As you may know from Instagram, I’m on a mission to kit out our flat in London with second hand crockery, glassware and cutlery as much as possible. It’s going well… we currently have six dessert plates and six cake forks in our cupboard with a few odd sherry glasses. Clive is loving eating everything out of one of our two bowls that survived my extreme crockery cull or off a 10cm dessert plate. I have this vision of a whole table full of mismatched crockery and glassware that all work together but I’m so picky that it’s going to take me a little while to get there. I only ever buy things I absolutely love and I have a pretty concrete theme in place (more on that in another post).

Anyway, I think you all know how much I love second hand shops and flea markets. I could spend hours browsing without even buying a thing. I have been going to Emmaüs in Etagnières for years to find decorative bits for client projects, as well as my own home. We bought lots of little things for Le Pointu there (including the pink velvet sofa downstairs). Recently, a volunteer from Emmaüs got in touch with me asking if I’d be interested in working together and although I don’t have time to volunteer on site currently, I thought I could definitely volunteer a little bit of my time to show you lot around and give you a few tips on how to find the gems in a place like Emmaüs.

For those of you who don’t know, Emmaüs is a worldwide charity that focuses on poverty and homelessness. Les compagnons d’Emmaüs are brought in and are given a home and food, and they work in the shops around the world where they sell second hand homeware, clothes, books and toys.

I think second hand shops have so much potential to turn a house into a home and although I am no expert, I love finding a gem here and there and have picked up a few tricks over the years that I wanted to share with you.

Tip 1: Take your time

Before going to a second hand shop I make sure I’m not in a rush to be anywhere else. Second hand shopping when you’re tight on time is no fun. When I walk into a shop, I like to have a quick first scan where I might pick up a few things that I absolutely love but I often won’t see anything on that first look around. I then walk around again and somehow all of these gorgeous things start to pop out at me. It might seem like a waste of time but honestly, just try it next time.

Also, second hand shopping is definitely something I would tend to do alone or with someone who I know has a similar rhythm to me as there is nothing worse than feeling rushed to make a decision. I have been known to hover over a market stall for almost an hour while I make up my mind about a piece. I think that would drive most people crazy.

Tip 2: Head straight to the glassware 

The good crystal glassware gets snapped up quickly so head straight there. You’ve really got to take your time to look for the gems as there may well be a set of six or eight matching glasses but they could all be scattered around the shelves. Gorgeous thin genuine crystal will make a clear ringing tone and almost hold a note when you gently “cheers” two glasses. Like with good plates, it’s also worth checking underneath a glass for any markings. You do occasionally find very high end crystal brands like Baccarat or Waterford for just a few francs.

You’ll often find me crouched on the floors gently chiming two glasses to my ear and getting very excited. These weren’t crystal but it’s always worth trying. Glass will sound like more of a clink than a ring.

While finding crystal glassware is lovely, I also look for anything with a pretty pattern. Someone in the shop said these could have been old supermarket-sold mustard pots which I thought was quite sweet.

Tip 3: Have a plan when you’re looking for plates 

I have to force myself to be very picky when it comes to plates, otherwise I know I’ll end up with cupboards full of plates and we just don’t have the space for that. I like to pick a theme and stick to it. If you’re going for all blue tones, stick with it and don’t get too distracted. For our flat in London we’re going with plain white plates with white detailing so although I’ll probably look at all sorts of other things, that’s the only thing I’ll buy for London.

Be sure to turn the plates over and check the bottom for markings… I honestly don’t really know what I’m looking for but sometimes I’ll see a name I recognise which is always encouraging. I also like looking for a poinçon ou un timbre (some sort of indented maker’s mark as well as a printed one) which gives you an idea of when the plate might have been made. From what I understand, indented marks tend to mean the plate is older.

I am more on the look out for porcelain over earthenware (clay) but I think that’s just a question of taste. I also make sure to check the condition of the set but if I really love something, I try to see past chips, faded gold rims and that sort of thing. Remember that you’re shopping second hand for the story and those sorts of things can almost add to it.

Tip 4: Don’t shy away from the textiles

I know some people aren’t huge fans of vintage clothes and second hand home textiles but next time you’re at a second hand shop, it’s worth having a little look. If you look for natural materials you can wash them at high temperatures to totally disinfect them. Also, remember you can often get stains out of natural white fabrics with a tiny bit of bleach.

I’m open to synthetics and funkier patterns for cushions that will go outside on the balcony, in the garden or could be used for a picnic. Cushions like these are often between 2 and 5 CHF which is such a bargain and as long as the covers are removable everything (even the insert) can be washed.

I tend to look out for white linens (particularly tablecloths and napkins) as I know I can get any stains out and get them looking pretty much brand new. Also, keep in mind that big sheets or simple curtains are good options as affordable tablecloths, photo backdrops or picnic blankets. Fabric rolls are wonderful too if you’re crafty and would rather buy something unused.

Tip 5: Get to know your shop and the people who run it

Once you’ve been to a specific second hand shop a few times, you can get the inside scoop and understand when and how often they put new things out on the shelves to know when to head back again.

Also, ask for advice from the people who work in the shop… I can’t even imagine how many things they have seen and how much knowledge they have. Don’t expect everyone to be an expert obviously but they might know the story behind the thing you are holding which will make it all the more special.

When I stopped by earlier this month I found all sorts of amazing things that I can’t wait to show you in a second post coming very soon.

Next time you’ve got a day off and don’t know what to do, think about popping by Emmaüs in Etagnières to have a look around. Remember that good quality homeware will last for ages and to stay true to the true granny within, I have to say… things just aren’t made like these used to be so why not make the most of all those gorgeous well-made pieces that have a story to tell and are totally unique. Also remember that almost everything can be washed in the washing machine or put thorough the dishwasher so don’t be put off by smells or the fact that they have been used before. We all sleep in hotel sheets that have been used before and eat off forks in restaurants that thousands of people have used… everything can (and should) be cleaned and if all of this is new to you, I promise you that you’ll soon start to love the old things more than anything new. There’s just something special about them.

If you’ve got any tips for second hand shopping, I’d love to know. As I say, I am no expert but I do love a second hand shop and I would love to see more people shopping at places like Emmaüs where the money you spend goes straight to supporting such a great cause.

If you do go, please send me or tag me in photos or stories on Instagram! I absolutely love seeing what other people find.

Thanks for stopping by for a read. I hope you have a lovely, lovely weekend. xS

Photos by Brigitte Besson for Emmaus Etagnières