It all started with my post on Chocolate. I found a perfect footstool that would fit the description from the novel in one of Christine’s Etsy shops. And then I fell in love with her love for French vintage and antiques.
As months passed by, I’ve got to know her better, used the photos of her finds a good few times on the blog, and finally decided to interview her. I’ve had a gut feeling that her story and sensitivity would be something that you’ll like. I was not mistaken. And here’s why.
Barbara: You’re British, yet you decided to move to South-West France. How was this decision made? How long have you been living in France?
Christine: I worked in a corporate job and traveled in and around London for many years and I had a very stressful job. I dreamt of moving to France for a very long time and I wanted to open a high quality bed and breakfast and grow my own vegetables and be a little more creative. Suddenly, my best friend from the age of 4 and my mother both died suddenly within 6 months of each other. It changed my outlook on life and I wanted something good to come from the grief I was going through. I decided to stop putting off living my dream and I gave up corporate life immediately and retrained as a traditional upholsterer and began searching for a property in France. I wanted to feel heat so I decided to go as far south as I could. I have lived here for 5 years and I cannot imagine living anywhere else now.
B: What are the major differences between your life in the UK and your life now? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a rural life?
C: My life is totally different now. I used to get up at 5 in the morning and spend hours in my car each day commuting and then I was indoors all day. Now I spend so much time outdoors. I still drive quite a bit when I go off looking for new treasures but I do not drive on motorways; I drive on beautiful country roads with stunning views of the mountains and countryside and lots of pretty villages. I am so much closer to nature and the seasons. I grow most of my own vegetables and this makes me feel so much closer to nature. I have always been interested in antiques and vintage and I used to search for unique things for my home when I lived in the UK. Now I do this all the time, it is my job, it allows me to be creative and I spend time outdoors and visit different places. I meet lovely people on the Internet who purchase from me and some people ask me to find certain things for them. So now my world is filled with antiques and vintage and doing something I feel passionate about and very much enjoy.
There are certain things I miss about city life. I miss the Theatre, I love theatre but now it is a rare event for me to travel a few hours to see a play or my passion – Opera! I miss the choice of food available in the UK. I have now learnt to cook many different dishes so I can still experience the food but it is hard to find ingredients sometimes. I miss wearing heels, I used to love my heels but they certainly look out of place in rural France.
B: You’re an upholsterer by profession. What are your favourite projects? Do you still reupholster furniture?
C: I love upholstery and I only use traditional methods to restore. I have been so busy lately that I have not taken on so much work from clients. I have a few projects of my own I have to finish. People say the plumber always has the worst plumbing in his home – well I am the same; my sofas and chairs are not all finished as I prioritise everyone else.
B: You run two shops on Etsy. Can you tell us a bit more about them and what you sell there?
C: Yes, I have two stores on Etsy. I buy with my heart: if I love it I buy it and I figure that someone else will feel the same. I have always been drawn to things that look like they have lived a little. If an item talks to me, I buy it.
Maintenant is my larger store and it has an eclectic mix of mainly French items; I do sometimes find English items when I return to the UK but I stock mainly French items – anything from chippy enamel pieces to ironstone and transferware, mirrors and portrait paintings. I set out saying I would not sell fragile items but I was so drawn to the pretty porcelain pieces that I could not help myself, I had to buy them. I have a passion for French Enamel Signs, they are so typically French and I have a personal collection and I sell a good selection in Maintenant.
Rue Vert De Gris is mainly mid-century items. I love mid-century wall clocks and atomic coat hooks. Rue Vert de Gris also has some great pieces for the ‘Man Cave’.
B: Where do you find the products you resell?
C: I travel quite far to find my treasures. In the summer we have lots of antique fairs and „vide grenier” which means „empty the loft” and people come and sell things at these events; they happen every weekend in the summer. I also buy from antique dealers and I have built up some good relationships with them and now they call me and they save things for me to come and look at. I even have my neighbours asking me to look inside their barns and I buy from them at times. I work alone, so I find the stock, clean it, photograph it, list and describe it and then pack it when it is sold – I need to be quite organised!
