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It Was a Fleamarket Kind of Day…

I don’t know if you guys remember but you know how I hate little crappy brocante, tchotchke, bric-a-brac, knickknack give a dog a bone type of flea markets? Well, I do. I don’t like to search for “junk.” Let me tell you, there is a difference between junk and accessories. My favorite part of decorating a house is the end when you start accessorizing. Accessorizing takes time and energy and just the right eye. My mother, the master of vignettes, and I find this the most enjoyable part of decorating a home.

So, armed with some birthday money, off to the fleamarket I went. Living in Paris with limited square footage, limited surface space and a limited budget for that matter, I need to be very choosy. My caregivers cost a fortune and I cannot just buy every little thing my heart desires which fucking sucks. However, I decided today that I would treat it as a challenge. I had €200 to spend and I wasn’t leaving the fleamarket until every last euro was gone. Mission accomplished.

Now, let me state for the record, I know a thing or two about antiques and negotiating/bargaining. I’ve been doing this my entire life. When I was about five years old, my grandmother and her friends had a little fun bored housewives antique store called The Flea. They called themselves the fleas. I have been “in training” since then. There is definitely an art to flea marketing. Here are some rules…

Make a commitment, wake up early and get to the fleamarket at the crack of dawn.

Have cash ready. Bigger, more professional flea markets will accept checks and credit cards but usually cash is king. Use small bills because dealers always pretend like they don’t have change.

Be polite, but don’t act too interested.

Nonchalantly, look the piece over. Open it up, turn it over, inspect for damages, look for stamps to show provenance… Demurely make it look like you know what you’re doing.

When you ask the dealer the price of an item, counter offer with exactly half of that and negotiate from there. Be willing to walk away (but I always come back later).

Look poor. Don’t go to a fleamarket with your Hermès bracelet or your big fat diamond wedding ring. I don’t even like to go to a fleamarket with my pretty boy husband because he just looks rich. It’s so annoying and just his presence costs me money. Overall, it’s better if it’s just me in my wheelchair with my caregiver. We probably save 20%. Oh my God, how awful of me… But it’s true. Today I wore my breathing machine strapped to a face so I looked extra pathetic. Don’t judge, I also get stared at 90% of the time like I am the elephant man, so a little discount is fair game.

Take photos of everything. You can use them later for inspiration and at the end of your fleamarket day you can look back through your camera roll and see if there’s anything you just can’t live without and then you can go back and bargain your little heart out. The end of the day is when you get your best deals.

Dress in layers, take a big insulated thermos of hot chai with vanilla soy milk, take a hat and sunglasses and go tinkle before you leave because the last thing you want is to be searching for a clean restroom at a goddamn fleamarket and by the way that doesn’t exist. Always take a rolling cart… The kind the little old French ladies use for groceries… Who cares if you look like a dork. You need to be hands-free and this way you can buy more stuff. I always take a little bubble wrap and/or newspaper for the delicate items. Dealers usually never have tissue or bags so it’s best if you prepare yourself because you don’t want your new treasure to break. Don’t stop for food… You don’t have time for this. Grab a croissant and eat as you walk, fatso.

Have a general idea of what you are looking for. Today I knew I wanted little seaside landscape paintings because I’m trying to curate a whole collection for a specific wall in my apartment. Be ready to think outside of the box because nothing’s going to be perfect. Keep your eyes open because you never know what will inspire you. Try to draw on everything you’ve ever been inspired by… Every house that you’ve loved, every shelter magazine editorial that gave you goosebumps, every Pinterest board that you have pinned, every museum and art collection that you have loved etc. Have a color scheme in mind but also be willing to accept a pop of color.

Don’t be a slave to size. Sometimes something completely over scale is awesome. Sometimes something small but truly unique is awesome as well. Just don’t have too much small crap or too much big crap. You need to have a mixture.

Buy what you love and you will always find a home for it. Ignore your detractors. For example, my husband cannot and will not ever see the value of a little chinoiserie black lacquered box and I couldn’t care less. March on with confidence.

Don’t not buy something just because it has a little flaw. Flaws make pieces unique.

