Stiletto-shod Francophiles hop a plane to Paris and head for the glitzy Biennale des Antiquaires to find royal antiques , while the less well-heeled and more intrepid trek to the South of France flea-market finds. But these days, some savvy collectors turn south at the Mason-Dixon, toward Birmingham, to satisfy their taste for bergères and bureaux plats as well as bouillabaisse and café au lait.
Birmingham? If you have to ask, you haven't caressed the crisply carved French furniture at Mary Helen McCoy Antiques . Nestled in Mountain Brook Village, an "over-the-mountain" Birmingham suburb, the shop's light-filled rooms are stocked with polished 18th-century commodes and glittering gilt mirrors named after kings.
You shouldn't be surprised to find me in Birmingham," snaps proprietress Mary Helen McCoy with the verve of a hometown girl defending her turf. "There's a whole heck of a lot happening here." And a lot of it is happening in Mary Helen's own antique furniture shop.
If you're looking for an ordinary antique shop, best not shop here. Mary Helen is one of the few American dealers invited to join the prestigious Syndicat National des Antiquaires, the elite French dealers' association that organizes the Paris Biennale. Also a member of the Art and Antiques Dealers League of America, she has clients around the country and travels with prized furniture to top antiques fairs in Palm Beach and New York.
Photography: John Bessler