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Decorating With Flea Market Finds

December 24, 2023
Flea Market Decorating

Whether it’s the thrill of the thrift, the fervor for the find, or the passion of the pursuit that gets junk collector’s excited about poking through piles, most treasure hunters agree that a morning at a flea market is like a day at Disneyland. 


Flea markets offer interior decorators a breather from the everyday. Whether set in the beautiful countryside surrounded by trees and rolling hills or surrounded by a rusty chain-link fence in a church parking lot, hard-core treasure hunters relish the experiences equally.  


Decorating with flea market finds allows you to create unique rooms that won't be seen in anywhere else because the beauty of junk is that it is in the eye of the beholder. Regardless of if you are designing a contemporary space or creating a room in French Provincial style, the flea market offers decorators the opportunity to create a room with character, depth, and a story to tell.


It’s the quest for the quintessence that draws interior decorators with a keen eye, perspective creativity, and a thirst for thrifting to the flea market. Flea markets are a haven of rejected riches; a place to rummage for objects you need, items you want, and one-of-a-kind gems you never knew you had to have.


At a good flea market, you'll find everything from collectible knick-knacks and antique furniture to unusual artwork and vintage jewelry. If you need a place to get inspired, a flea market just might be exactly what you need. In this blog post,  we'll discuss how to search for flea market finds so the next time you're in the mood to do some rummaging, you'll be armed with lots of tips and tactics.   

Dressing for the Flea Market

ESSENTIAL TOOLS 

Magnet for testing metals. A magnet won’t stick to “pot” metals or brass. Magnifying glass to look for cracks, dates, and trademarks.

Swiss army knife or small pair of scissors

List of what you’re hunting for that day

Hand sanitizer or towelettes

Bug spray

Sunblock

Refillable water flask

Cell phone for taking pictures, googling prices, and taking notes

Shopping bags or totes

Wheeled cart, wagon, or wheelbarrow

Small bills and coins



WHAT TO WEAR

Comfortable shoes

Fanny pack

Hat

Layers of clothing 

Backpack

Sunglasses

Fold-up poncho

Flea Market

FLEA MARKET SHOPPING TIPS & TACTICS


One | Have a Plan of Attack

Before you get to the market, make a list of everything you hope to purchase on your phone, preferably with pictures, detailed descriptions, and prices you’re willing to spend. Having a list allows you to hone in on your target items fast without relying on potentially faulty mental notes or maps for support. As you work through the market, check each purchased item off your list. Before heading to the flea market, do your research on websites and platforms like Ebay, Google, Craig’s List, or Facebook Marketplace.


Think about collections you have started or want to start, areas in your home that could use a little character, or upcoming occasions for which you may need gifts or decor. 

Many flea markets are organized in groups so you may find cool kitchen gadgets at one table, vintage mirrors at another, and vases and old plates at another. 


Keep a separate wish list of items you don’t need right away and don’t necessarily expect to encounter on market day, but that you’d be willing to buy if circumstances allow. On market day, you can add any items that catch your eye to this list.


Two | Wear Comfortable Clothes

The first rule of flea market shopping: dress down – way down. Wear comfortable, baggy, unfashionable clothing like comfy old sweats or  old jeans and a t-shirt. Avoid clothing that looks expensive or stylish and leave expensive handbags and jewelry at home. You want to appear frugal, as if you don’t have much disposable income to spend on fashionable clothing and jewelry. 


Haggling is commonplace at flea markets, but many vendors are reluctant to entertain lowball offers from buyers who seem like they might be just buying to resell.

a sign that is on a wooden stand

Three | Take Cash

Though many flea market vendors now use mobile credit card processing systems such as Square, many remain cash-only. On your next flea market outing, bring as much cash as you’re willing to spend on the items you’re targeting for purchase, plus a small buffer to absorb spur-of-the-moment purchases or unanticipated price increases. Bring small bills and some change as vendors are more likely to accept a lower offer when the cash is in their face. Nothing derails a transaction faster than asking a vendor to make change for $20, especially early in the day before they’ve made many sales. 


Four | Wear Comfortable Shoes

Flea markets are sprawling affairs, many occupying hundreds of acres. No matter how early you start, it’s difficult if not impossible to walk every aisle and visit every stall at such markets.Even if you do your research beforehand and narrow the scope of the vendors you’re most interested in, you’re still looking at a long walk – probably several miles in total. When you’re not walking, you’ll be standing, so comfortable shoes are a must.  


Five | Bring Snacks and Stay Hydrated

All that walking and standing is sure to work up your appetite and stimulate your thirst. Before you leave for the market, eat a hearty breakfast and take in plenty of fluids. Pack high-energy snacks for your time in the field so you don’t have to abandon potential deals to find a food truck or concession stand. Take along a refillable water bottle too.

a group of people standing around a table filled with figurines

Six | Arrive Early

Some flea market vets will swear by the “arrive late, leave late” mantra, arguing that the best deals are found just before market closes for the day when vendors are looking to offload their inventory.


This strategy works on occasion, but it can be decidedly hit or miss. On good days, vendors may sell out well before closing time and hit the road. Even if they stick around until the end, their wares are likely to be picked over by then. You might end up paying less for your purchases at the expense of value.If you seek the optimal mix of quality, variety, availability, and price, the odds work in your favor when you arrive early). For best results, show up before the market’s opening time.