I always like to keep mental file box when I’m going through a fleamarket. One dealer may have 5 dessert plates in that blue and white pattern that you love and another dealer may have three of the same. Take photos and remember what’s what and where it is so you can go back later to put your collection together. For some reason, I can’t remember my friend’s birthday (sorry, Susie) but my God, I sure can remember which booth I saw that provençal polychrome vase. It’s both a blessing and a curse. :-)

Don’t forget to enjoy the local flavor. I love fleamarket people. I truly do. I love the crabby gentleman dealers with four-day scruff, a handrolled cigarette hanging out of their mouths while they speak with a slight whiff of the previous evening’s red wine bing. I love the older French women dealers who reluctantly sell their hand dyed linens as if they’re giving up their two-day-old baby girl. I love the coffee ladies who walk up and down the aisles, singing and selling their home made coffee for one euro. I love the straight out of central casting Frenchman playing the piano or accordion to the tune of La Vie en Rose. I also love the “ladies who lunch” who slum it in the 14th arrondissement fleamarket and return to their hoity-toity 16th arrondissement apartment with all of their hard bargained treasures. Most of all, I love the dogs of the fleamarkets especially my favorite, Teckel à poil dur.


So, with all of that being said let’s take a look at the spoils of my day.

My first purchase was this little gold hand. The dealer said it was used as a monogramming stamp with wax. Originally €25. Sold to me for €15. I thought it would be nice on top of a little stack of books or on my little sidetable next to my picture frames.


Next up, a typical blue-and-white double happiness Chinese ginger vase/jar. I have literally had hundreds of these in my life. Remember when I told you my secret source for these in Los Angeles? I know their value, I know where they’re from and I know that there are literally billions of them in the world. These are not rare but apparently in freaking Paris they are. I have never seen one in France for under €150. I have never paid over $50 for one in ‘merica and for some reason I refuse to pay more than €50 in France… So, I don’t have one. This dealer today wanted €200 for it. I rudely offered €40. She proceeded to tell me that they were “antique and rare” and I proceeded to want to punch her in the face for lying… To a girl in a wheelchair for God sake! :-) I had to walk away from this booth because it was going to get ugly. (I still want the jar though but, on principle, I will wait until I find one for €50.)

Next up I found a little stand that was selling crappy little watercolors. If you know what you’re doing and you have a good eye, these watercolors can be great little finds. I never care if these little painting are framed or unframed. Original price €100 each. Sold to me for €60 for two. Congratulations accepted. I’m going to start a collection of these for a certain wall in my apartment but until I have the whole grouping, I decided to put one of the paintings behind all of my perfume bottles and the other one on my bedside table behind my shrine to Gracie.


I absolutely loved this heavy duty silver tray. I thought it would be perfect for my tea parties with my blue-and-white Monet tea set. However, it was €150 so I had to walk away. Remember, my whole budget today was only €200 but I will probably forever think about this tray and wish I had bought it for the rest of my life.


Next up I saw this fantastic gilded sunburst. The dealer actually looked like she lived inside of her van so I thought I was going to get a good price for it but low and behold she said it was €350. WTF! I offered her €50. She was not amused.


At the last booth on the first aisle, I spied something that I thought would be perfect on my living room fireplace mantel. Something about it reminded me of Picasso and his bull paintings and my summers in Mallorca, Spain with my friend, Diandra. I knew I had to have it. It was unusual, unique and a good size. The dealer wanted €150. Ugh. I had to walk away but I knew I would be back at the end if I had any money left. Guess what? It’s mine. I waited until I had seen every other booth and then I decided that yes, I still wanted that Picasso bull. Luckily, it was still there and I knew I needed to do some hard bargaining. As usual, I rudely offered €50 yet was denied. I put on my puppy face and the dealer came down to €120. Not good enough yet… I gave him a look of, “but I’m just a poor girl in a wheelchair.” He came down to €100. I reminded him that ALS was terminal and he came down to €80. Sold! I really think this ALS is going to start to work for me. :-)


We decided to take a hard left and go to the junkier section of the fleamarket. This is the section where all of the dealers look like they stole everything out of their aunt’s apartment. It’s rare that you find anything good in this section but I spied with my little eye something super fantastic… This soldier’s helmet with red plume. I just loved it. My husband just rolled his eyes. I thought it would be perfect on my other fireplace mantel in the dining room. The dealer wanted €50. I knew that was a good price but being the bitch that I am, I offered €25. My luck had run out at this point and his lowest offer was €40. I accepted and I am now the proud owner of a worthless helmet according to my husband. I think it looks great and he can suck it.


My last purchase was a feel-good purchase. My grandmother always had an identical black lacquered chinoiserie box on her coffee table for as long as I can remember. Here’s the best part… It was only €20! I didn’t even haggle because that would just be rude. It’s mine now and I could not be happier. See, it just goes to show you that a little can go a long way. Not everything has to be expensive to be magnificent!

