February 24, 2021

Antique and Vintage Enamelware and More Are Available at French Flair Ferme Boutique

EXTRA SPECIAL ENAMELWARE: “What I love is to share my knowledge and passion for enamelware with the customers. The items are so unique, yet basic and functional, and yet so beautifully done, with expert, exquisite craftsmanship.” Mary Homer, owner of French Flair Ferme in the Princeton Shopping Center, is shown with an array of special items, including a vintage hand-painted enamelware French body pitcher on the right and basin and pitcher set on the left.

By Jean Stratton

How is it that someone ends up doing exactly what he or she not only wants to do, but is certain that it is what they are meant to do?

When this happens, it really is a gift. Not everyone is fortunate enough to experience such a congenial happenstance.

Mary Homer, owner of the charming new pop-up shop, French Flair Ferme, in the Princeton Shopping Center, knows she is one of the lucky ones. Her unique gift shop, focusing on antique and vintage French enamelware, is an engaging resource not only for her customers, but for her own enjoyment.

As she describes her commitment to her work, she points out that “What comes to mind is not something tangible but rather a strong sense of connection and the knowledge that this is exactly where I am meant to be today.”

Special Something

Before the pandemic, she often traveled to various French and European street fairs, street markets, and flea markets in search of the unique, one-of-a-kind items she wanted to offer customers. “I went to France a few times a year and never felt alone for a moment. It is hard work, but feels like all play. The days begin very early but are never long enough. It provides an adrenaline rush unlike no other. Be it a local Paris vide grenier, the rederie, or braderie.

“I find myself immersed in some of the most engaging spaces imaginable, surrounded by hundreds of others who share the same passion — and sometimes, a glass of wine or two — all in search of that special something which speaks to them. And I hope to create an engaging space  in my pop-up shop for others to feel similarly connected.”

Homer’s journey to this special place — in her shop and in her life — has taken intriguing twists and turns.

Earlier, her career focused on finance, and she was a CFO in New York City, associated with an international design firm. After purchasing a home in Vermont, and traveling back and forth to New York, she decided to settle in the Green Mountains, and purchased an antique center/Christmas wreath business.

“I was really looking for items to furnish my condo, and then I got interested in antiques and vintage,” she explains.

When the economy hit rock bottom in 2008/09, she found another direction. Challenges and new adventures have always intrigued her, and as she reports, “I had been reading an article in an antique magazine about the Grande Braderie de Lille. It is the largest flea market/fair in Europe, and has been ongoing for 800 years. I decided I wanted to see this.”

Pink Body Pitcher

So off she went to France, not really speaking the language, but undaunted. “I just loved the Grande Braderie, and was immediately drawn to the enamelware items. I especially fell in love with a crusty pink French enamelware body pitcher, and there was no turning back!”

As she became more and more involved in this new adventure, she saw it as a future business, and began to bring enamelware to antique centers and also to antique and lifestyle shows and fairs, as well as offering online opportunities to customers.

“As with any vintage or antiques dealer, we make a significant time investment personally sourcing all items. It involves days and weeks of traveling, attending annual fairs, brocantes, auctions, and estate sales. My pre-pandemic plan for 2020 was to spend more time in France to expand my offerings to include furniture and other home decor, while still remaining true to my core identity in French enamelware. It is likely those plans will remain tabled until late 2021, better yet realized in 2022, so my immediate focus now will be my shop.”

Because she had an existing inventory and many pieces on hand, Homer was able to open French Flair Ferme (Ferme translating to farmhouse), as well as provide items for other bricks and mortar establishments, including Mercantile in Doylestown and Adams Antiques in Denver, Pa. In addition, she attends various shows, fairs, and offers online buying opportunities.

Opening her own shop is yet another new adventure for Homer. As she points out, “First and foremost, I wanted to share my passion for what I do and bring the experience and excitement of the French brocantes and vide greniers to anyone who might enjoy the same. When I sell at a live antiques, vintage, or lifestyle show, I am presenting my offerings to a very large, relatively like-minded customer base who have an expectation about the experience and the chances of finding what they are looking for.

