From a pragmatic standpoint, it makes zero sense to purchase kitchen equipment in Europe if you live in the United States. If you're buying more than a few linens, it's either heavy to haul or expensive to check in the belly of an airplane. I know from experience that people stare at you if you walk through security with a fine mesh strainer. Depending on the exchange rate, it can be expensive. And, well, don't you already have silverware?
But let's face it — we're not always practical. Which is why when most of us head to Paris, after thinking first about where and what we're going to eat, we turn to how we might spend our time in the City of Light exploring beautiful things for our kitchens back home.
On my last trip, I set out to find antique silver-plated flatware, wooden-handled cooking utensils from the same cookware mecca my parents went to in the '70s, and antique cocktail glasses (because it's a good idea to carry the most fragile things when traveling). Although I can't say it was all easy to transport, I do appreciate having a breath of fresh, Parisian air at home every day; my favorite stores there give my life here a certain je ne sais quoi that the cookie-cutter American stores can't.
Here's my list of go-to Parisian kitchenware shops; they're the ones I seek out every time I cross the pond. There are, of course, legions of others — the kitchen department at Le Bon Marché is not to be missed, and the Marais is crammed with housewares stores that leave any kitchen-happy shopper buzzing with excitement. In any case, bring a second suitcase.
Merci isn't anything like IKEA. But when you walk in — through an impossibly adorable garden, into an atrium where beautiful watches, soft clutches, bespoke jewelry, interesting tech trinkets, and that perfect candle vie for your attention —there's that same overwhelming feeling: Oh my goodness, I might need to sit down. Or, maybe it's safer if I don't go in.
Merci is more of a lifestyle center than specifically a kitchenware shop; it sells everything from clothing to clocks to lighting to linens. It's large enough that you'll need to plan a coffee break at the café, if you really want to see everything.
But where it really shines is on the top floor (where full dining room layouts proffer dreamy combinations of glassware, linens, and silver, all worth seeing even if you don't plan to buy) and in the basement, where cute and more quotidian kitchenware (those Duralex glasses you crave, soft linen aprons, camping-specific dishware) are priced within reach. Just don't be surprised if you go in for French café tableware and come out with a bedspread and a pair of boots.
Especially cute: Camping dishware, plates, glassware.
In the '70s, my newlywed parents pooled all the money people gave them for furniture for their wedding, bought plane tickets to France, and skied for four months, washing dishes at night to try to earn back the money they'd spent. On the way home, realizing they could no longer afford any furniture, they stopped at this 200-year-old Parisian kitchen supply store and bought kitchenware instead, knowing it would last a lifetime.
It wasn't a fancy place then, and it isn't today — just a two-floor temple to cooking, packed to the brim with utensils, knives, bakeware, dishes, pans, and pots big enough to fit a small human. Smithsonian magazine, writing about Julia Child's Dehillerin collection, once called it "the Paris kitchen-supply store that is to cooking gadgetry what the dictionary is to words" (read: they have everything).
A few years ago, I began buying new cooking utensils there if I passed through Paris (just one or two at a time, because they're expensive), and today, my assortment of Dehillerin wood-handled spoons and spatulas are my favorites. Consider purchasing an extra suitcase.
To buy: Copper pots, carbon steel pans, round baking forms, carving knives.
3. Les Puces
Although you can buy the most modern kitchen equipment in Paris, it's deeply satisfying to find gorgeous old stuff there, too. Often (always?), the best finds and deals in gently worn kitchenware are found in Paris's giant flea markets. Le Marché aux Puces in Vanves, which is more of a true flea market, is more hectic but usually less expensive then Le Marché aux Puces in Clingancourt, which is more of a labyrinthine collection of small antiques stores, each specializing in something (silver, antique coffee grinders, tea pots, table linens, and chocolate tins, to name a few).
Because I prefer the more organized approach, I usually hit Clingancourt — in part, admittedly, because I can get great coffee at Flea, the new café and curiosities shop apart from the market's main bustle. Also, the markets are spread over fairly large areas, so they don't have just one address. Flea is a good launch pad at Clingancourt, and offers a free little paper guide (in English!) to great spots in the market. It's useful to arrive at the market with a specific goal (and an associated price) in mind, if you don't want to get too carried away.
To buy: Unique platters, silver, bone-handled knives.
"The Treasury," a bespoke mix of Scandinavian-inspired housewares in the 10th arrondissement, is the best place to find a true treasure (French-made or otherwise) to take home. After a Swedish snack at Café Smörgås, browse the airy space for rustic raw table linens, eccentric glassware, pretty roasting pans, and cleaning supplies that could double as art. (If ever a wooden dishwashing brush could make a lasting impression, it would be here.)
The best part: According to the store's manifesto, most products are artisanally produced using quickly renewable materials, and the owners take special care to only source items made under healthy working conditions. So you can be chic, earth-friendly, and supportive of trustworthy local producers all at once. Skål.
To buy: The classic folding Opinel knife, bistro flatware, linens.
From the family behind French brands Bonpoint and Merci, Démodé acts more as a revolving pop-up shop, partnering with artists to create dishware and décor that fits their gentle feminine aesthetic.
Currently in a small former restaurant space near the Musée d'Orsay, the shopping experience feels like equal parts treasure hunt and gallery visit. The room is half-filled with one perfectly set table, with another quarter devoted to dishware and linens, plus plates that you might actually want to use as art. The rest feels open, which is unusual in Paris.
In any incarnation, Démodé is the place you seek out when you are ready to fall in love with something totally unexpected — a set of deep mustard-colored napkins, say, or a collapsible woven produce basket that happens to fit nicely in your carry-on. My favorite part is that no matter how much I love it this time, it will always surprise me on the next trip.
To buy: Baskets, serving bowls.
What's the best thing you bought for your kitchen while traveling?