There are a few pieces that I was sad that I had to leave behind… A gilded mirror that was €450. A chic little set of black handle oyster knives. An oversized mortar (missing the pestle) that I thought would look great with a little plant but it was €80. The chic 1930s gold flower sconces that were too expensive and another beautiful black lacquered chinoiserie box that was €120 and a few other things. Boo-hoo. Take a look…


What a wonderful day! These flea markets are one of the reasons why I love living in France. Decorating a home is all about the curating and juxtaposition. Even if you are on a strict budget, it is not impossible to have a chic little apartment. Keep your eyes open, your mind out of the box, and create a “whole look” that has a lot of style without breaking the bank. It’s okay to splurge on the important pieces like a mirror, a sofa, a rug, a painting, or a table etc. but it is also so easy to give your apartment real character with all of the accessories that you had to work hard for through a little leg work, a lot of bargaining and some elbow grease. Deal with it, it’s called life.

*Something you don’t know about me? I did this today also…
 My boring balcony before...
My boring balcony in process...

Et voilà!


  1. I love, love, love your ''Picasso" bull! Genius buy and you have a great eye. What fun!! I love the painting behind your Gracie shrine too. And mostly I love your blog and that you share all these adventures with us!! Barb xx

  2. (Hmmm....second try...I'm so lame at this). I LOVE your 'Picasso' bull and the painting behind Gracie's shrine the most. You have an amazing eye and I really love your bargaining tips; you're RUTHLESS...I would expect nothing less!!! Seriously, you have to get some bonus out that darn chair!! Thanks for sharing this and all your blogs; I so look forward to reading you. Barb xx

  3. Terrific tactics. xoxo Beth

  4. I love the post and love all the loot too. Well done.

    I've noted those tactics.

    That Faux Picasso (Ficasso) bull is amazing,

    Good luck with the balcony garden. x

  5. I would love to find a paiinting like that at a flea market! I have been looking for pretty salad plates like the ones you didn't buy. Or are they dessert plates? You have such a good eye. I think the helmet is a great conversation piece!

    Tell that MISTER BUNNY I have a very similar helmet..............

  7. I love Paris Flea. I think you hand was once part of a door knocker. Your balcony looks lovely; love the white flowers. This outing looked like Varnes Flea. What other flea markets have you been to in Paris? Please write another post about them. Thanks,

  8. Don that plumed helmet, I will crack the whip before you, and all will bow down. You truly commandeered that damn market with the stealth, cunning and stomach of a Roman General. Ave Ceasar!

  9. Love this whole post so much. The balcony looks fab, and your flea market finds are brilliant - that bull looks superb on the mantlepiece. It must be my week to look at other's French finds and feel pangs of envy though - I was talking to the French Antique man who has just returned from a buying trip about a large gilt mirror I want to buy, and of course he felt the need to show me lots of photos of other things he bought/ was thinking about but didn't buy. I fell totally in love with the most amazing mirror, but apparently it was one of a set of 13 taken out of a Chateau in the Loire (or so he was told…) and they were being sold on as a set by the dealer… for 250,000 euros. So he didn't buy them (there's no market for 13 identical and very large gilt mirrors in South Australia) and I just had to look sadly at the photo. So many beautiful things to find in France, no wonder you used to love going on buying trips for your shop (and yourself).

    1. Speaking of gilt mirrors… I have a little surprise for next week. I love that that guy was selling the mirrors as a set. There are very few select people who need a set of 13 mirrors. So funny.

  10. Hi Ellie, that Picasso bull is worth every cent! Pity she wouldn't come down on the guilded sunburst - that is lovely (I'd love to have seen her face when you made your offer ;) ). Thanks for the bargaining tips - countering with half, I never knew. Your post brightened my early Sunday morning reading. Wishing you a nice day.

  11. Hi Ellie,
    Love a flea market myself and today I was totally with you on your spending spree. Love everything you bought especially the bull and the helmet. Love your balcony improvements - gorgeous. Thank you for the tips on how to bargain. Kate in Australia

  12. Aha! So you made another go at the Porte de Vanves. Quite frankly, I am a little stunned but so happy that you had a good experience this time around. As I think that I have mentioned in your first post about it, so much of what we own came from there. You would never have been able to make two hundy go so far at St. Ouen!

    And I love the dealers too. How they open up a bottle of red and bring out little tupperwares for lunch at 11am and will ignore potential customers while playing cards as the day goes on...they are a special bunch. Odd ones, like me! ;)

    PS. That silver tray...