“But while I cannot replicate the French flea market, one of my goals for the pop-up shop is to introduce my concept — unique antique/vintage collections and an engaging space — to a new audience, one without expectations about the experience, hopefully enlightening and delighting them, and thus expanding my customer demographic.

Curated Collections

“Today, French Flair Ferme offers curated collections of home decor built on a foundation of Farmhouse and Country design styles, enhanced with a touch of French flair. I have amassed one of the most extensive collections of French enamelware on the East Coast, and I also offer old French pottery and uniquely old French curiosities. All the items have been sourced personally by me and through other French and European dealers directly from France and surrounding countries.”

What Homer has accomplished at the Shopping Center is to create an engaging shop, filled with an appealing array of items, primarily enamelware, all attractively displayed.

Customers will find vintage and antique enamelware pitchers and basins, body pitchers, tea kettles, salt boxes, umbrella stands, foot baths, utensil racks, and more. Homer explains that enamelware products are handprinted over sheet metal, and are durable as well as handsome and graceful.

The most well-known enamelware is from France, Austria, Germany, and Belgium, and the majority of her pieces date from the late 1800s to the 1930s.

She points out that the versatility of some of the items, such as the utility rest, which enables them to adapt to and complement modern decor. “It is interesting to me to help a customer see something in a different way, and for use within today’s lifestyle.

“I look for things that are different or one-of-a-kind,” she continues. “I love the way enamelware looks, the lines, the design, and the fact that it is both functional and decorative.”

“End of the Day”

Among the most popular designs is the rose garland, she adds. “There is also the ‘End of the Day’ pattern. When they were finished, the artists would put all the colors they had left and mix them together to create wonderful color combinations and patterns. The craftsmanship is just so special.”

She also points out that pink items are very much in demand because pink selections are rare. She is pleased to have a lovely pink pitcher on display. Another eye-catching item is a vintage French enamelware body pitcher, featuring a graceful floral design in relief.

In addition to the enamelware, the shop offers vintage French pottery, including butter dishes, cafe au lait bowls, and confit pots. Puzzle plates are another item sure to intrigue customers. As Homer explains, “Each plate has a design representing an old French proverb, and the diners had to guess which one it is. The answer is on the back of the plate.”

A number of other items in the shop include a variety of bottles, vintage French wooden T-cross-shaped shirt/dress hangers, and wonderfully fragrant Savon Des Marseilles bar soap.

“I have also added inexpensive but atmospheric European art,” she reports. “It is especially appealing in that it can complement the enamelware.”

Prices range from $5 for the soap to $35 for a cafe au lait pot on up to $500 or more. The majority of enamelware can be in the $100 range.

Coveted Items

Despite the pandemic, customers are coming to the shop and then returning again, says Homer, and she looks forward to introducing even more newcomers to her collection.

“I can’t wait for more people to discover the wonders of authentic and unique vintage and antique home decor objects to complement each individual lifestyle. My passion is to continue to find those coveted items that speak to the hearts and souls of their past and future owners.”

The history of the items she finds always sparks her imagination. “Just imagine the stories this piece could tell! Perhaps a group of enamel artisans were working in the factory, painting florals in relief on French body pitchers, and trading stories about their Saturday night escapades!  Or a confit pot that stood buried in the dirt floor in the pantry through the long cold winter to provide preserved meats to a family of eight children?

“And, was that lovely hand-painted cafetiere a wedding gift from the hard-working parents of a young couple in the French countryside, or was it one of many that graced the sitting room of a discerning Parisian collector? Generally, one will never know, but can only imagine….”

French Flair Ferme is open Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Hours will be extended to five days in April. (908) 420-6394. French Flair Ferme items are also available on line at Etsy: frenchflairferme and her Instagram: ms_sealie.