B: What are your favourite finds?
C: My favourite finds…I like everything I find, and I usually want to keep too much. I found some fabulous old wall lights one Sunday and I fell head over heels in love with them. It took me about a year to part with them. A regular customer bought them and I felt happy that she would cherish them.
I love ironstone tureens and I have a large collection. I was very tempted to keep the tureens that I found in one day and put together in two lovely stacks. I love the tea stained look when the ironstone has aged over time, it looks like a work of art to me.
B: Who are your clients? Do you know some of them personally? Do you get feedback from them?
C: I have been very fortunate as I have lovely clients from all over the world. The majority of customers are from the USA but I send all over Europe, Australia, Korea, Thailand, and Russia. It is exciting sending my finds to so many different places. There are a number of clients who have become friends. It is lovely as we share a common interest, or through love of vintage we have discovered we have other things in common as well. I have become friends with people my own age and some younger than me, and it is lovely to keep in touch and share our journey through life together. It is also great to hear about people’s life in a different culture. We have shared recipes at times and send birthday cards. I hope to meet two of my customers next year as I know they would like to come to France and they are planning to come and see me.
Receiving feedback from clients is one of the most rewarding parts of what I do. It makes it all worth while when people take the time to write to you personally and thank you. Of course at times you can come up agianst little mishaps, but it is how you deal with these that makes the difference. We are all human and make mistakes but the important thing is to listen and not to be emotional or defensive, and put your clients needs first; to be realistic and work through anything that has not gone smoothly. It is rare that things do not go smoothly! One lady said she would trust me with her children and she had not even met me; it was a lovely sentiment.
B: In your Etsy profile you say that you grow your own vegetables and try to preserve them in “typical French style”. Can you share one of your recipes with us?
C: I love my garden. I love planning and planting and seeing it grow and then I enjoy cooking with fresh organic produce. This year I have grown 95% of my vegetables from seed and it is very rewarding. My garden is natural and I let nature take its course. Because I do not use pesticides the frogs take care of the slugs and the birds eat the snails. I preserve a lot of my vegetables for the winter. I make lots of soups and sauces and I preserve veg to use in other dishes throughout the year. I mainly use French recipes for this but I also search the internet for inspiration. Today I have picked 5 more courgettes so I have a courgette recipe in my mind!
When I first arrived in France my neighbour gave me a very simple recipe to use up courgettes. The French use this as a side dish with a main meal but I also use it as a light lunch dish and I serve it with crusty bread.
B: How do you like to relax?
C: I have a few ways of relaxing. I actually find my garden relaxing as I am outdoors and not sitting in front of my computer screen. I like to plant flowers and shrubs as well as grow vegetables. I love to bake cakes and I find I have to concentrate so it takes my mind of everything and I just think about the cake. I love to cook for people, so having people to dinner is a relaxing and enjoyable for me – nice music, good conversation, good wine and hopefully good food! I also like to run and the roads here are so pretty and so peaceful and it makes for a very enjoyable run. I have a dog now that I am back in my old home, so I am enjoying walking her twice a day. It is lovely seeing her excited little face when she knows it is time for a walk.
B: What are your favourite shops/online stores?
C: When I lived in the UK I lived near to a fabulous shop called Igigi. One shop had homewares downstairs and a lovely coffee shop upstairs and the other store sold clothes and jewelry. I used to go there every week. I miss it but try to visit when I go back to UK.
I love browsing through home websites as I am always looking at ways to improve my home and garden. I like browsing through coxandcox and I am particularly coveting this lovely outdoor light!
I like to mix old vintage pieces with new items and I like some of the quirky things on offer here.
B: Thank you for sharing this with us.
And you? What would make you decide to leave for another country? Do you pursue your dreams? Drop me a note in the comment box below or in my social media.
Have a wonderful week.