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Runs in the family: Q&A with Mama Coco Vintage
Corine Deshaies (left) and Marlène Deshaies (right), co-founders and namesakes of Mama Coco Vintage. Photo: Mama Coco Vintage
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Runs in the family: Q&A with Mama Coco Vintage

Progress

Marlène and Corine Deshaies, founders of Mama Coco Vintage, bring their eclectic tastes together in business and at home with their Montreal-based studio

Mother-daughter duo Marlène and Corine Deshaies, founders of Mama Coco Vintage, are partners in business, in renovation and in their shared love for all things vintage.

They share a Montreal duplex—Marlène (Mama) in the upper unit and Corine (Coco) and her partner in the main-floor and basement unit—and run their online-based shop from a shared space in the basement.

Over the past six years, they’ve been slowly transforming the house and filling it with their vintage finds — both of their flats have been featured on Apartment Therapy. (See Mama’s unit here and Coco’s unit here.)

“I love to thrift,” says Corine — both decor and clothing. She also maintains a rack of clothing at Inédit.e, a shop co-owned by her friend Emily from Paris-Montreal on Montreal’s Saint Laurent Boulevard.

Here, Corine and Marlène chat with The Vintage Seeker about their love for vintage and selling decor online.

How would you describe the style of your shop?

Corine: It’s a bit of a mix of what we both love. I’m more mid-century, from the ’60s to ’80s. But we also follow the trends and listen to what our clients are interested in. We do take requests.

Marlène: My accent is from the ’30s to the ’50s, because I like that period a lot. It’s a good mix between our different generations, and with the pool of customers that we have, some enjoy what I bring and some enjoy what Corine brings.

A wall-length shelving unit topped with dozens of vases, figurines, and tableware made of ceramic, glass, and brass in every colour.
Corine and Marlène’s shared studio space in their basement houses Mama Coco Vintage’s inventory. Marlène photographs all of Mama Coco Vintage’s items, writes all of their posts in French and English, and researches each piece. “I think it’s important to educate people on the stories and where those things come from, and what period,” she says. Corine handles the Instagram reels, lifestyle content, and does much of the thrifting and cleaning for the shop. Photo: Mama Coco Vintage

What are you looking for when sourcing your products?

Marlène: The quality has to be pristine. That’s one of our main objectives. But value is very important to us. So when we put a price tag on something, yes, it has to be perfect, but also affordable.

When we find an object, it has to be something that we love for ourselves at first, that we would buy and keep for ourselves.

I used to travel a lot [before COVID], like three or four times a year, and stay in France for several weeks. I always have an extra suitcase for when I thrift — the flea markets in France are so incredible. I bring back stuff for myself, and also for the boutique.

Corine: For me, it’s like I need to have a crush on the object. It’s really emotional. I also need objects to be more utilitarian — I want the object to be useful for the people that buy it.

Marlène, how did you get interested in vintage decor?

Marlène: I fell in the magic potion. Everything came from my mother. Since a young age, my mother was thrifting because her budget was very scarce. She did a lot of flea markets and all that. I was able to go to the Lachute Flea Market in the ’70s.

Our house also was very special. When my friends came by, they were always saying, “Your mother is so cool and so nice!” I grew up in an atmosphere like that, so for me, it’s not something that is unusual. It's just our way of living. At age 16, I discovered French decor magazines and I became totally hooked.

I was looking at my furniture the other day and I think more than 80 per cent of all my furniture is vintage. I rarely buy brand-new furniture.

And then you passed on the love to Corine — what’s your earliest memory of vintage shopping with your mom?

Corine: Vintage was my whole life also. I have memories of garage sales that we used to do when I was really young. I think I had a good eye.

I remember I was looking under a table once that was about my height. And I looked [at a planter] and I was like, “Hey, Mom, this is a McCoy!” I found my first McCoy at age four!

Marlène: I was like, “Don’t tell the guy it's a McCoy! He doesn't know anything about it.” We got it for 25 cents at the time.

Photo collage depicting a white wicker breakfast-in-bed table, shelving unit with amber glass tableware, grey quilt, vintage floral pyrex dishes, bulbous pink lamps, a circular rattan shelf containing milk glass pieces, and a wicker screen with a bright green vine in front.
“I enjoy the fact that people these days are mixing vintage with modern. It’s a great integration,” says Corine. “I’m happy to see more and more of that — people are now thinking that vintage furniture can have a place in their modern space.” Photo: Mama Coco Vintage

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What do each of your personalities bring to the shop?

