Let’s search for heirlooms that have history and give (vintage) gifts that will stand the test of time.

Have a Very Merry!

Parisian vintage paradise

Les Puces de Paris

It is described as the largest antiques and vintage market in the world. And indeed, it is an entire neighborhood of little winding streets, full to the brim with all manner of vintage, brocante and antique treasures, often organized by type (art deco, art nouveau, classic, 1950’s retro, even North American Indian antiques!) Most shops are however, a true ‘mélange’ so having a shopping list of concrete items to hunt makes sense, otherwise it is quickly and completely overwhelming, like one of those American supermarkets that are so full, you can’t find any food!

I visited on a Monday morning so many shops were closed as the website honestly communicates. Thank goodness, otherwise I never could have left! My fellow shoppers were truly international: tourists to Paris of course but also many Asian dealers. It was a sunny and rather hot day so the ambiance was laid back. Shop keepers were recovering from an undoubtedly busy weekend, reading their news and wandering back and forth between each other’s shops.

Prices are far higher than country flea markets: these are urban shop prices. Nevertheless, it is a must visit for vintage lovers! Inspiring to continue the hunt for the house wares, décor and clothing that add instant charm and personality to our homes and wardrobes. What with all the flea markets and online shops these days, there is the fear that France will be completely void of vintage at some future date. Les Puces is immediately reassuring: this wonderful country full of beautiful objects will certainly never run out of brocante, vintage and antiques! There is a lifetime of treasures still to be found at this very large and very special Parisian market.

Imagine

Lark Lane Liverpool

Arriving at John Lennon airport, tastefully adorned with some of his most memorial lyrics, Liverpool’s most famous son as well as his fab four mates are assumed to be the biggest attraction for world travelers to this city. European Cultural Capital of 2008 (carpets still proclaim the same in the arrivals hall), the city’s 19th century parks, stately homes (despite visible decline) and abundance of huge churches and mosques is certainly worth a visit as well as all the Beatle memorabilia. Yet we, the vintage obsessed and continually on the hunt, have discovered that Liverpool is a super destination for those vintage-inclined.

Coincidence has us staying in an exceptionally comfortable apartment – Casa Ana- run by Luis from Portugal and booked via booking.com (although his own website is complete with info too and he is definitely a hands on host: www.casa-da-ana.com). The 2 bedroom flat is located on the corner of Liverpool’s Lark Lane, a modest street fully packed with vintage wares and world cuisine. We have had Turkish, Greek, Indonesian and Chinese food of all price classes, from chique restaurant to take-away. All of it very good!

But I digress from vintage and antiques. A sweet little shop on Lark Lane is entitled ‘Remains to be Seen’. It is stocked with antiques and near antiques and run by a distinguished and extremely honest man. It is not often open but take the chance when you get it!

Another good Lark Lane shop is aptly named: Larks mixes vintage with modern gifts in well-planned suites organized by ambiance. (www.larksonline.co.uk) Just around the corner, Larks has opened a vintage warehouse GASP- and we did!- (www.larksonline.co.uk/gasp) also well organized and chock full of finds.

Food and vintage; antiques and world cuisine. Satuday’s adds a farmer’s market of fresh produce, bakeries and meats: have we died and gone to heaven here in Liverpool? We will be sorry to fly out tomorrow morning…

O Canada

While the rest of the world is admiring Canadian prowess on skis and skates (impressive indeed!), we are presently traveling through Montréal and Québec. Both cities are elegant, beautiful and surrounded by impressive landscapes. Narrow, car-less lanes lined with small boutiques and restaurants remind us of Zürich or Macon or Lübeck or…: all European.

Proud of its continental connections both past and present, Québec’s two major cities have both proven to be good vintage hunting grounds. And with minus 20 degree temperatures, we have truly enjoyed stopping into brocante and antiques shops for more than one reason!

We saw less of Montréal that we had intended as the freezing cold and biting wind literally forced us inside, but we can report that Vieux Montréal is certainly charming; our studio apartment at Habitation Vieux Montréal was superb. On to Québec, Vieux Québec to be exact, where pretty shops and restaurants are housed in well-restored, well-maintained 19th century brick and wooden buildings. Very colorful! Rue Saint-Jean, Rue Saint-Paul, Rue du Petit-Champlain: we have enjoyed them all but for art, brocante and antiques, a vintage lover’s paradise is Rue Saint-Paul, down towards the huge and now frozen harbor.

The sweetest of the shops was, to our mind, Le Rendez-vous du Collectionneur. Run for 18 years by Gervais Tremblay and Thomas Arsenault, the shop caught our eye with a window brimming with old hotel silver: ‘argenterie’: wonderful soup tureens, HUGE casseroles, heavy tea pots and creamers, lots of flatware. They shared that they had bought it all from Château Frontenac, an impressive, massive hotel that overlooks the Saint Lawrence River from Québec’s high rocky banks. Built in 1893 by the great railroads, the hotel has a long and rich history that includes wealthy tourists, Roosevelt and Churchill conferring during the Second World War and Hitchcock film productions. What tales that silver could tell!

Vintage finds here in Canada very often include Inuit Art – telling in its simplicity. There are lots of wooden toys and statues as well as horse related paraphernalia. It is a curious mix of elegant house wares and rugged ‘western’ gear. O Canada: we have enjoyed our visit and our vintage hunts here. Merci!

http://www.fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec
http://www.antiquepromotion.com

Looking for a small item to add character to your home, a unique conversation piece, an heirloom in the make, all from Europe without the travel and the search? Or that perfect gift for someone who already has everything. Want to break out of the mass produced housewares and accessories rat race and recycle something special? Please visit our shops:
http://www.etsy.com/shop/Eurovintageclassics
http://www.etsy.com/shop/FemmeEnFrance

A New Year, new treasure hunts

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It can be amazing what you’ll find roaming around estate sales here in Europe. Entire lives represented by beautiful things, treasured mementos, housewares long out of style…That they all eventually pass into new hands is a great tradition: too much creativity and hard work have already vanished onto garbage dumps!

