I cannot believe it has been ten years since we moved into our apartment on the Left Bank. A lot of fortuitous events have crossed my path over the years, but nothing has compared to that moment ten years ago when, in a leap of blind excitement, I began my Paris adventure. I have come to know this beautiful city very well and have found it to be a place of endless inspiration — and a place that has afforded me the luxury of reflection by simply allowing me time to walk in quiet thought without the distractions of cell phones and constant emails. It is amazing how I can live one way in the US and live so differently once I cross the ocean.
As often as I come to Paris, I never miss the opportunity to take at least one day and indulge myself with a trip to the Marché aux Puces (Flea Market). I do not know how many trips I have made to the Puces over the past ten years but there have been many. No matter what brings me to Paris — clients, holidays, a short stop on my way to another city — I always try to have one day available to check out the latest offerings at the market. I have developed a certain routine for this excursion that begins early in the morning.
Last week I flew into Paris to attend the opening of the new Baker Showroom on Rue du Faubourg- St Honoré. The morning after the opening I decided to hit the flea market to check out some of my favorite dealers and perhaps find something I did not know existed but cannot live without. At the very least I always have my iPhone to take shots of any special pieces I may want to send to a client for approval or keep for my memory file.
Since the Puces tend to close up early in the afternoon, it is best to arrive as early as you can. It is a beautiful sunny winter morning, so getting there by metro will be easy. I step out of the apartment and head 2 blocks toward the metro St Germain-des-Prés. Just before I get to the metro station I stop at the corner kiosk and pick up the current edition of Pariscope. This is a small weekly guide to the happenings around the city. Museums, movies and theater events are listed so you can see at a glance what is going on.
With the long day before me, I grab a table at Les Deux Magots for a quick double espresso and a croissant (what else would I get?), and people watch for about 20 minutes. Actually, the only people walking by at this time in the morning are the travelers killing time until check-in time at the neighborhood hotels. They are easy to recognize with their exhausted faces and the rolling luggage trailing behind them. These are the moments of travel that make me so appreciate having my own apartment.
Caffeinated and ready to go, I enter the metro at St Germain-des-Prés and take the line to Porte de Clignancourt. It takes about 20 minutes, followed by a 10-minute walk to the area of the Puces where I typically find things to purchase or inspire. The flea market is enormous, so it is best to know specifically where to go. If I am short on time I head directly for Marché Serpette and Marché Paul Bert.
I enjoy taking friends and clients along with me, but I prefer those times when I am by myself and walking the endless rows of dealers without a list of things to find, or the pressure of keeping a certain schedule. Most of the dealers are very friendly and willing to engage in conversation. Do not be shy — they are there every weekend just waiting to discuss and bargain. This is one place in Paris they will do their best to converse with you in English. If you are having trouble understanding, just seek the help of another dealer close by. They would be happy to step in and help with translating.
Over time I have learned quite a bit from the dealers and through my own observation. There have been a few items over the years that I passed on, only to regret on my flight back to DC, but overall I have made some great purchases for clients and myself.
Along with old pieces there are a number of dealers featuring works by contemporary artisans. Some of these artisans are represented in swankier shops along the Left Bank. If you engage the dealers you will find that many of them have shops in other areas of the city. This can be helpful if you are looking for specific items that you cannot find at the Puces.
I remember my first year coming to the Puces. Everything was fascinating, and I felt the need to purchase everything I found remotely interesting. After a year of accumulating old objects, I realized it might be best to be a little more discerning — or at least only buy something that has a specific destination. As I write this, there is an old Paris street lamp, a life-size wooden torso of Jesus from a 12th century crucifix, and 14 French school-house light fixtures that have been in my DC warehouse storage locker for the past ten years.
My final words of advice: If you are going to the Puces for the first time in hopes of finding a specific item at a fantastic price, you may be in for a big disappointment. While there are indeed great deals to be made, my advice is to go with only the idea of being entertained by a diverse collection of objects and furnishings that you won’t find back home. If you find something that you love, at a price you are comfortable with, buy it. The flight home is twice as long when spent thinking of the chandelier that got away!
World-renowned designer Thomas Pheasant is currently working on the final touches for his new Baker collection to be launched in spring 2012. View the existing designs from The Thomas Pheasant Collection on our website.