If you’ve always admired the effortless shabby chic of a French farmhouse kitchen, it’s easy to add a few typical French-style accents to your own home.
Every self-respecting French home has a couple of pieces of enamelware – tall jugs, milk cans or wash pots. These latter are wall-mounted pots with a spout, which were filled with warm water to give basic washing facilities.
The best place to track down authentic vintage enamelware is to plan a trip to France, and visit a local vide grenier, or car boot sale, where you can pick up vintage enamelware for a couple of euros.
Alternatively, most brocantes (junk shops) will have a selection, although these will be a little more expensive than vide greniers. Find a list of events at www.vide-greniers.org.
2. Painted furniture
The French have a lovely attitude towards furniture – buy the best you can afford, then never, ever throw it away. You’ll often see old French furniture given a new lease of life with a coat of paint, and the most attractive pieces are those that have been painted many times and gradually and naturally distressed over the years. You can replicate the look simply and cheaply, and it works particularly well with small tables or kitchen chairs.
Sand down your chosen piece of furniture to remove any traces of wax or varnish, then paint it with two coats of white eggshell paint. Leave it to dry completely, then paint with a coat of matt wood paint in a shade of grey or blue.
When the top coat’s completely dry, use a piece of sandpaper to remove the coloured paint at areas of high usage, such as corners or backs of chairs, so that the paler paint underneath shows through. If you’re painting a set of kitchen chairs, painting each one in a different colour gives a quirky, mismatched effect.
3. Mismatched china
Use mismatched china in different patterns but the same colour scheme to create a charming vintage effect. Plates and cups should be on display, rather than hidden in cupboards.
Patterns in blue and white add the right Gallic touch – try mixing florals patterns with stripes. Vintage china’s great fun to track down – try car boot sales on both sides of the Channel, as well as charity shops and online auction sites.
4. Embroidered Linen
White vintage napkins and tablecloths, embroidered in pale thread with initials and monograms, are guaranteed to add a little French glamour to your British kitchen. At the risk of sounding like we’ve got shares in Eurotunnel, genuine vintage linens are best picked up in France – you can find them in brocantes and vide greniers easily and cheaply.
To remove rust spots from vintage fabrics, saturate the mark with lemon juice and cover it with salt. If it’s a sunny day, spread the linen outside for an hour or so until the lemon juice is completely dry, then wash the fabric. If the weather’s more Britain than Bordeaux, leave the fabric in a dry place for 24 hours before washing.
For a modern alternative, try Not on the High Street – you can even order your own personalised linen.
5. Copper pans
French cookware is world famous, and several well known French manufacturers still make copper pans for use by professional chefs. Modern versions are lined with stainless steel, to make them easy to clean, and the old, vintage versions have fallen a little out of favour for everyday use as they require constant polishing and scouring.
Many a set of old copper pans in France now adorns the kitchen wall rather than the stove, and would look equally as good in a British home. Vintage pans are available in all shapes and sizes, but the smaller pans, used to make sauces or heat brandy to flambe desserts, often make more practical ornaments.
By Sara Walker