When it comes to outfitting their stunning beachfront homes, droves of worldly homeowners, A-list celebrities, and top interior designers head to Paris’s famed Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, whose unique and storied furniture and objets d’art are ripe for the picking, and where many a design trend is born.
It’s no secret that the world’s top interior designers flock to Paris to search for treasure at the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (www.marcheauxpuces-saintouen.com). Situated just on the city’s northern edge, the world’s largest art and antiques market is an influential epicenter of design. Within this 50-acre labyrinth, the 1,500 vendors—each an internationally recognized expert in his or her field—sell vintage furniture, rare antiques, and decorative objects. There’s nary a knickknack in sight in these village-like alleyways, which are frequented by incognito celebrities and the decorators who work for them. “The décor we find at the Paris flea market is unique and one-of-a-kind,” says Mary Foley of the New York-based interior design studio Foley & Cox (foleyandcox.com). Before launching their own company in 2002, Mary Foley and Michael Cox helmed Ralph Lauren Interiors. The design duo has conceived ocean projects around the world, from Monaco to the Hamptons. “We’ve been shopping the famous Paris market for more than 20 years. We purchase woven chairs, artwork, fabrics, tables, lighting…you name it. Homeowners love learning that particular objects come from the Puces.”
Not only do these pieces add the perfect accent to living spaces, but they also often have a story behind them. One particular sculptural light fixture has caused quite the stir in the Bahamas; Foley and Cox stumbled upon the sea-themed sculpture while trolling the Marché Paul-Bert, just one of the 15 different markets that make up the Puces. “The sculpture is designed with white plaster fish in numerous sizes, all headed in the same direction, like a swarm of fish,” explains Foley. “We placed it over a large slab wood dining table, visible just as you enter the house. Everyone who walks in immediately remarks on how fabulous it is!”
“[The light fixture] hangs horizontally, drawing the eye out to sea,” adds Keiran Gleeson of Global Style Management, a shipping company that assists interior design teams in navigating the Puces. With his insider’s knowledge, Gleeson also scouts for brands like Starbucks and Banana Republic when they are designing new store locations.
The Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (Marche aux Puces translates literally as “flea market”) is, in fact, a bit of a misnomer; there is nothing cheap nor flea-ridden about the merchandise sold here. But you will find incredible values. Exported goods aren’t taxed, explains Gleeson, so a customer’s savings in value-added tax (VAT) can be added back into his or her overall budget. Indeed, retailers and dealers fill up shipping containers with their finds, which will be resold on the other side of the pond for a much higher price. Homeowners do the same, jetting across the Atlantic just to stock up on furnishings to outfit an entire house.
The Puces has been around since the 19th century, but it’s now at the forefront of design trends and has become a Mecca for the world’s style-setters. “The craze for industrial design was actually born at the Paris Puces,” says Nicholas Moufflet, president of the Puces de Saint-Ouen Association and a merchant of vintage posters in Marché Biron. “Now, we’re seeing a growing interest in the 1960s and 1970s. The major players tour the markets just to spot the trends, which then influence their décor style.”
Many stalls are designed as living rooms, serving as inspiration for designers. Shops like Maison Jaune (maisonjaunedesign.com) in Marché Paul-Bert are straight out of the pages of a magazine; walk in the door, and you’re hit with decorating ideas. Julien Régnier curates the space with a poetic minimalism: mid-century Scandinavian chairs atop an animal skin rug, illuminated by Flos lighting.
One of the market’s biggest fans is designer Philippe Starck, whose projects have caused a sensation in all corners of the globe. The Paris native is hard at work on a new restaurant at the juncture of the Serpette and Paul-Bert markets, right in the beating heart of the Puces. Slated to open in September, the chic bistro, called “Ma Puce” (“my flea,” which is actually an affectionate term in French) will serve soul-warming eats in a loft-like space decorated with flea market finds.
Pilgrimage to the Puces
Follow in the footsteps of these acclaimed designers with your own day of shopping at the Puces. Hunting for an-tiques is somewhat of a national sport in France, making August—when most Parisians leave for their month-long annual vacations—the perfect time to make a pilgrimage. The marketplace is required by law to remain open year-round (Saturday-Monday), and though some merchants depart en vacances (15-20 percent), most of the sprawling complex is open and ripe for the picking. (Moufflet estimates that the market receives five million visitors a year, with official sales for art and antiques totaling 350 million euros.)
You’re certainly not limited to opulent antiques when decorating your seaside home. Though if your preference is for regal splendor—such as 17th-century portraits in gold-leaf frames, glittering antique barometers, and gilded Louis XV cabinets—you’ll definitely find that, too. It’s even possible to unearth furniture with a royal provenance: throne-like chairs, fireplace screens, and Baroque cabinets that once graced the Château de Versailles and other monarchs’ playgrounds. (Just head to Arnaud Catel’s stall in Marché Biron)
Whatever your style, the Puces is the place to find your décor. “The market is incredibly diverse,” says Moufflet, “with a bit of everything spread out everywhere. You’ll find items from 10 euros to 10,000 euros to 100,000 euros, all mixed up together in the markets.” Foley and Cox have an affinity for Art Deco, and their favorite shop is Dany Art Deco/BDV (bdvdeco.com) on rue des Rosiers. The storage attic alone is like a lesson in design history, starting with the Art Nouveau period. “We often purchase furniture from Frédéric, the owner, and then have it restored before shipping and installation,” says Foley. One such example is a set of white and ebony chairs gracing the dining room of Tugatsu, a megayacht docked in Monte Carlo. Foley & Cox designed the interiors of the 148-foot motor yacht, a study in luxury with a black-and-white color scheme, in 2009.
