If you’ve ever felt the thrill of the hunt, you know there’s nothing else like it. For antiques dealers, the adrenaline rush they get when they find that perfect, one-of-a-kind piece is like going over the edge on a roller coaster and knowing there’s no going back. It’s the ah-ha moment that stops you dead in your tracks. It’s the mind-racing panic of “How much is it? I don’t care! I have to have it NOW!” It’s what drives Gabby owner William White, and Gabby creative director, Chris Hutchens, to pack their bags for the South of France every summer where they spend a week seeking out those unique finds that add that extra je ne sais quoi to the Gabby collection.
“We’re not trying to turn into antiques dealers at Gabby,” says Chris. “We like to focus on what we do well and make it even better. Mixing antiques in with our collections adds that extra layer of interest, energy, and patina to our collections—just like they would in someone’s home.”
Maintaining that individual homes shouldn’t look like a showroom, Chris says mixing in personal collections, art, and artifacts is that extra layer that makes everyone’s home uniquely their own. “We look for items to enhance the pieces we design at Gabby,” he says. Some of his favorite finds are garden urns that look amazing indoors and on tabletops. “They always have my heart,” Chris says. “We love large tabletop accent pieces.”
Seeking out the unusual, Chris says he and William look for items that are unique finds—even by European standards. “William and I use two categories for criteria,” Chris says. “There’s the ‘Oh it’s really pretty and it’s a great price,’ and there’s the pieces that literally take your breath away. It’s the pieces that take your breath away that are the difference makers.”
“The fairs and markets offer something different every year,” Chris says. “Just because you find a lot of one thing one year, doesn’t mean it will be there the next year. You never know what you are going to find so it’s best to just buy everything you love at the budget you’ve set.”
This year’s favorite unique finds include:
- Theatre costumes from the 17th-century. Chris plans to frame the pieces in acrylic shadow boxes. “Some have tears and some are in perfect condition. Regardless, the artistry and bead work is amazing,” he says.
- Iron urns. Though they are bringing back several sets, Chris particularly admires one set that was culled from the gates of a castle.
- One very exquisite wine tasting table. “Most of these kinds of tables are small,” Chris says. “This one is large enough to use as a bigger dining table.”
- Oil paintings. “This is the first time we’ve shopped for paintings,” Chris says. “At Gabby, we love the mix of modern furniture and traditional antique art to get that wonderful transitional style. These pieces are a way to help us highlight that look.” His personal favorite art find? Small gold frames with illustrations depicting the inside of cabaret theaters.
The container was shipped to Gabby’s Pelham, Alabama showroom in mid August. “We divvy everything up and send it to our showrooms in Atlanta, Dallas, and High Point,” Chris says.
Stay tuned for the next group of unique finds making their way to a Gabby showroom near you. Until then, happy hunting!
Here are a few tips for antique shopping abroad:
BEFORE YOU GO:
France offers small flea markets (100 vendors) and larger fairs (800 +/- vendors) in the summer and all year long. The Good Life France, offers a great resource for identifying markets and fairs across the country.
For serious buyers, Chris and William recommend hiring a guide/driver. Expert guides will have relationships with most of the vendors and are instrumental in language translation, managing sales, and follow-through with transactions and loading / organizing shipping containers after you leave.
WHEN IN FRANCE:
Huff Harrington shares some tips for navigating the markets:
Know your stuff: Some dealers, especially in Paris, are world-class experts on their merchandise and that can be a little intimidating. So, a little crash course on which Louis is which and what Napoleon had to do with buffets can’t hurt.
Ask questions: You want to know how old the piece is and what the provenance is (i.e: where it’s from and what the story is). Sometimes the appearance can give you a hint: that gorgeous gray/green/blue paint is a pretty good indicator that the piece hails from the South. And, it’s not unusual to find an antique that’s been altered from its original state. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: the tweaks may have happened more than 100 years ago.
Chris Hutchens adds: “We work with one dealer who handpicks everything he sells. He knows the provenance of every piece he owns and has stories and pictures of how and where he found them. He takes so much pride in the antiques he sells. His research and knowledge makes those finds that much more special,” Chris says.
Most dealers are willing to bargain and negotiate. “The more you buy from one dealer, the lower the overall price will be,” Chris says.
Arrive early. Be prepared to move fast and make quick decisions. “At the larger fairs, the gatekeepers let the trucks in, but they aren’t allowed to unload,” says Chris. “Vendors and buyers enter the gates at the same time—while the trucks are being unloaded. This always creates a frenzy!”
While antique shopping across the South of France, William and Chris did manage to get in a little sight seeing. Check out a few highlights from their trip:
We hope you enjoyed your tour! Let us know about some of your favorite unique finds! And, be sure to check out last year’s adventures by clicking here.