Laurent Gouon, owner and founder of Lolo French Antiques et More, has the French sense of joie de vivre. He puts the joy of living into every aspect of his life, whether furniture, food, family or folly.
Lolo, as he is affectionately known, attended a French culinary school in his early teens, but wanderlust found him in the United States by the age of seventeen. While working as a carpenter on a sailboat, he realized his passion for working with his hands. He chartered his own boat through the Caribbean, entertaining vacationers with his storytelling and cooking abilities. Eventually he landed back in South Florida, working as Chef in a Miami hotspot and having adventures of the urban/celebrity kind before he began importing French antiques.
You were a chef before you became an antique dealer. How did you enter the antiques world?
By accident. My father was selling some property in France and the buyer owned an antique warehouse. He asked my father if he could trade some furniture as a partial payment on the property. My father, who was an entrepreneur, agreed and asked me if I wanted to begin importing antiques. I said yes and received two containers within a month. I knew nothing about antiques at the time, but I was handy and knew I could learn. That was 23 years ago.
Where do you find your antiques?
I shop all over France. You can find me at the markets and fairs, but I really love searching through warehouses and small family owned shops along the back roads and French countryside. Having been in the business for so long, I shop at places where the tourists don't go.
Most people are under the impression that buying antiques in France involves four star hotels and five star restaurants. What's your trip like?
Ha! I do about four to five containers a year and always stay with my mom while I'm in France. I'm very careful with my spending so that I can pass the savings on to my customers. I'm on the road by 7 a.m. most mornings and eat breakfast and lunch at truckstops or local cafes. But even the truckstop food in France is delicious. I eat dinner every evening with my mom, sister and brother in law — but not until I've unloaded the truck. Rental trucks in France are only 16 feet, so I have to unload everyday when I get back home.
You also do your own restoration, right?
Yes. Once the container arrives, I do all the repair, restoration and refinishing myself, if any is needed. It still amazes me how talented the country craftsmen were hundreds of years ago — working with such primitive tools. I also make keys and really enjoy working on clocks.
How did you decide on the name Lolo French Antiques et More?
Lolo is a nickname for Laurent in France. All my friends and family there still call me Lolo. When Mimi and I decided to move the shop from Atlanta to Birmingham, we also decided to change the name.
You should buy what you love and buy the best you can because you’re living with a piece of furniture forever. Buy the best you can buy: We probably have 70 buffets in stock right now, and they’re priced from $1,250 to $15,000. If you invest in high-quality pieces, you’re never going to be sorry.
Once the treasure trove of stately antiques, quaint and rare objets d’art and flea market brocante has arrived from our warehouse in France, Lolo begins the process of restoring each piece with great care and attention to detail; ensuring they are perfectly ready to be placed into one's home, office or retail stores. His talent and expertise in fine furniture REPAIR, RESTORATION and REFINISHING distinguish him from other antique dealers in the Birmingham area.
Lolo's personality is reflected in his business. Lolo French Antiques et More has a delightful and vast inventory of French and European antiques, French Flea Market and Venetian chandeliers, and a line of trumeau mirrors that Lolo designs and makes by hand. He has an eye for mixing 18th century period pieces with glamorous Art Deco, modern Mid-Century finds and new, French inspired decor.
We've created a shop that is a special place to visit, to stay in touch with, and to trust when making your most important antique purchases and we want to thank everyone for the support and confidence you place in us. It's our pleasure to work with so many talented designers and such a wonderful clientele.
We update our website weekly with our latest finds, so check back regularly to browse through our newest additions, and please sign up for Lolo's Newsletter to ensure you will be notified via e-mail when new shipments arrive. Also remember to Let Lolo Know if there's a special piece you are looking for or need for yourself or a client. And we always welcome you to visit our retail shop in Birmingham's Lakeview Design District. Shop hours are Monday thru Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.