When Victoria Burton moved to France, she soon realised that her modern flat pack furniture would not look so at home in the granite house she had bought in Normandy. But how to achieve château chic on a budget? Here Victoria reveals how she did it…

Brocante jugWhen I first came to France, I moved from a terraced house that was very white. Flat pack units sat against feature walls and a pink fridge took centre stage in the kitchen. It was clear that my inspiration came from the Ikea catalogue.

The first time I stepped into our granite house in the Normandy countryside that had survived two world wars, I knew the furniture we had transported across La Manche was not going to work! This small house was destined to be a gîte and I wanted château chic on a budget.

First step – the maison de la presse (newsagent) to search out interiors magazines. I looked at picture of farmhouses in the Dordogne, apartments on the Côte d’Azur, penthouses in Paris and from that, I picked images that were quintessentially French.

The über chic shop listings that accompanied the articles meant that I had to look for other avenues to achieve this look. Our neighbour suggested we try the brocantes. You cannot help but notice them as you drive through France. They often hold an eclectic mix of vintage and high quality antiques, but you can often get a bargain if you are prepared to do some repairs.

For practical reasons, we had certain modern items from our previous life that had to stay, so we started with one feature piece for each room, including a carved armoire for the lounge and a demi corbeille bed for the master bedroom. When side by side, the modern furniture faded into the background, so be brave and don’t be afraid to mix it up.

Vide greniers – the French equivalent of the car boot sale – are held most weekends and listings can be found in the orange calendar of events available from any maison de la presse.

BrocanteThese are a great source of finishing touches: vintage Larousse encyclopaedias and games are functional as well as decorative, old maps and magazines can be mounted and framed, old tins make eye catching storage for tea and coffee, old bottles do for vases and if they get damaged or broken, you have an excuse to go treasure hunting again!

As with all bargain hunting, you have your good days and your bad days. Be prepared to rummage. Have a go at haggling – sometimes it works, but my advice would be not to haggle for the sake of it. If you think something is worth the money, then pay the price or be ready to regret it.

Buying second hand and vintage items makes you feel virtuous. Not only can you push aside the flat pack for a solid piece of furniture, but you are buying pieces that have a hidden history and have lived many lives.

From a less romantic point of view, you are saving items from going to land fill and when you fancy a change, you can revamp them or even pass them on to someone else – you may even make a few euros!

  • Victoria Burton runs Puce and Co, an emporium of vintage goods sourced from France.
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