    1. Can you believe I went back there? I don't know what possessed me but all of a sudden I got the urge to go. Hopefully I'll be in your neck of the woods next weekend. XOXO

  13. Love this be an ideal day involves walking about in search of treasure like a mini adventure. While England doesn't do as many flea markets there are loads of auction houses that are within reach than just Sotheby's and Christies. Plus the absentee bid system and Internet make it easy for browsing and drama. Love the helmet - it was the one object that always was in everyone's cabinet of curiosities way back when.

  14. Husband rolling eyes - I can't imagine. :)

  15. Love these scores. That brass helmet is my favorite. Happy Sunday. xoxo Mary

  16. Your post is unbelievely timely! My sister and I are going to L'Isle sur la Sorgue at the end of the month and we've timed our visit to take in the Sunday market. Or course, anything we buy will have to either fit in a suitcase (even if I have to buy one just for purchases) or fit in a box to mail home. Your tips will help us immensely, I know! If you can think of anything else we just have to see or do off the beaten tourist path in that area - or any must have out of typical tourist box souvenirs from the area, we'd love to know.
    I thoroughly enjoy your blogs - a friend "introduced" me to you in December and I started to follow you because we have a dear friend who has ALS but now I'm hooked because you're just so interesting and funny! I look forward to your posts. Thanks so much!

    1. Oh my gosh you are going to have so much fun! I don't know anything off the beaten path in the area. You might want to ask my friend Heather who has a great blog called Lost in Arles. She lives in Provence and knows everything about everything down there and has great taste and will guide you in the right direction. You can email her. I might be there at the end of the month as well and maybe we can meet up and say hi to each other. XOXO PS. I'm so sorry your friend has ALS. Tell her I said hi.

    2. We'll be there April 29 through May 4 and would love to meet up and say hi. It would make my day even more special!

  17. I love this I feel like I've just been to the flea markets with you! Your finds are all incredibly amazing, how gorgeous is that helmet with the red plume?
    I went to an antique market this week searching for candlestick holders for a dinner party I had last night, I swear I had a "What Would Ellie Do" moment, nearly bought the boring colonial style brass ones but instead purchased the mad looking pair of very ornate, tall, Italian brass candelabras... they are just what my dining room needed. My friends went crazy for them and they looked fantastic lighting up the table and all of the dear faces.
    I don't think I would have had the nerve to buy them had I not been reading your blog, you have such a talent for accessorizing homes!
    We've just renovated our house top to bottom and are now looking at decorating, art etc so thank you for these life lessons and I will definitely be thinking to myself WWED!! xox

    1. That is so sweet of you! I hope the candelabras looked great. It's always fun to improvise and sometimes that's when the magic happens. XOXO

  18. Ooooh I want to go. Your finds look beautiful! I absolutely love flea markets and am usually more drawn to the cluttered and messy tables because that's where I usually find the best deals on mismatched pieces of china. Actually for my funeral I want it set up like a flea market with all my shit on tables and so then my beautiful things can start new lives with new people AND it'll save the poor soul responsible for going through my house trying to decide on every little item. I also want it to be outside with an open bar with dogs everywhere. I figure it's never a bad idea to hedge your bets for full party attendance by having some incentive for people to come..."well, I didn't care for him--but I LOVED that candelabra...let's go".
    So agree with you on accessories. I think they should always be special and acquired. Not matching and from Home Goods. although I have a ton of cheap blue and white from HG, so I suppose I mean not all from HG :) speaking of cheap blue and white-do you have any resources in New York? I once bought a ton on Canal Street between knockoff Louis Vuitton and a place that sold Pekin ducks in the window and bootleg DVDs in the back. But the last time I was there I found canal street to be very un-canal street. I think I'll be there next week (for about 18 hours) and would love to come home with some obnoxiously large ginger jars.
    So glad you got out and enjoyed yourself with your birthday money! David does look way too rich for a flea market so good idea leaving him home. Now please go back and just take photos of everything.

    1. I am so coming to your funeral! I'm going to start thinking about an outfit. Can a pre-reserve those candelabras? I don't know about any blue-and-white in New York. My best resource is in Los Angeles. Did I tell you today have much I adore you?

    2. LOVE THE FUNERAL........ IDEAS!!!!

    3. Pearl River Mart! On Broadway and Canal. No, not at all like it used to be but truly, what is??

      Stephen Andrew, you have the best idea for a funeral I have ever, ever heard...

  19. Something you don't know about me...every blog that you write makes me think of at least 100 comments and 20 stories. My memory is gone due to my "clitoral cancer"...I mean my MS. I can't read a whole blog and recall what the topic was about. I need an app that lets me add comments the moment I see a picture or read a sentence. The added text would preferably be in neon colors as well as a wide array of my made up emoji's.

