I walk into a flea market with romantic dreams of unearthing a priceless Dunbar sofa (that just needs recovering) or a (discontinued white-white) Le Creuset dutch oven, only to feel lost and overwhelmed by what feels like, well, junk. So often the response to the question, 'where did you find that?' has been 'at the Rose Bowl!' or some other marché aux puces. 'There must be a trick to this!,' we thought. 'Indeed!,' replied renowned interior designer Peter Dunham. And he promptly took us on a tour of a successful trip to the giant antique fair in Montpellier. We watched how it was done. And picked up some know how. And while we were at it, we asked him to demystify a home object whose purpose has always eluded me until now: The throw pillow.
This week's goop collaboration
Elements of Style
Raised in France, educated in England, with time spent in Spain, interior designer Peter Dunham grew up surrounded by artists, designers, and cultural icons like David Hicks and Salvador Dalí. This old-world, cosmopolitan upbringing, mixed with vagabond-like travel to places such as India and Morocco, infuses this English gent's spaces with a distinctly bohemian and eclectic sophistication. (The fact that he's lived in California for the past 20-odd years makes his aesthetic even more irresistibly laid-back and unfussy.) We asked Peter to give us the low-down on his interior design style—how he combines bright patterns (many from his line of hand-printed textiles), organic textures like rattan and twine, exotic fabrics, vintage-inspired furniture, antiques, and flea market finds.
1) Mixing Textures Peter's hippie deluxe style is a study in contrasts: “I'll often use rough natural fibers on the floor but contrast those with more refined furniture—Georgian chairs, for example. Or, I'll top a smooth surface with a textured, gnarly piece—something with a lot of patina. I'll contrast leather with linen or leather with jute.”
2) Vintage “I like to bring in different cultures and slightly different periods, so that the room isn't all one thing. If I'm doing a modern house, I like to throw in '60s, '70s, and '80s pieces. If I'm working on something traditional, I'll bring in modern items, as well as older antiques.” (Check out his guide to buying these below.)
3) Shots of Color For the most part, Peter likes to keep things simple and inject a few “splashes of color” here and there without overwhelming the space.
4) Multiple Light Sources “If you lit a 711 nicely, it could be quite pretty.” He builds the mood through several mediums—table and floor lamps, sconces, and small overheads: “I don't want any big, scary sources of light.”
5) Comfort It was Jacques Grange who gave Peter a decorating rule that's stuck through the years: “When you're doing a room, you want to put a rug on the floor that makes people want to sit there.” To Peter, it's paramount that a room have an element of sensuality—that you can curl up on any chair or even on the rug and feel absolutely comfortable. Living in California, where “people want to lie down everywhere, wear shorts, and walk around barefoot,” has definitely informed his approach.
Peter routinely shops flea markets in search of storied and collectible antiques—and no-name one-offs that are awesome nonetheless. He gave us the list of fairs and fleas he visits routinely and we've rounded it out with more from around the globe.
1. In Peter's world, it's all about the couture details, craftsmanship, and the sign of an artisan's hand: Look for hand-stitching, nail-head trims, embroidery, and hand-woven textiles. It makes anything more special.
2. Look past the scratches, dust, and dirt. Not only can you have anything restored, cleaned, or reupholstered (see below for a list of resources), but you can also change the finish on a table. Try to survey the options while focusing on the possibilities—not on the limitations. In the world of interiors, there really are very few.
3. Don't focus on provenance—unless you really know what you're doing, or are shopping at an auction house that guarantees authenticity, you don't want to splash out big money on something that might be a reproduction. (If you see something too good to be true, it probably is.) This is not to say that there aren't treasures around—just take a deep breath, get out your phone, and search the internet for originals so you can confirm that the details are correct (the wing of the arm, the stamp on the bottom, the type of wood).
4. Measure your space before you go. Beyond the parameters of the area you'd like to fill (i.e., the space allotted for a coffee table), bring measurements for the supporting furniture (i.e., the height and length of your couch, etc.). If you live in an apartment building with small elevators, or a house with unusual doors, be sure that you'll be able to get the item inside!
5. Interact with your potential purchase. Sit in the chairs and make sure they're comfortable and that they don't wobble; make sure a table is the right height, etc. Don't be shy about giving your potential purchase a test-drive.
6. If you're interested in an item, but not overly attached, walk away—do a second lap at the end of the day. If it's still available, you'll have much more negotiating power.
7. Know your budget—and don't forget to factor customs and shipping in (see below for a list of resources). It's easy to get totally carried away in the moment, so know your upper limit.
8. Look for pairs and sets: Vendors generally hate to break them up, so you're going to get a better deal. Besides adding symmetry to a space (see below), you can often use an extra lamp or chairs in a different room.
Shopping The Montpellier Fair
Twice a year, Peter travels to France for three back-to-back antique fairs in Beziers, Avignon and Montpellier. We thought he'd be the perfect tour guide for one of France's biggest fairs, so we hopped on a plane to catch up with him in Montpellier. There, we got to see what he deems worth shipping home. (Want to know how to do that yourself? His tips below.)
The Nuts & Bolts
1. Pick a hotel close to the venue. The Mercure in Montpellier is far from luxurious (and doesn't even begin to approach goop approval status), but it's right on the highway and just a few miles from the fair.
