Take An Overseas, Design-Focused Field Trip
Follow Portland interior designer, Marianne Lesko of Enclave Interior Design, as she travels to Paris, where she meets up with Kazeem Lawal, owner of Portland Trading Company
Here’s Lesko and Lawal’s roadmap for visiting and scoring the best designs at the prestigious Maison et Objet home show and the Paris Flea Market at Saint-Ouen:
48 HRS IN PARIS
Marianne travels to Paris yearly to find decorative art and design pieces for her clients, and Kazeem visits a new country each year to buy items for Portland Trading Company. Kazeem’s trip brought him to Italy this year, so the two friends decided to meet in Paris to search for new products to bring home to Maine. We’ll let Marianne tell the rest of the story.
Where to stay?
I suggested that Kazeem stay on the north side of Montmartre, a lively Parisian neighborhood without the usual tourist traffic. Along the main street of Rue Caulaincourt, there are quaint cafes, restaurants, food markets, specialty boutiques, and elegant nineteenth-century apartment buildings. Kazeem chose to rent an Airbnb, as this is the best way to enjoy this quartier of Paris.
It’s a short walk from Kazeem’s Airbnb to my apartment on the Rue du Mont-Cenis. This extraordinary street starts at the base of the hill of Montmartre on the north side, climbs over the top of the hill next to Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and descends to the other side via hundreds of stairs in between. This area is known for the artists who once lived and worked here, like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Utrillo, and Amedeo Modigliani, among others. The day starts with croissants, fresh Bretagne butter, and jam at the apartment. There is no better way to fortify yourself for a day of shopping than croissants and butter. Shortly after breakfast, we’re on our way to Maison et Objet at the Paris Nord Exposition Center at Villepinte.
We arrive at the show ready to tackle all seven jam-packed halls filled with furniture, bedding, home accessories, and artworks. The Maison et Objet show has over 5,000 brands represented, 1,800 exhibitors, and close to two million visitors each year. This is Paris’s semiannual source for designers throughout the world to get the first look at new design trends and products.
We will be bringing back new and exciting items for our clients and customers. This is not just a show, but a market. Only vetted professionals are allowed to exhibit, and there will be a tremendous amount of buying during the brief days of the event.
After all that walking, it is time to take advantage of what Paris is known for: its food! We have made a reservation at La Boîte aux Lettres, a popular Montmartre restaurant that attracts a vibrant Parisian crowd. Our dinner includes a watercress velouté, a pollack fillet wrapped in shredded vegetables, and the favorite cut of beef in this city, the onglet de boeuf—always served rare.
No designer’s road trip would be complete without a visit to the largest flea market in Paris, the Marché aux Puces at Saint-Ouen. This flea market spans over six city blocks and offers almost every item you could imagine. We’re both attracted to the oldest section of the flea market, the Vernaison. This warren of ancient stalls offers the most eclectic selection in the flea market.
But first, coffee!
The Vernaison was the first of the flea markets to open in 1920 after World War I. The prefabricated “stalls” were quickly built and leased to dealers and rag pickers to ply their wares. To visit the Vernaison is to step back in time. Inside the walls that enclose the market it feels like a medieval village. The small shops that occupy the stalls mostly have their specialty in one type of vintage or antique item. You can find clothing, silverware, ceramics, furniture, fountain pens, scientific instruments, paintings, fine prints, African art, toys, and glassware. It is best to wander aimlessly and see what treasures you can find.
One of our most fun fashion finds are authentic French working jackets worn by municipal employees. They are now worn by cool young Parisians as a fashion statements and are a coveted item. You will definitely see these jackets in Portland this year.
A fabulous lunch is an absolute necessity while shopping at the flea market! We head to Au Roi du Café. We decide to make it a lighter lunch and go with salads (but as you can see, these Parisian salads weren’t exactly light).
With COVID restrictions lifted in Paris, some nightlife was definitely on the agenda: a late-night stop at L’Avant Comptoir at Place de l’Odéon in the sixth arrondissement. By day, this quiet little eatery is an attractive place for a light lunch and a glass of wine, but by night a much more clublike atmosphere prevails.