Mastering the flea market

In Travels and events by Roger Thomas

As the Louvre is to your local art museum, so les Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen is to your local flea market. The market, on the northern edge of Paris near Porte de Clignancourt, dates back nearly 150 years, and claims to be the world’s largest.

I and many other designers have long found it to be an essential source. Over the years I’ve developed a method to avoid the madness of rifling through offerings of around 1,400 dealers and merchants spread across 17 acres. It was a great pleasure to discuss shopping strategies recently with a group of other designers and friends in Paris around the time of the equally overwhelming trade show, Maison et objet. My friend and business partner Jobi Blachy, president of Quintus, hosted a delightful luncheon for us at Ma Cocotte, the Philippe Starck-designed restaurant just along the market’s main street. I shared some tips:

  • Forget about Fashion Week. Bundle up in winter. Wear comfortable shoes.
  • The proverb about the early bird applies. The market opens to the trade at 8:30 on Fridays, and at varying, later hours to tout le monde Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
  • Come with a plan. Usually I’m shopping with more than one project in mind, sometimes a large one. I have a budget and a shopping list. I may find a surprise or three, and the plan may change. Also important: Keep track of what you buy, annotating the list as you go.
  • Office supplies! Measuring tape, of course. But sharpies, Scotch tape, a stapler all come in handy. I bring pre-addressed labels with delivery address and contact information at destination, which speeds transactions and minimizes the risk of errors and later confusion.
  • Have a sense of value in mind, and expect a professional sales process. Be sure the vendor knows you’re shipping out of the EU, so the VAT gets factored out. I usually have some luck extracting a modest discount, sometimes a bigger one.

I find genuine antique marvels and solid, serviceable reproductions. Both may find a place in my projects. The market is made up of both outdoor stalls and a series of covered markets, and I always make sure to visit a certain few of these: Serpette and Paul Bert for furniture and accessories, Malassis for giant mirrors and lacquered furniture, Biron for Japanese antiques. Dauphine offers bin and bin of old prints and a wide selection of antique textiles.

Finally, Ma Cocotte is the best lunch stop anywhere around there. Book!


Jobi Blachy welcomes the guests.

Quite a big group of design professionals.

Forget about Fashion Week. Bundle up in winter.

A note book comes in handy.

Sammie Shoeir from EDET company has helpful tips on shipping.

Guests are enjoying their lunch.

With Robyn Jensen from Jensen Interior Design.

Pointing out favorite markets.

Ma cocotte, the best restaurant at Les Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen.

Entrance to Serpette market.

Entrance to Paul Bert market.

A corner store at Paul Bert market.

A store at Paul Bert market.

Entrance of Biron market with Christmas decoration.

A store at Biron market.

A store at Biron market.

A store at Dauphine market.

A store at Dauphine market.

Furniture and found objects at Dauphine market.

Entrance to Malassis market.

Persian rugs at Malassis market.

Asian antiquities at Malassis market.

Treasures from Persia.

A store called Leyla, my go-to for antique textiles.

On display at Leyla.