2. Start early. Doors open at 8am, but Peter gets there an hour before to park, buy a ticket (€10), and line up. The fair is open to the trade only—you should theoretically have a card with you that proves you're in the business though we didn't see anyone actually check too thoroughly.
3. Bring cash. It's much easier to barter when you have Euros in hand, plus it saves time and will keep your budget in check. Peter spends between €50 and €400 on most purchases, max.
4. Don't walk, run. There's no time to hesitate, particularly at the beginning. Peter rushes from dealer to dealer before the trucks are even unpacked, as some of the best pieces get snapped up quickly.
5. Dress comfortably. Wear sneakers and clothes you don't mind getting dirty and dusty.
6. Bring a crossbody bag. You'll want to keep your hands free. Bring a notepad, a pen, and stickers to label your purchases in case you're working with a shipper.
In most of Peter's projects, 50 to 75% of the pieces are new or made-to-order, so vintage “is icing on the cake.” These found objects add the story and the sense of worldliness. Here's how it's done.
Don't get obsessive about grime. Many dealers use the term “dans son jus” to describe items that show their age, which is exactly what gives an item its personality. This faux Louis XVI chair will be steam cleaned, but that's it; Peter likes the roughed-up quality of the red velvet.
Look for one-of-a-kind touches. Peter admits he can't walk away from a Roger Capron piece for this very reason. The amount of work that goes into imprinting each leaf on this table is in plain sight.
Everything is for sale. You'd never notice it at first glance, but Peter falls for the pallet under all the bric-à-brac. With a light clean, it will turn into an ideal coffee table. He buys four and stickers them for his shipper to pick up at the end of the day.
Embrace imperfection. This solid and curvy 1940's white oak desk is “right on the cusp of Modernism.” It's going to need some sanding and spot repair, but the idea is to keep its original, matte finish.
Buy in pairs whenever possible—they're great for bringing a sense of symmetry to a room.
Take a seat. Make sure chairs give sufficient back support and don't dig. Peter particularly loves Danish Modern for the comfort factor.
Practicality is key. Peter is thrilled with this footstool that doubles as a luggage rack from a hotel in Cannes.
Give standard items a second life. Peter often reupholsters large ottomans in carpets to add an unlikely shot of texture (and comfort). He'll be using this Dalí rug in the same way.
Look for a loose geometry. Perhaps it was growing up a close friend of David Hicks' son that gave Peter a serious eye for geometry. He likes patterns that are looser and more organic, like paisley—one of his signatures.
Save the minutiae for last. “Kicking stones,” is how Peter refers to the end of the day when all your big purchases are made. That's the time to take another lap for quirky finishing touches—a wicker bull's head, a bolero jacket, a guitar to hang on the wall, unusual pottery, etc.
Getting It Home
At the end of the day, Peter's shipping company, Adam Crease, picks up and packs all the items ready to ship to the US. They deal with customs, and within a few months, the pieces will arrive in America. Whether you're filling a container or shipping just a few pieces, here are a few other shippers worth looking into: Hedley's Humpers, Chudley International, Stephen Morris.
Meet Violet Grey
We've been checking in on Cassandra Grey's lushly-appointed beauty site, Violet Grey, since it launched last year, but now we're reaching for our wallets. They've just turned it into an e-commerce play, and lined its virtual shelves with cherry-picked products from Tom Ford, YSL, and Chanel (you won't find anything here that makeup artists don't keep in their kits). Perhaps more excitedly, they've now opened a bricks-and-mortar outpost on Melrose Place, marked by a slick, lipstick red door. The site is currently invitation-only to shop, so use GOOP14 for access.
Restoration and Upholstery: The Chairish List
When you have a piece that needs restoring, it can be tricky to find professional-grade upholsterers and restorers who don't work exclusively for the trade. We asked Anna Kendrick, the founder of Chairish, a beautifully curated site of pre-loved design finds, to open up her blackbook of experts in vintage furniture resurrection.
San Francisco Paint Finishes: JAFE Custom Finishes. “Shhh. They're a secret, well, until now.” Upholstery: Russian Hill Upholstery. “Ask for Carole (she sells fabrics too!).” Upholstery: Richard Andronico Upholstery. Lighting: Dog Fork. “They sell and repurpose vintage lamps and lampshades.” Lighting. Yury's Lighting. “Same as above…He will make any lamp bedda!” New York Restoration: Prestige Furniture & Design. “The owner is Sol Ovadia and he is amazing—the best interior designers use him.” Restoration/Upholstery: Jonas. “They're big in NY.” Los Angeles Restoration/Upholstery: Hume Modern. “The contact here is Alfie. He's so talented and folks ship him pieces all the time across the country because he's that good.” Atlanta Restoration/Upholstery: Bjork Studio. “The key Atlanta-based designers we know unanimously recommend Bjork.” Lacquerwork: Parker Kennedy. “They'll do it for other designers and custom orders as well.” Dallas Upholstery. B T Upholstery. “Highly recommended, however, they don't have a website.” Refinishing/Upholstery: Markham. Restoration: Aaron's Touch-up & Restoration.