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Down to the Provenal Details

Some people party on Saturday night. Me? I hang drapes.

Remember what I said a while back?…“Travaux” Twice the Time, Twice the Price.” Another expression I have learned since undertaking this project is “The devil is in the details.” So right they are.

At 6 p.m. my “entrepreneur” (contractor), housekeeper and I thought it wouldn’t take long to clean and put the (almost) finishing touches on the studio apartment I have been renovating for short term rental on rue Charlot. Four hours later we couldn’t do more and sat back to admire our work. Every inch of it is clean. All the “bricolage” (di-it-yourself work) is almost complete, the curtains have been hung and the blinds are attached and working.

Three things still remained to purchase of any real significance: a “secretary” style desk, a “table de nuit” (night stand) and a mirror for over the bed. I had been looking everywhere and not coming up with just what I had in mind to follow in the Provençal theme. Frustration was beginning to set in.

It had been years to have made a trip to the Marché aux Puces in Saint-Ouen, but it seemed to be in order for just such an occasion. A friend agreed to join me as she was also looking for a few things and knowing her good taste, was assured to have the perfect antique-hunting companion.

There is nothing more expansive than the Marché aux Puces of Paris — not actually IN Paris, but just outside the Périphérique (outer ring road) in the suburb of Saint-Ouen. When you take the number 4 Métro to the end of the line, Porte de Clignancourt, do not be fooled by the open air market stalls between the Métro station and the ring road into thinking this is the Marché aux Puces. Just keep walking north until you run into rue des Rosiers (yes, another rue des Rosiers) where it all really begins.The story goes that “between 1880 and 1900, the visitor who left Paris via the Porte de Clignancourt would travel past the glacis of the fortress, the hovels of the rag-and-bone men and the makeshift market stalls and inns set up in the middle of the fields and market gardens. It was against this colorful background, along the ‘passageway’ which separated the capital from the town of Saint-Ouen, that the Flea Market set up home.” To read more about the “biffins,” “chiftires,” “crocheteurs” and “pêcheurs de lune”…these “rag-and-bone” men who travel led through the city by night, searching for old objects that had been thrown out with the rubbish, visit the official site (in English) at

Today it is the world’s largest antiques market with as many as 150,000 visitors every weekend from all over the world who come in the hope of finding rare and treasured objects. Yesterday I was one of them.

August can be both a good and bad time to be there. About half the merchants are closed and on vacation, but those that are open are willing to make a sale at an off-season price. There are fewer buyers, too, so wandering among the stalls is pleasant and the dealers are happy to give you their time.

There are 15 different markets, each of which has a particular flavor and style. It doesn’t take long to recognize which would be the wrong style of furnishings or wrong price range with a brief tour. We started at the Vernaison Market, the first you come to off rue des Rosiers and within a few moments, found a secretary that would be perfect. It was missing the door that hinges down to make the desk, but the dealer assured me it was currently in repair and would be sold with it. Seeing as it was so soon, we continued on to search for something even better.

The Paul Bert Market we knew to have more French country and provincial style furnishings and there we quickly discovered twin night stands we both fell in love with…each miniature with three drawers, hand painted flowers and motifs on a mottled yellow background, light and delicate. Perfect. The dealer made a fast offer and we made a quick deal handing over the money, agreeing to each take one (creating a new special bond between us) and to return to pick them up later after lunch.

Lunch at his recommendation was at Le Paul Bert, at 20, rue Paul Bert, and he said, “Have the chicken.” We did, and he was right. Le Paul Bert is a great restaurant find!

Renewed, refreshed and after perusing most all the markets while carrying our two “petites tables de nuit,” not having found another secretary to suit my tastes or budget, nor a single mirror I’d want to call my own, we started to head home with a stop at the stall in Vernaison.

There it all came together. Le Monsieur suggested he have the secretary refinished to match the night stand, in the same color. Then I noticed a frame against the wall along with many others that matched the two pieces of furniture perfectly, but in need of repair. He suggested to repair the frame, place in it an antique mirror, refinish it in white and deliver them all at the end of the week — all this at what I believe was a very reasonable price, certainly within my budget.

I paid him half, the remaining balance to be paid upon delivery and now I’m anxious to see how it all fits in Le Provençal as I imagine them!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Le Provençal is getting booked up fast for the fall, but is still available for now through September 23. To make your request, visit /parlerparis/apartments/rentals/provencal.html or email [email protected] To see more apartments for rent in Paris, visit/parlerparis/apartments


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