So while traveling on holidays just before and after the New Year, we stopped into several sales and walked briskly past many a souvenir shop and department store whose boring wares were so brightly adorned to ring in 2014. Granted, the thrill of the hunt is part of the charm…carefully lifting mountains of French linens to discover those still unstained, gently turning over coffee cups to check out porcelain marks, wading through old prints to separate the wheat finds from the reproduction chaft.

Not only did we find some beautiful classics, we were even inspired to open a second shop on Etsy!

Wishing all vintage classics lovers happy hunting for 2014!

Perhaps we’ll meet up in some old barn, flea market or estate sale when you join us for a jaunt through central Europe:

there you’ll find timeless souvenirs no shop can compete with! Happy New Year!

http://www.etsy.com/shop/eurovintageclassics

http://www.etsy.com/shop/FemmeEnFrance >>> NEW. vintage classic garments for women.

The jug included above is by the renowned Quimper pottery from Brittany.

Gift wrapping

As teenagers, my sister and I made some extra cash by working evenings and weekends wrapping packages at a fancy gift shop in our New England village. It was an awe-inspiring place full of very breakable treasures: you barely dared breathe! The woman who owned it was charming: formidable yet with thick, grey hair half falling down out of a rather messy ‘do’ and reading glasses on a beaded chain around her neck – always in the way – she had a warmth that made her less forbidding as a monarch. The shop, very New England with its wooden hand painted sign swinging outside and its wide shop windows in old greys and greens, was usually pretty deserted in summer months. Yet between the week before Thanksgiving up until the closing minutes of Christmas Eve (5 pm back then), it was a hustle and a bustle.

There was absolutely no room to pack the gifts. Our elbows were in a constant fox trot with each other and my sister (or I ) always had the tape when I (or she) just needed it. Four hands did make for light work and we got rather good at missing one finger to help tie the other’s knot all the while proceeding with the paper on our own next package. We had a wonderful time, nonetheless for knowing what all the neighbors and their wives were going to unwrap on Christmas morning before they did: shared secrets!

One summer our boss had a great idea.  Pressed with a cellar overflowing with bits and pieces as well as extensive collections of china patterns long out of date or incomplete, she put us to work. ‘Clean the dishware up, give it some kind of order and we’ll open up the cellar, ’ was her order, ‘and you two will see to it that it all gets sold!’ Happy to have a way to earn outside of the holiday chaos, we went to work. We lovingly washed and dried the most amazing of pieces as yet unrecognizable under a decade’s worth of dirt: huge tea pots with only a matching sugar bowl, gorgeous gilt dinner plates, just 7 in number, arrays of creamer pitchers both large and small, not a match for anything else. All spectacularly beautiful! We cleaned off the cellar’s ivory colored wooden shelves and arranged our wares, feeling very protective, serious, even commercial. However, the commercial interests melted spontaneously as we fell in love with piece after piece which we were allowed to buy for a song and take home…our earnings were slim.

And then, the next Christmas rush, our wares sold like hot cakes, flying off the shelves. Not only did people find the broken and missing pieces for their own dinnerware patterns, a single creamer or tea pot became a cherished gift: for flowers, for a sideboard tableau, a bedside table. Vintage, ‘brocante’ avant la letter as this was all quite some time ago. The two of us also had the chance to go wild with wrapping: we had room to move and our own little commercial kingdom. More paper and ribbon went into those odd, single pieces than there was ever time for upstairs in the shop. We packaged everything with utmost care and got rather good at it in the process.

The cellar is clearly where my love of mix and match old porcelain was born: matching dinner sets are so, well, boring. The hunt, the find, the singular piece long discarded, then the tissue paper, stiff wrapping paper,  the tight knot and  abundant ribbons: happy holidays and instant heirlooms!

http://www.etsy.com/shop/eurovintageclassics

Dutch treats

All little Dutch children are already nervous and sleeping badly. Just ask their teachers! St. Nicholas arrived on their shores a few weeks ago but tomorrow, December 5th, is the BIG day. As opposed to Santa Claus, Dutch kids have oodles of evenings to be expectant: they put out their wooden – or not so wooden – shoes at random intervals during the weeks that St. Nicholas rides through Holland on his beautiful white horse, up and including the 5th, the evening they sincerely hope he and his helpers will knock on the door and leave a huge burlap bag bursting with great stuff. (Calling it all merely ‘toys’ is as demeaning as asking children if they want to ‘play’ with someone after school…you mean ‘chill’ Ma?).

The ‘vintage’ elements of this very folksy festivity are hot chocolate (and in Holland that IS the ultimate), speculaas (a spicey gingerbread type of cookie), some wonderful songs and chocolate shaped letters (yes, the Dutch do have a special talent for anything chocolate). We have gathered a few of these for expats far away from North Sea shores, to fill Dutch burlap bags around the world.

‘Veel gezelligheid toegewenst!’ (‘gezelligheid’ cannot be translated but the English word that come closest is ‘cozy’, then add a bit of ‘fun’, ‘warmth’, smoe snacks and games and you’re in the neighborhood…)

http:www.etsy.com/shop/Eurovintageclassics