The idea of a designer jetting off for a European buying trip sounds dreamy, idyllic, romantic even. Scouring flea market stalls for one-of-a-kind antiques, meeting interesting people proffering wares with intriguing histories and filling crates with rare, exotic and beautiful finds to ship across the ocean, where they’ll eventually find a new home as someone’s pièce de résistance. And finally, ending long days of trolling dusty stalls by sitting down for exquisite meals and superb wines at charming European bistros.
Is any of this close to reality? Recently we sat down with Memphis interior designer Greg Baudoin of Greg Baudoin Interior Design to find out. And the answer is … yes, to all of the above.
Greg travels a couple of times each year to “the European markets,” which for him typically comprise a network of to-the-trade markets in Montpellier, Avignon and Béziers, France. At set times each year, vendors from Spain, Italy, Sweden, France and other countries converge in these southern French villages to display vintage and antique wares in expo center stalls, and Greg hops from village to village for each four-hour, one-day market. It’s serious business, and Greg typically travels with an assistant.
“It’s really a two-man job,” he says. “You find an object; you’re negotiating, measuring, taking pictures, recording and moving really fast, because these markets typically start at 8 a.m. and end promptly by noon. Italians are well-known for pulling out their hams, cheeses and breads at 11 a.m.”
So what’s Greg searching for on these fast and furious expeditions? It varies. “I’m always looking for that one-of-a-kind piece, extremely unique,” he says. “From furniture to accessories. Anything vintage, really. And it’s just all over the board, because you will have brocante — that’s French for ‘junk’ — mixed in with it.”
He keeps his eyes open for lighting, including unique objets he can turn into lamps. Sometimes he’s seeking a specific piece for a client or for one of his firm’s staff designers, who keep a running list of items they need for current projects. He also buys inventory pieces for his Memphis showroom floor.
As an example, on his most recent trip, Greg searched for pieces for a client with a home under construction south of Nashville. “I had the house in mind. I know every inch of it, even though it’s not even fully built yet,” he says. “I brought back pieces over the last two shipments that are going to go in this house.”
So how does Greg get the pieces he finds home? Simple. He works with a middleman. In his case, it’s French shipping and packing company Camard. “They send me books and stickers and tags, and I show up at market,” Greg explains. “I go up to the first vendor, and if, say, there’s a table I want to buy, he stamps it and gives the price, and I tear off a ticket to give to him and go on to the next vendor. Camard has locations at these fairs, and from time to time I go to Camard and turn in my tickets. They go to the vendor, pay them, pick the items up and send them off to be wrapped and shipped.”
The work of a buying trip isn’t entirely glamorous. It’s intense, sometimes stressful. And to attend his favorite markets, Greg rises at 5 a.m. for his drives through the pastoral countryside of southern France. But the perks are fantastic.
Greg often stays in the village of Pézanas, where he can shop the markets and enjoy life like a local. “It’s such a charming French village,” says Greg. “It’s uncomplicated, and I can drive there. There are a couple of markets, grocery stores, and there’s a butcher down the street where I can get poulet and stuffed tomatoes for dinner. It’s just a very manageable place to unwind after a pretty intense day of shopping.”
The markets Greg attends take place on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, which leaves the rest of his typically week-long trips open for exploring France and other European countries. “As far as Paris, I crave that city,” Greg says. “From a designer perspective, the architecture, the sense of style is just amazing. And traveling outside of Paris to some of the smaller villages, you see a change of architecture, and it’s all very inspiring. And it’s just so civilized to go out and have lunch in the courtyard of a café and sit under an arbor, and what they serve that day is what was available.”
While in Paris, he scours the famous Parisian flea markets for additional finds. However, “that has gotten so expensive,” he says. “It’s hard to find products, antiques. We usually do better in the south.” When he does attend the public Paris markets — such as Marché aux Puces or Paul Bert Serpette — he goes on Friday morning, known as the “buyers’ day.”
He takes time out to shop at Le Bon Marché, as well as Jim Thompson and Pierre Frey in the design district. He also enjoys leisurely meals at the city’s legendary eateries, particularly at his favorite restaurant, Atelier Maître Albert. “Every time I go, I have dinner there,” he says.
Also while in Paris, Greg finds time to socialize. A close childhood friend, Matthew Guidry, now lives in Paris with husband Jim Conte, and on his most recent trip, Greg met up with the couple and their French bulldog, Louie, for dinner at GrandCoeur Brasserie. On the same trip, he encountered fellow Memphian Chantal Johnson, owner of Broad Avenue boutique 20twelve.
“That’s the power of social media,” Greg says. “She took a picture of her apartment that she had rented, and I said, ‘Are you in Paris? Let’s meet for dinner.’ She happened to be there by herself, so that worked out.”
During his trips, Greg travels by plane and sometimes train to other parts of Europe. “I might go to Brussels, Prague or Florence while I’m already there,” he says. On one trip, he traveled to Barcelona, and while there, he was invited to dinner at Nina Campbell’s studio in London’s Chelsea Design District. “This was really an exciting trip,” Greg says. “It was a two-week trip where I went to London and Barcelona, because I had a few days between buying trips. It was design week as well, and I had never been to their design week.”
Greg could attend markets showcasing new products (the European equivalent to famous American to-the-trade markets like High Point Market), and he’s done that from time to time, as well. But because he’s visiting countries characterized by their layered architectural histories and breadth of vintage treasures unavailable anywhere else in the world, he prefers traveling to see what’s timeless, rather than what’s trending.
As for some of the rarest finds? “They often end up at my house,” Baudoin says with a laugh. “Like, two trips ago, I bought this extremely unusual but beautiful bronze candlestick.” His clients and projects certainly benefit from his travels, as well. “Recently I visited a project I worked on many years ago out of state,” he says. “And I walked in and saw all those fun and interesting items that I bought for this project in France. To see all this stuff come together, it just feels more special.”
Thank you to Sarah Rossi of Sélavie Photography for the phenomenal images documenting Greg’s fabulous buying trip.
Thank you to Greg Baudoin for sharing his travel stories from his adventures in southern France, Paris and Amsterdam.
Visit Greg at Greg Baudoin Interior Design and witness his vast collection of European antiques and vintage treasures. To learn more about Greg’s full-service interior design firm, visit gregbaudoin.com or call (901) 791-0138.
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