Whether traipsing through France in a box truck or behind a computer screen bringing the magic of French antiques to life online, Mimi Montgomery certainly has the “joie de vivre” innate to French culture, despite her American roots. A longtime French antiques enthusiast, Mimi is now living her dream at Lolo French Antiques et More as she works alongside her fiancé Laurent as they source, restore and share the most fabulous French and European antiques with their clients in Birmingham and online. They are “bringing brown wood back,” and are doing so with style and spunk. We are so excited to introduce today’s FACE of Birmingham, the lovely Mimi Montgomery!
How long have you called Birmingham home? What do you love about the city?
About three and a half years. We love our creative friends, so many wonderful restaurants, how easy-breezy airport travel is in and out of Birmingham, and all of my family is nearby.
What led you to the world of French antiques?
I’ve always loved the thrill of the hunt, but I really became interested in French antiques when I started helping a friend with his store while my son was young, and then a trip to Paris and the flea markets there sealed the deal.
You wear many different hats at Lolo French Antiques et More, but much of your work happens online — whether via social media, the website and blog or e-commerce. What are your goals when sharing Lolo French Antiques with your online audience?
As I often say #werebringingbrownwoodback. We want to make antiques appealing in a way that’s hip and cool, especially to a younger generation that might find them stodgy and pretentious … even boring. I also want to share information, whether it’s French traditions, French furniture periods, travel tips or a cocktail recipe for a French 75. I want visitors to find our site unique and want them to come back again and again — not only to purchase our antiques but to learn about our wonderful world of French antiques.
What do you love most about your work?
Traveling and meeting new people — we’re always visiting the most incredible places and seeing the most fabulous pieces and hearing the most amazing stories. Every single piece has a story. They don’t all come from some castle, and sometimes it’s the little pieces from a tiny farmhouse that I love the most.
I also love being able to work with Laurent and Cole, my son, most of the time. Sometimes it’s very challenging working with family. And, of course, always being surrounded by beautiful things is a plus!
What do you find most challenging?
Traveling and working with Laurent and Cole! Traveling has its perks, but often there’s no WiFi and that makes it impossible for me to get any work done. And most of the time, we’re up at the crack of dawn traipsing across France in a box truck.
While it’s a challenge to work with family, we seem to do a pretty good job of it. Laurent and I learned early on that it was best if I worked from home instead of us being together 24/7.
What keeps you inspired on a day-to-day basis?
I love reading and learning; there’s always something new to learn. Also watching Laurent work is inspiring. He is such a perfectionist, and our customers appreciate his attention to detail.
You describe yourself as a “Francophile.” What do you find so enchanting about all things French?
There are so many things, but that adorable Frenchman that I’m going to marry soon tops the list.
It’s also especially evident that the French people live a very passionate life and actually find joy and gratification in the simplest of things, such as meals — especially meals. Meals last so much longer, and people actually have real conversations without distractions. And all the food is fresh. The seafood comes right off the boat, the vegetables are purchased daily at the local market. The baguettes are delish, even at the gas station.
I like that everyone says bonjour and greets everyone with a kiss on the cheek, both cheeks. Manners are important. There’s a sense of joie de vivre that is refreshing.
What types of pieces are your absolute favorite to see in the store and share with your customers online? Is there any particular style or piece that gives you a special thrill?
Very large monastery tables are one of my favorites, just because they are getting harder and harder to find. But they’re all kind of like children — I can’t really pick a favorite.
They’re hard to sell, but Louis XIV or Louis XV period chateau armoires are so beautiful. The craftsmanship and detail are amazing. We found one in the South of France this summer that I still think about and wish we had bought. The carving was exquisite.
How would you recommend a newcomer dip their toes into the vast world of French antiques?
I always suggest they purchase a case piece such as a buffet or chest or an antique dining table. Buy new upholstered pieces and invest in at least one good antique. They will usually spend just as much, or more, at a home furnishings store for a piece that isn’t the same quality. Remember, our pieces have been around for over 100 years and will last hundreds of years to come.
What is one “hidden gem” in Birmingham that every resident should visit or explore?
Wow, that’s a hard one! There are so many and so many that we haven’t visited ourselves. The Cahaba River — especially when the lilies are blooming.
What does an ideal relaxing weekend look like for you?
Snuggling in bed with Laurent and our French bulldog, Louis, on a Sunday, binge-watching Netflix.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Ummm … yes! Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, TJ Maxx and online shopping.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Two pieces, actually: “It is what it is” and “The best way to learn is to surround yourself with people smarter than you and better at your job than you.”
Aside from family, friends and faith, name three things you can’t live without.
My computer (unfortunately), air conditioning and unsweetened iced tea with lemon and Sweet’N Low.
Thank you so much, Mimi, for sharing a dreamy look into your life and business! To learn more about Lolo French Antiques et More, visit lolofrenchantiques.com.
And thank you, Eric & Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography, for these stunning photos.