Seven | Hunt Solo

Though shopping with a friend allows you to multiply your efforts given the finite opening hours and sprawling grounds of the typical flea market, shopping solo gives you the freedom to walk around without the interference or opinion of a partner. If you do prefer coupling up, try doing it with a fellow flea market lover who won't mind the long, tedious hours, and will share your passion for the hunt. 

a group of people standing around a table with vases on it

Eight | Bring Something to Carry Your Treasures

If you routinely visit flea markets, you probably have a suitable vehicle to carry your purchases – a minivan, SUV, or station wagon. But you won’t want to interrupt your day to lug each individual purchase back to your vehicle because you could lose valuable hours in transit.One of the most important and underrated flea market accessories is a wheeled implement capable of ferrying multiple bulky items from stall to stall. This could be a wheeled cart, wagon, or even a wheelbarrow – whatever your preference, as long as it doesn’t impede your movement or interfere with others.


Nine  |  Take Notes 

Big flea markets have hundreds of vendors selling thousands of individual items. As you walk the grounds early in the day, you can’t possibly commit every item of note to memory. Bring something to take notes with, whether it’s an old-fashioned notepad or just your phone. Snapping pictures is the easiest way to keep track of what you’ve seen. Be sure to note where the vendor that is selling a particular item is located so you don’t have to make repeated trips searching around for a needle in a haystack.  


Ten  |  Know Where to Find the Best Deals 

On market day, time is of the essence. When you first arrive at the market, head straight for the vendors with the best deals – usually the stalls in the center and back of the market, away from the edges and main entrance. Hampered by lower visibility and foot traffic, vendors in these parts of the market compensate with deeper discounts and greater flexibility in negotiations. By contrast, vendors at the front and sides of the market can charge a premium for convenience.


Eleven  |  Ask Questions

Before you add a valuable antique or piece of artwork to your collection, you need to know whether it’s genuine, so don’t be afraid to ask hard questions or demand documentation. If you can’t reliably ascertain an item’s origins or authenticity, pass on it.  

brown wooden table with chairs

Twelve | Focus on Items That Can Be Repurposed

Some of the best flea market finds are secondhand items begging to be repurposed – given renewed life in a setting very different from the ones for which they were created. In many cases, flea market furniture finds just need a coat of paint or new vintage hardware to turn it into an heirloom. When it comes to repurposing, the sky is truly the limit. Silver pitchers are ideal when repurposed as vases for floral displays; vintage silk scarves are ideal for repurposing into pillows, and old  doors can be repurposed into unique headboards. Think outside the box by attaching old milk crates and adding a set of wheels to turn them into a shelf to display your vintage quilts or trinkets. 


Thirteen   |  Make Quick Decisions

Whenever possible, make a decision on an item the first time you see it. If you procrastinate, you could miss out on other opportunities elsewhere in the market. If you leave without making a final call on the expectation that the item will be there when you return, you could be in for a disappointment.Work efficiently, and content yourself with the knowledge that you’re not going to snag every single piece that catches your eye.


Fourteen  |  Haggle

Haggling is a way of life at flea markets. Unless a vendor explicitly tells you pricing is nonnegotiable, (which is rare)  the first quote you hear is likely not the bottom line.Vendors’ willingness to negotiate depends on a variety of factors including demand. As a rule of thumb, however, you can expect to knock 10% to 15% off the vendor’s initial offer, usually by setting your first counteroffer at 20% to 25% below the asking price.


Fifteen  |  Know When to Say No

Seasoned flea market hunters know when to say no, even when their heart wants to say yes. If a vendor you’re haggling with won’t come down to your target price, know when to cut off negotiations and walk away.Be firm in resisting appealing items that don’t fit into your grand plans. It does you no good to purchase a vase or crate, however much you love it, if it's just going to gather dust in your attic. Stick to items for which you have a clear purpose in mind.  


Sixteen | Decide On a Color Palette 

When you decorate with flea market finds, it’s important to have a color palette in mind. This will help you with the feeling of overwhelm when you are out looking at a sea of items. With a color palette as your tool, you may find items that you may not have considered before. This color palette doesn’t have to be a hard and fast thing that you can never stray from, but it is extremely helpful and it keeps things cohesive.  

Copper Pots

FLEA MARKET FINDS WORTH HUNTING FOR


Frames

Vintage frames with gilded, distressed, or painted finishes look lovely when displayed by themselves but can create an interesting eye-catching design when displayed en masse.   


Copper Pots

Not only can copper pots add some sparkle to a kitchen, they can be quite valuable finds. Look for items with solid handles that are free from rust (patina is okay, in fact, welcomed), and free of holes. If you plan to use the pots for display purposes only, search for great deals on the less-than-perfect pieces that might not be functional, but are still beautiful.


Architectural Salvage

Items salvaged from old buildings and homes can be anything  from porcelain sinks, scrolled pieces of trim, or salvaged wood floor pieces. Old doors set in a corner are useful for displaying artwork or photos. Salvaged wood of any kind makes the perfect canvas for creative signs.


Camp Collectibles

Search flea markets and vintage shops for summer camp references to bring a whimsical, outdoorsy feel to a bedroom or living space.  


Mirrors

Mirrors can make a space look bigger and brighter. When displayed en masse, antique framed mirrors in various sizes and shapes can become a dazzling ensemble.   


Chairs

Make a room interesting with a mix of flea market-found chairs. To add a sense of cohesiveness, consider painting a collection of mismatched chairs in the same color or shade. 


Doors

Make a statement in a bedroom by creating a headboard out of an old door.  If the paint is chippy, all the better.  


Books

Antique books often have nice covers and can make a beautiful accent on a coffee table or shelf. 


Hardware

Using antique hardware to upcycle a piece of furniture is a simple way to create an elevated vibe to a room.  Gather multiples of one type of small object to create an interesting wall display. Vintage faucets mounted on a board, for example, can function as industrial-style bathroom artwork.  

 

Vintage Glass

TAKE AWAY

Flea markets aren’t the only places to find great deals on collectibles, antiques, and vintage pieces. Run-of-the-mill  yard sales, neighborhood consignment shops, auction houses, and online marketplaces are often filled with amazing finds.