    - Fleamarket, gotta go!!! (bringing my wheelchair on my next visit)
    - Totally loved some of the things you picked up...perplexed about a few other things. I already know how you will respond to that comment. That's why I love you!!
    - LOVE the planted additions on the balcony.
    - My thermos would have hot apple cider brandy. Not whatever you said you would put in yours.
    - I'd wear diapers (no explanation needed)
    - Just to confuse the vendors I will wear black yoga pants (2 sizes too small) K-Swiss tennis shoes, my black custom Vin Rouge socks, and a hot pink blinged our hoodie sweatshirt.


    1. It's no secret why we are friends. Black yoga pants two sizes too small was just the giggle that I needed today. XOXO

  20. Oh, how many times I have thought to myself with regard to my husband: "...and he can suck it." Comforting to know that I'm not the only devoted wife who feels this way occasionally/regularly.
    Enjoyed your flea-market diary, photos and shopping/decorating tips. oxo

  21. You scored big time! Love that gold hand, wow!

  22. Ellie that statement about not taking your pretty boy husband was the best. I have noted you style suggestions. Great haul and darn I love that sunburst! Special finds all with some memories attached which is always nice.You will find another of each item you left behind I bet. Your terrace looks great.

    The Arts by Karena
    Artist Nathaniel Galka

  23. This was such a fun read. Have you done a home tour? If so will you reply with the link? If not, why are you holding out on us I would also love a vignette tutorial. I really struggle there. Having a 21 month old only adds to the struggle.

  24. Ahhh. The Teckel poil dur! We used to have one, years ago. He was called Sydney. He was oversized with a huge head and a true character. Miss him still.

    You have a wonderful eye...I missed a fav brocante today due, so seeing your great finds cheered me up!

  25. This was sooooo cool Ellie!!! I am a big flea market junkie..(the nice flea markets). Thank you for those tips on how to move around better and negotiating prices.. I suck at that!! My husband surprisingly is good at it .. i get a bit overwhelmed .. Thanks again Ellie!! Sending you strength your way!!! Your terrace is looking good!! Getting started on ours this week...i'm planting potatoes and salad and some flowers on our balcony.. Doesn't Spring just make everything better?

    xoxoxo Samantha

  26. I love all your flea market finds and also the things you chose to leave behind! And, I love what you did to your balcony. P.S.-If you ever want to sell that helmet with the red plume, please let me know.

  27. This is a particularly fascinating post to me, a flea-shopping neophyte. (I like to travel very lightly.) But what really drew my attention was the Teckel à poil dur. He looks just about irresistible! We have a very good time with Bob, his long-haired sibling Teckel, and Henry, a long, tall Golden Retriever. Greetings from Oregon, Leslie

  28. As usual! I love everything!! I hope you have a great day!
    Thanks for making mine with your great wit and design skills too!

    Love and prayers!!

  29. Lookie Lookie, you sure know how to work that $200, love the gilded sunburst....yup you are correcto, your Bunny would have to be hidden as a monk with a hood on his head otherwise chi- ching chi-ching the little seaside paintings too...oh heck, not much I don't enjoy here from the brocante or flea market you went to...I would go nuts....never sleep ~ go hearing you hit the streets again, you amaze me to no end.....XOXO Stephen Andrew is hilarious....

  30. Most dealers (and retailers) add two times what they paid for their merchandise to the price. So, something they pay $10 for, they mark at $30. I always assume that 65% to 70% of the "marked" price is a fair price. So, I never pay more than that. If you start at 50% of the price, good negotiating will get you to the 70% pretty quickly. If it doesn't, just walk away. As one of the other commentors pointed out, there will be other opportunities to buy some "special". AND, sometimes, by the end of the day, a dealer won't want to pack it up to take home so "breaking even" may be just fine with him or her.

    Smiles from Charlotte Des Fleurs

  31. Omg Ellie one of your best ideas yet!! Why the F not? I think you should name the store "The Ellie Before."

    Love you! Xoxox,
    Jean (and Piper)

  32. I love the little helmet with the red feathers. I never would have bought it because of my lack of imagination. That was a great find. Mark 1 for Ellie and 0 for David.

  33. Ellie, My most favorite post of yours so far. I felt like I was right there shopping with you. I so agree that the coolest things can be found at the flea market if you have a good eye and patience.What great finds. Love all you got. Good luck with the sale and I think it's great you are going to reopen your store online! The balcony looks beautiful too. xo Kim