Chambre de nimes brocante in Tokyo, a shop which despite its very French name, is English to the core.
English charm at Tokyo's Chambre de nimes brocante shop
It might have been the rustic white-painted dressers and the age-darkened pine furniture, or perhaps it was the persistent spring drizzle outside, but for the briefest of moments I felt like I was back in the English countryside where I grew up - not browsing an antique furniture shop in one of the more fashionable parts of Tokyo.
The shop in question is situated in the heart of Meguro Ward, an area known for its high-priced apartments and conglomeration of embassies and consulates, as well as for its fashionably casual cafes and restaurants, and the equally fashionable folk who hang out in them. It can also boast some of the most interesting interior shops in town - like chambre de nimes Brocante, a shop which despite its very French name, is English to the core.
Chambre de nimes, which opened back in the summer of 2001, occupies the first two floors of an apartment block about a 15-minute walk from Meguro station, where it shares its stretch of street with a collection of hip used furniture places, bric-a-brac shops and high-end modern import stores. The focus here, though, is squarely on countryside antiques, says the shop's manager and buyer, Takayuki Inoue.
"We mainly source our items from the English countryside, although we also find some in France, Hungary, Holland, and other parts of Europe," Inoue says. "What we really look for are antiques that give off a natural aged warmth. Natural is the keyword." In the window display on the day I visit is a gorgeous pine dresser - aged but in fine condition - that looks as if it has been transplanted from an old farmhouse in the UK or perhaps rural France. Competing for attention nearby is an ornate, white-framed chaise longue with elegant, floral upholstery. You could easily imagine it set in a glass conservatory in an English garden bursting with primroses, chrysanthemums and roses.
Inside, other items that catch the eye are a 1930s pine bar counter - its body a matte creamy white, its top a natural faded brown - and some well-used wooden storage crates that in a past life probably brimmed with vegetables in a farmer's pantry. Vegetables long since removed, the crates look like they could be stacked together and used as a bohemian bookcase. It's all very different from the usual retro chic one finds in Meguro.
And that difference is echoed in the way they hand pick the stock, too. Inoue and his staff do much of their sourcing overseas in person, travelling to the UK four or five times a year to search for antiques. But if you want to know exactly where they find their gems, forget it - rather wisely, that's a secret. "We usually buy in the north and the midlands. Other than that I can't really say," Inoue says.
Wherever it is, they've obviously tapped into a certain demand back in Tokyo: one that Inoue says reaches to customers who want something stylish and natural, but also practical, at home, as well as store owners who are after something unique to put in their shops. Unique - by Tokyo standards, chambre de nimes Brocante's antiques are most definitely that. Chambre de nimes Brocante's Meguro shop is open 11am to 8pm daily; they also have a shop in Daikanyama, which opened in 2009 (12 to 8pm), www.chambre.innocent.co.jp