We are delighted to announce the arrival of Gilli Hanna Decorative Antiques to The Old Flight House. Best known for her love of forgotten French antiques, we ask Gilli about her inspiration and how it all began.
“There’s just something about France – and French antiques. Both are under my skin.
Ten years ago I bought a van, hired a space to sell from, went to France and began buying. I am, of course, only one of many who regularly cross the Channel in pursuit of noble, rustic, or long forgotten antiques and brocante, but it is nevertheless a personal joy to do so.
The richness comes from the finding barns stacked with old furniture, seeing foxed reflections in 18th century mirrors, rummaging through boxes for heavy hand made wine glasses or opening an armoire piled with exquisitely worked monogrammes on enormous linen napkins or sheets. It is like touching the past. Travelling through the back roads of France and encountering many characterful people along the way adds to the experience. Then, back in England, bringing beauty out of cobwebby neglect – and knowing that people appreciate what I sell – is a pleasure.
Furniture and decorative items from the eighteenth century hold the most allure for me, but a cupboard in a worn chalky blue paint, or grey flaking shutters or distressed giltwood all have their pull. The thing that often first draws me to a stand is the overall palette of rusty, faded, yellowed colours that make my heart sing.
Much country furniture is made from fruitwood or walnut. The long kitchen tables polish up beautifully. I came across an old chap with a hangar full of these tables – standing on end, their legs nested into each other, creating a tunnel through which we picked our way.
Setting out to a market on pitch black mornings is more than compensated for by eventually watching the sky begin to lighten, putting away my torch and then heading to the stall selling coffee and croissants. During the summer months bright yellow, green or orange posters advertising a Vide Grenier or a Brocante proliferate. Local people and professional brocanteurs set up their stands in unmown, dew sodden fields, and enterprising school girls sell home-made cherry clafouti and slices of white wine cake. I can discover a bundle of love letters from 1917, a candelabra, a pretty table on cabriole legs, or an oil painting of a landscape of olive trees. Wooden trugs, picture frames, white ceramics are quickly snaffled up too.
I also go to trade fairs held at exhibition parks on the outskirts of towns in the centre and south of France. The pace is faster here, and the atmosphere is charged as dealers from all over the world converge to negotiate and buy. It is hard work, requiring stamina to cover the hundreds of stands, and requiring persistence when the van has to be completely emptied and repacked to fit in a large item of furniture. But there is usually someone around to lend a helping hand and share a joke. And at the end of a long day it is all worth the effort.
Over the years people have expressed interest in my activities and said they’d like to hear more, so I began the Diary of a Brocanteuse to share my stories and photos.”
You can subscribe to Gilli’s blog by visiting her homepage www.gillihanna-antiques.co.uk.