Marlène: I’m very eclectic and boho at the same time. When you see rattan pieces, they’re things that I like to bring in, as well as collectibles. I like pieces that have a story — when we go to garage sales, people tell us stories about their objects and it's fun.

Corine: I sometimes like bold colours but there are not a lot of clients who fit that style. So I try not to do too much of the West Germany vases in red or other bold colours. I’m really happy when I find the customer that likes the same things as I do. I really like vintage pottery and brassware — they’re always a score. Everyone loves it. Glassware also.

What has been the best thing you’ve found?

Marlène: A big McCoy vase…it’s about two feet tall. It was pristine! I just needed to give it a good bath and it was perfect. The other thrill I had — I love collecting Cathrineholm of Norway dishes and pans, and I found a frying pan for four bucks in perfect condition.

Corine: That’s the part that’s always a bit stressful, when you find a specific object like that and you analyze it. You're like, please don't be scratched! Please don’t have anything wrong with it.

I went on a “road thrift,” we call it, in the area of Ottawa. I found a rug — I wasn’t really sure about it because the colours were really bold. All red, orange and brown. I was with my boyfriend, and we started looking at it. It was really dirty; we didn’t know if it was cleanable. It’s huge, from the ’60s.

I really hesitated to pick it, but we checked the sticker and it was a Scandinavian rug made in Denmark, 100 per cent wool. It came out really great after professional cleaning. It was $10. The cleaner wanted to buy it from me! It’s now the centre of the decoration for the TV space in our renovated basement.

What about finding things for yourself — what do you keep?

Marlène: I'm missing space! My rule is if I bring something in, I have to get rid of something. Sometimes it’s heart-crushing, but it’s at the same time so fun to find something great and share it and make someone else happy.

For me, it’s everything McCoy, milk glass, Fire-King stuff — jadeite is a priority of course in the Fire-King collection. I also love artwork and marble. Everything black marble, I have a fixation! Furniture. Costume jewelry.

Corine: I think I’m more picky when it comes to picking objects for myself. My house is a bit more minimalistic, so when I have something in mind, it’s really the thing I want to find.

Everything I pick is something that I really love for either the shop or for my space. Living with my boyfriend, I want his approval too. I’m happy that we have the same taste!

A showroom with a 1980s graphic vase in tones of purple, pink, and blue framed in brass, a tarnished three-pronged brass candelabra with long maroon candles, and a tufted pink satin cushion.
“I enjoy the fact that people these days are mixing vintage with modern. It’s a great integration,” says Corine. “I’m happy to see more and more of that — people are now thinking that vintage furniture can have a place in their modern space.” Photo: Mama Coco Vintage

What’s been your biggest challenge lately with your business?

Corine: At the beginning of COVID, it was really good. Everything was closed and everyone had eyes for secondhand and online shopping. We were reaching a lot of people at that time.

And then we saw a drop with all the Reels movement. The algorithm of Facebook is hard on us. It’s the biggest issue when we were thinking about the fact that we’re only online via those platforms. It’s hard to say if a post works well or not. There’s a lot of effort and thinking behind how I’m going to promote or be posted.

Marlène: We’ve been thinking about moving to Etsy a lot.

Has there been a good part about selling online for you?

Corine: We reach people that we couldn’t reach locally. We do ship sometimes — we met a really great collector in BC and he really loves Sial pottery made in Quebec. So we met a great person who shares the same passion as us. It’s a connection that we couldn't make any other way.

What do you wish that you had known before you started out on this journey?

Corine: You really need patience. Sometimes I don’t have much, but I think it's been teaching me well. Sometimes we sell an object in five minutes. Sometimes it takes weeks. You need to be patient. Sometimes I’m like, “I wish I hadn’t bought this, no one is going to like it.” But you just need to wait for the right person to love your objects.

Marlène: I was lucky enough to have a social media geek here, so I’m very happy. It would have been impossible to do Mama Coco Vintage without being online. COVID has shown us that it is so important.

Corine & Marlène Deshaies, Co-Founders, Mama Coco Vintage

Montreal, QC

@mamacocovintage

mamacocovintage.com

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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