For two long years, the famous antiques markets and fairs across France were all but dormant. In the wake of worldwide travel restrictions and quarantines enacted at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, seasoned dealers had limited access to the historic treasures hidden away in galleries, showrooms and warehouses overseas. But 2022 has been different.
“It really opened up for dealers to come back to buy this past April,” says Bruno de la Croix-Vaubois, owner of Country French Interiors in the Dallas Design District. Although he made a couple of short buying trips last year, thanks to his dual citizenship, de la Croix-Vaubois was delighted to see the markets finally back in full swing this year. He and his son Chris, who manages online listings for the antiques showroom, attended six major fairs over two weeks this June, in a bountiful, whirlwind buying tour. The Slocum Street showroom soon will be bursting with new acquisitions, from 18th- and 19th-century furniture to one-of-a-kind paintings, mirrors, tapestries and colorful tin-glazed majolica.
“There were fewer buyers, so we feel we were able to get some really good deals,” notes Chris de la Croix-Vaubois, who has learned the antiques trade by his father’s side since graduating from college. Although a shipping service followed the father-son duo from one fair to the next, they focused heavily on acquiring smaller pieces, as they traveled by car, plane and bullet train across France to find historical gems. During the pandemic, much of the showroom’s business shifted to online sales, and items like paintings, objets d’art, and other decorative accessories are easier to transport, says Chris de la Croix-Vaubois. “We handpick everything ourselves and negotiate directly with the vendors,” he says, whether they are buying hand-carved furniture or bantam decorative pieces, and they always search out exceptional finds, he adds.
The fairs are only open to professional antiques dealers, and each event is a frantic flurry of activity. Vendors display their wares during a brief window, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., before all items are packed into the trucks again and selling is done. “Everything is tightly scheduled, and if one plane or train is late, we’re in trouble,” says Bruno de la Croix-Vaubois with a chuckle. The Versailles native used the time advantageously, however, by leveraging his decades-long relationships with many of the dealers to have them set aside specific items in anticipation of his arrival.
“We bought two incredible 19th-century safes on the trip, each weighing close to a thousand pounds,” he says, with a note of wonder. He also acquired various 200-year-old furnishings from France, Spain and Italy for the showroom, and sought out specific types of antiques that would appeal to the taste of long-time customers in Dallas. Although many patrons of Country French Interiors are baby boomers, millennials and Gen Z clients, likewise, have an appreciation for historic pieces, says Chris de la Croix-Vaubois. Younger buyers often mix contemporary and traditional furniture and decorative items to create a unique and inviting living space that reflects their personal style more than following mainstream trends, he notes.
The showroom also has been acquiring larger pieces from past clients in the metroplex, whose children prefer a different design style and don’t want to inherit their parents’ antiques. “Most of the time, we’ll take them on consignment and sell them on behalf of the owner,” explains Bruno de la Croix-Vaubois, who has been in the business for 36 years. Antique furniture holds its value well, and sellers likely will recoup at least half of their original purchase price, he says.
Monetary considerations aside, the veteran antiques dealer feels historic pieces are simply prettier and more intriguing than modern furniture and accessories. “The warmth of the wood, the history of each piece can’t be imitated,” he says, adding, “To have something in your home that is older than your country is interesting.” *
Leslie J. Thompson is a Dallas-based freelance writer with a passion for interior design and international travel. Read more of her work at lesliejthompson.com.