Around 10 years ago, when we bought our holiday home in Gascony, we were faced with the same dilemma as most other people: what to do about furniture when we’d already spent most of the budget buying the house?
The quick, easy and short-term answer was making many trips to Ikea. Although the Swedish giant is brilliant for many things from kitchenware to soft furnishings, though, we always struggled with finding furniture. The ultra-modern stuff for sale at Ikea didn’t really suit our tumbledown farmhouse, and we wanted something a little more authentically French and of the period (our house is around 150 to 200 years old).
That’s when I discovered the depot-vente. This is an institution which mostly exists because the French have a much less disposable attitude to furniture than we tend to do in the UK. Rather than take old furniture to the tip when it’s been replaced, they send it off to the depot-vente in the hope it will still be of use to someone.
Generally online selling is also much less popular, as distances are much greater for buyers to travel (although there are lots of local online message boards advertising furniture).
‘Depot-vente’ roughly translates to ‘deposit for sale’, and it’s a system whereby you take your item along to the depot-vente premises, and they display it for you and charge a commission when it sells. Our local depot-vente is called the TROC, and it’s part of a chain of franchises bearing that name. It’s huge. Seriously, a massive warehouse crammed with stuff – if you’re a bargain hunter or car boot addict, this is the place to come.
What ‘stuff’ do they sell, then? Go on, name something. anything.
Toasters. Hairdryers. Sofas. Tables and chairs. Tablecloths, forks, ornaments, books, pictures. A life-size cast iron statue of a lion. A fountain. Pens. Toys. The answer is ‘pretty much anything you can think of, and lots of things it would never have occurred to you to think of.’
The pricing is a bit quirky, as it’s set by the seller rather than the depot-vente themselves. You can often see identical objects side by side, bearing different prices. Some things are extremely good value, others are ludicrously expensive.
Large furniture tends to be cheap, as there’s a limited market for it, while smaller pieces are more expensive. Each object bears a sticker which displays a reference number and a price. If you’re interested in an item, you can make a note of the reference number and take it to the till. They’ll use that to look up how long they’ve had the object in stock, and if it’s a few weeks then they can use their discretion to offer a discount – I’ve had items knocked down to just a euro or two, so it’s always worth asking.
Our TROC will deliver for a fixed fee, but otherwise it’s up to you to get your new purchase home within a week.
A visit to the TROC isn’t necessarily for everyone – you have to like rummaging! – but personally, although our house was fully furnished long ago, I rarely come home empty-handed. If you’re on holiday and come across one of these depot-ventes, it’s worth a browse on a rainy day – and you may come back with some unique souvenirs.
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