Woody’s Wor­ries

This month Ruth Wood is full of se­cond-hand in­for­ma­tion

French Property News - - Contents -

Buy­ing se­cond-hand fur­ni­ture

Ex­treme sports are not re­ally my thing but I do en­joy the lit­tle adren­a­line rush I get when we visit our favourite bro­cante shop in Brit­tany. It has this patch of floor where the boards sag and creak and feel treach­er­ously thin. Step­ping on them feels like a game of Bre­ton roulette. Will this be the day I fall to my doom or will I suc­cess­fully cross into the main show­room? Place your bets. Place your bets.

Hap­pily, it’s a game we’re will­ing to play be­cause the shop is bril­liant. It would be a lazy cliché to say it’s a trea­sure trove and Aladdin’s cave, but it’s a trea­sure trove and Aladdin’s cave. For starters, the long shop win­dow is filled with rows of beau­ti­ful chipped enamel cof­fee pots. In­side there are three cav­ernous rooms, pop­u­lated with a mish­mash of heavy fur­ni­ture and ran­dom stuff – butcher’s blocks and blan­ket boxes, pizza ovens and post­cards, 1960s cof­fee ta­bles and 1980s vinyl. For­mi­da­ble hulks of wardrobe line one wall like por­tals into Nar­nia and at one time there was an old car­a­van in­side sell­ing crêpes and cof­fee.

I’ve only ever bought one piece of fur­ni­ture from the shop, a gor­geous honey-coloured dresser. But Ma­bel, my daugh­ter, al­ways comes away with some­thing, be it a minia­ture porce­lain pig or an an­cient key to nowhere. “C’est com­bien?” she’ll ask the owner, prof­fer­ing her loose change and, more of­ten than not, he waves her off, say­ing it’s “un petit cadeau”.

We’ve been brows­ing bro­cante shops (I can’t help pro­nounc­ing it the Ital­ian way so that it rhymes with Chi­anti) for years and years. Yet the mo­ment we bought a French prop­erty and ac­tu­ally needed to fur­nish it, sud­denly we couldn’t find any­thing. We’d walk into a shop de­ter­mined to buy a chest of draw­ers and come out an hour later with a soapdish.

I’d al­ways imag­ined re­laxed af­ter­noons pot­ter­ing around vide-gre­niers in var­i­ous vil­lages. But in all my years in France I’ve never ac­tu­ally seen one of these leg­endary at­tic clear-out sales. This puz­zles me be­cause in the sum­mer it seems ev­ery inch of mu­nic­i­pal sur­face in Brit­tany is plas­tered in posters ad­ver­tis­ing either at­tic sales or a cir­cus that’s com­ing to town. You’d think it would be dif­fi­cult to move for junk and jug­glers, but no.

So, I’m in­debted to the lo­cal ex­pat builder who told me about Em­maüs and the Croix Rouge. These char­i­ties have fan­tas­tic shops all over France sell­ing old fur­ni­ture at rock-bot­tom prices. At the Red Cross shop in Ploërmel we snapped up a bed­side cab­i­net, a chair and a shoe rack for €30; at the Em­maüs store in Pon­tivy I got some lace cur­tains for €3.

Then my neigh­bour Vir­ginie in­tro­duced me to the cash-and­carry shop Happy Cash and also to lebon­coin.fr, France’s an­swer to Gumtree. What a great web­site! You can buy any­thing from a pram to a prop­erty. The only prob­lem is that you of­ten have to talk to some­one on the phone and be good at tak­ing down ad­dresses in French. One morn­ing I called a lady to ar­range pick­ing up a kids’ bike. She was about to go out for the day and sug­gested we ren­dezvous in a vil­lage called Tre­horenteuc.

Treo what tuck? I’d never heard of the place and be­gan to panic. I made the lady spell it out twice the long way – “T comme Thomas, R comme Raphaël, E comme elle, H comme hi­bou, O comme or­ange, R comme Raphaël, E comme elle, N comme non, T comme Thomas, E comme elle, U comme Ur­sule, C comme chat.” By this time it was get­ting dark (only jok­ing) and I won­dered if we re­ally needed the bike. But when I put the name into sat­nav, there it was. Tre­horenteuc. And you know what? It’s a lovely vil­lage and a per­fect base for ex­plor­ing the fa­mous For­est of Brocéliande. I guess that some­times a bar­gain hunt re­ally can lead you to trea­sure.

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