Like Art Deco, vintage European industrial design is all the rage, and Quintessence Playground (quintessenceplayground.com) on rue Paul Bert is a great place to source original items and reclaimed objects. It’s a veritable style emporium with a surprise at every turn, like oversized stage lights, a retro pharmacist’s counter, and a factory bobbin converted into a table. In the same fashion, Foley and Cox picked up a pair of metal-and-wood bookcases from Jardinières & Intérieurs (jardinieresetinterieurs.com) in Marché Paul-Bert to decorate a house in Rumson, New Jersey—an artful mix of new and vintage.
In designing coastal getaways, Foley and Cox often use all-white palettes to create backdrops for their clients’ decorative collections. These tones also showcase the unusual objets d’art they source from the Paris Puces. For a home in Spring Lake, New Jersey, Foley and Cox purchased an antique French metric system from vendor Marie Pierre Jaudel, which adorns a sideboard. They also bought six herbiers from La Petite Maison, a vine-covered house on rue Paul Bert with its own secret garden; beginning centuries ago, botanists collected and dried plants in order to classify them. Inside the stylish shop, herbiers full of pressed flowers hang on the wall above glass domes filled with stacked tuxedo collars, perched atop an 18th-century Swedish table.
Next door, Colonial Concept (colonialconcept.com) has a museum-worthy taxidermy collection, including giraffes and tigers—even an $80,000 fur bedspread. Other curiosities include coveted cigar cases made from stingrays and an upright lobster displayed inside a glass specimen globe.
For nautical decor, head upstairs in the Marché Dauphine to John Pearce’s stand. This Englishman sells model sailboats, brass telescopes, navigation instruments, and steamer trunks. Often, these vintage trunks, which are sourced by interior designers to be converted into coffee tables, tell their stories through their luggage stickers. Alain Zisul, the owner of Le Monde du Voyage (lemondeduvoyage.com) in the Marché Serpette, points to the hotel stickers on his Louis Vuitton trunks. “There was a secret code between the doormen of the Grand Hotels in France,” he explains. “They would stick the label in a certain way, indicating whether the client was stingy, generous, mean, or a nice fellow.”
There’s even kitchenware at Bachelier Antiquités (bachelier-antiquites.com), a stall in Marché Paul-Bert that’s a favorite of production studios for sourcing movie props. There, copper pots, Champagne corkers, vintage coffee mills, and an antique fridge-cum-armoire are in mint condition.
While shopping for your oceanfront home, you might be tempted by the haute couture at Babellou Vintage (babellou-vintage.fr), or the designer jewelry collected by Olwen Forest, whose stand in the Marché Serpette showcases sparklers worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Rita Hayworth. Whatever treasure you find at the Puces will bring a touch of Parisian art de vivre to your home by the sea.
WHERE TO STAY:
Riad Kneife an antiques expert and personal shopper, has an exclusive partnership with La Maison Champs-Élysées, a hip hangout just a stone’s throw from the famous boulevard. The hotel was styled by renowned fashion house Maison Martin Margiela. Clients sit down with Kneife for a private consultation before hitting up the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen on a private shopping spree. kneife.com; lamaison champselysees.com.
Hotel aficionados will want to check out the Shangri-La, newly opened in December 2010. (Napoleon Bonaparte’s grandnephew used to live in this palace.) Designer Pierre-Yves Rochon waved his wand over the interiors, highlighting the building’s heritage (think frescoed ceilings, cavernous marble fireplaces, and a glittering ballroom that appears to be straight out of Versailles). Sit down for the meal of your life at one of the hotel’s two Michelin-starred restaurants before sleeping off your food coma in an elegant room overlooking the Eiffel Tower. shangri-la.com/en/paris/shangrila.
The Pavillon de la Reine has an enviable location on the Places de Vosges, the prettiest square in Paris. All the sought-after boutiques and cafes of the trendy Marais district are at your doorstep. Housed in a 17th-century townhouse, the hotel offers a lovely library bar and a Carita spa. pavillon-de-la-reine.com. In Saint Germain near the Luxembourg Gardens, the lovely Villa Madame pairs plush rooms with personalized service. villa-madame.com.
For a great value, consider Hotel de la Porte Dorée in the residential 12th arrondissement, or Mama Shelter, a trendy concept hotel designed by Philippe Starck near the Père Lachaise Cemetery. hoteldelaportedoree.com; mamashelter.com.