If you have an interest in interiors, you adore vintage style and are a romantic at heart, then you would surely love the brocantes in Orleans and the marche aux puces in Paris.
If only you had the time, the contacts and could speak French like a native. No, we don’t either but we do know a man who has all that and more.
Stephen Hazell specialises in French homeware and his warehouse on the outskirts of York is a treasure trove of fabulous finds.
The French House, www.thefrenchhouse.co.uk, which has a sister store in London, is a favourite with interior designers and is packed to the rafters with everything from chandeliers, mirrors and beautiful antique beds to armoires and interesting objects. On our last visit we spotted street signs, bowler hats, elegant furniture, a bust from a chateau in Orleans and scores of conversation pieces.
The business began when property developer Stephen bought a house bought a holiday home in the Pyrenees.
“The house I bought had two prices, one to buy it empty and the other to buy it with the contents. It was full of antiques so I went for the second option,” he says.
The French don’t value antiques in the same way we do, so he brought some back to Yorkshire, kept his favourite pieces then sold the rest to family and friends. That’s when he realised there was a market.
He and his son Marcus bought a van and embarked on a road trip hunting out more antique and vintage French furniture and furnishings. They had a blast and soon there was enough to fill a shop.
The French House in York was launched on Micklegate 25 years ago and recently moved to a larger site in Huntington.
Stephen and his partner Kathryn now travel to France eight times a year and stay between two and four weeks each time. They have a home in Sancerre in the Loire Valley and are an established part of the community there.
The couple have long-established contacts, visit sales and do house clearances, and it’s the latter that yield the most interesting finds and fuels their passion for the job.
Their workshop, restores and reupholsters furniture and beds, while custom-made mattresses are bought from the York Bedding Company. Old French beds are notoriously fickle when it comes to sizing. They come in all widths.
“That’s a service we offer that others don’t. If a table is too long we can cut it down, we French polish, upholster and we deliver and install, which people appreciate, especially if it’s a huge mirror,” says Kathryn.
It’s that sort of service that brings visitors from all over the country and they arrive via word of mouth or are tempted by lists of new items in stock that is mailed out each week to customers. The French House has never advertised because it doesn’t have to.