I have been fortunate enough to take part in a televised challenge ‘The French Collection’ set by Channel 4 to travel to France and scour a flea-market for antiques and collectables to restore, upcycle and sell on for a profit back home in London. Since studying for a diploma in Interior Design at the age of nineteen I’ve developed my love of decorating, buying furniture, upcycling and sourcing accessories; so this was a challenge I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into.
I have upcycled several items for my home, painted, sanded and distressed a few pieces of furniture in a shabby chic style, sewn curtains and bunting and put up shelves and benches; but thus far I’ve yet to buy any antiques. And as I took GCSE French at school almost ten years ago I’d like to think I could just about get by with the language.
Myself and two others were set the task of spending a wad of cash within an afternoon at a beautiful flea market that we would bring home and hopefully sell on for a profit in London and surprisingly it wasn’t as easy as I thought it’d be. There was so much choice it was difficult to know what to buy; to begin with my plan was to source some traditional shabby chic drawers, metal cookery signs, perhaps a few lampshades or a chaise lounge but after a few minutes I realised that French markets are far from shabby chic. There were lots of rustic antiques, huge pieces of furniture, farming tools, ironwork and trunks, possibly the opposite of the commercial shabby chic trend here in England.
I was torn between choosing expensive antiques or small quirky and decorative pieces. I could make more profit by selling on fewer pieces of quality furniture, but smaller items would be easier to sell in quantity and more desirable so it was a gamble I had to take. After a day spent umming and ahhing and stumbling over the language barrier I finally gathered my lot together and was pretty happy with my pick, returning with a third of my budget to fuel my restoration.
Although I had a fair few big pieces of furniture, I like to think that I covered all bases and bought for the commercial market with the knowledge of being able to upcycle and make my items more presentable. I was allowed to restore four items, for which I chose a barrel, a pair of shutters, an oval mirror and a hall mirror.
Donning an apron and some rubber gloves I spent an afternoon sanding, painting, waxing and distressing some of my items and it was a fantastic experience getting my hands dirty and learning some professional techniques straight from a furniture expert. And as the hard work was over all I had to do now was sell them on for a profit!
I chose to restore my barrel because it’s such a pretty piece that I knew would fit in beautifully at a restaurant, cafe or bar. It didn’t need a huge amount of work to bring it back to its former glory, which mean’t that it fit into my time limit after just a quick sand, wax and touch of black paint and the end result was exactly what I’d hoped for.
My hall mirror started life as a dark and rather dull piece which I chose to sand, paint and distress to make it much lighter, add detail and hopefully appeal to a wider market but not being as imposing as it was before. I could see this piece being on a restaurant wall or hallway dressed with hats and scarves to welcome guests.
My freestanding mirror was nothing special to look at before and rather dark and uninviting. Although it had no real age or value, after sanding, painting and distressing it I think it gave it some real character and saleability which I could see being in a bedroom, a ladies restaurant toilet or clothes store dressing room.
My final two pieces were a pair of wooden shutters which I sanded, waxed and painted with black chalkboard paint and added a few sticks of chunky chalk. As soon as I saw them I thought they would make a great menu board in a rustic restaurant, a blackboard in a children’s room or a kitchen shopping list.
On the day of selling I rushed off with a van filled with my goodies primed and ready to pitch my items to antique dealers, interior designs, bars, cafes and restaurants on the swanky Lillie Road of London SW6. Far from my comfort zone I tried my best to price and pitch my items to those I thought would be most relevant to my lot. I soon realised that smaller items sell more easily in London as space is at a premium, so my larger items which could make me the most profit were the hardest to sell, and the smaller more decorative items were snapped up so fast.
After a day of racing between venues and meeting with buyers I came back with just four items, all of which were large, and for my final sale I cut my losses and let three items go for just £35.00 as it was better to sell it and add to the profit pot than come back with it.