patch nyc: fleamarket shopping tips + west elm collection

by Grace Bonney

if i had to make a top 10 list of designers and artists that are consistently a favorite of mine, patch nyc would definitely be part of the group. designers john ross and don carney consistently produce artwork and homegoods that combine the sort of handmade look that i love, with the vintage feel that i’m always craving at home. so when i heard they were doing a collection with west elm for summer 2010, i was excited. patch designed a great collection of framed artwork, pillows, and and plates decorated with reproductions of don’s original drawings of flowers, plants, birds, and bugs. the artwork is always my favorite, so i’m going to have to check that out in person this weekend. but until then, i’m excited to share a little something extra from john and don today: a patch flea market primer!

because today is before & after day, and so many of the projects we share are based on flea market finds, i thought it would be fun to share some fleamarket shopping tips from the pros, jon and don. they’ll be sharing everything from tips on how to get prices down and determine the value of a piece, to their favorite flea markets across the country and what to look for depending on the season. thanks so much to jon and don for sharing their tips!

CLICK HERE for the full patch nyc primer on flea markets after the jump!

A Patch Primer on Flea Markets

Text and Photos: John Ross

Sometimes navigating a flea market can feel as overwhelming as driving through Times Square at rush hour (minus the risk of bodily injury of course).  Flea market vendors are rarely lined up in neat rows one after the other and even more rarely are goods for sale categorized in any way.  Unlike the local grocery store, you won’t find signage telling you what merchandise is in Aisle 4b or a directory telling you where to locate Mid-Century Ceramics.

We’ve been to flea markets so small they were squeezed between buildings in Manhattan and others so large they sprawled across miles of farm fields in Massachusetts.  At any flea market, we advocate keeping your eyes and mind wide open for the possibility of finding the random treasure.  After all, that is part of the appeal of a flea market: the endless possibilities.

Still, if you’re the type of shopper who craves a shopping game plan, one of our best hints is to think in terms of color.  A table crammed full of miscellaneous ceramics is a lot less overwhelming if you know you’re only looking for something in Chartreuse.  If you walk through a flea market looking for a specific color, it’s amazing how your eye will start to pinpoint items in just the shades you want.

For example, we wanted to feature one of our favorite works of art by Bird Swift over the mantel in our living room so we searched for pieces that worked with the colors in the painting.

We love the combination of two different oranges with green in this painting so it was the perfect starting point for our décor but don’t think we went to the flea market armed with Pantone color chips.  Sure we wanted to find pieces that worked with the painting but, more importantly, we wanted to assemble an interesting variety of objects so if we found something we loved and it looked like it might be a close approximation of our color palette, we bought it.

Here are the treasures we collected after numerous shopping trips to multiple flea markets and here they are with the Bird Swift painting in our living room.

A few more flea market shopping tips:

  1. VALUE: Often at the flea market you’ll find that merchandise isn’t priced which can lead to some interesting exchanges with the dealers. We’ve been given double digit prices for furniture we thought would be priced well into the triple digits and we’ve been quoted three digit prices for small goods we thought would be less than $10.  Suffice to say pricing at a flea market is as varied as the mix of merchandise on display so it helps to have some sense of the value of things and one of the best ways to learn is simply to ask….a lot.  For example, if you’re interested in tin types, ask about the cost whenever you see one at the flea market and pretty quickly you’ll learn the range of prices out there then you’ll be able to determine whether a price is reasonable or too high.
  2. BARGAINING: When shopping the flea market, keep in mind that bargaining is a major part of flea market culture and most dealers expect a bit of back and forth when it comes to pricing.  You shouldn’t feel awkward asking if a price is the best a dealer can do or if a dealer will take a different amount.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the response and if the dealer happens to say that the pricing is firm, well, at least you asked.   Just remember that manners go a long way at the flea market so be polite and respectful and you’ll more than likely be rewarded for your efforts.
  3. LOCATION:  In terms of uncovering hidden treasures, our experience has been that size doesn’t really matter when it comes to flea markets.  Terrific pieces can be had at the largest of flea markets and the smallest of stoop sales but you’ll never discover that great find if you don’t give both places a look.  Sure, we have had great shopping success at the sprawling Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts but we also found some terrific pieces years ago at a flea market crammed into a basement in the middle of Vermont.  Other perennial flea market favorites are: The Garage in Chelsea New York, Port de Vanves in Paris and Long Beach Outdoor Antique and Collectible Market in Long Beach, California.
  4. SEASONALITY: If you know you’re looking for something season specific at the flea market, it’s best to anticipate your needs.  While there might be a plethora of vintage holiday merchandise for sale in November and December, that doesn’t mean you won’t chance upon a great bit of Christmas décor in July (and probably for a lot less).   Likewise, when the ground is still frosty, gardening might be the last thing on your mind but that shouldn’t keep you from buying a wonderfully detailed planter in February.

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  • its an good piece of artwork especially the frames at the top has a very unique design you should take all this stuff for an auction

  • Wow – I really liked this ‘how to’ feature. I would love it if this became a regular thing. And I have to agree with the Patch guys, Port De Vanves is one of my faves – also Vernaissance at Saint Ouen.
    Oh I wish I was going on a flea market trip this weekend!

  • Can’t wait to hit Brimfield and all the other great Flea Markets, now that I have some tips from the experts. The only thing better would be to bring them along.

  • Another suggestion in Massachusetts running every Sunday now thru Oct.(just opened for the season last Sunday 4/11) Todd Farm in Rowley, MA. approx. 40 minutes North of Boston. It is well know in New England and worth a visit!

  • I’m travelling to nyc in september and can’t wait to explore the plethora of markets! Thanks for the tips… If your down in my neck of the woods (Sydney, Australia), my reccomendation would be Surry Hills Markets on Crown Street, 1st Saturday of the month. Lots of vintage clothes, accessories and bric a brac.

  • Deep in the heart of Texas is a massive 3 week long antiquing and junking festival covering the area of several small towns. Within that there are also 35+ established collective shows containing some hundreds of dealers each – not to mention the “fields” lining the country roads which local farmers rent to hundreds of other dealers. This show is massive and filled with sellers from all over the US. Round Top Antique Festival happens twice a year (spring & fall) and is worth going. If you are a seasoned shopper and are coming for specifics give yourself at least four days to really work the shows. Check out roundtoptexasantiques.com and the show we do at marburger-roundtop.com

  • Santa Fe has a fabulous flea market, open every weekend in the summer. It used to be known as “Trader Joe’s” and it is near the opera.

  • Santa Fe’s/Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from (roughly) mid-March through November. No admission for customers. 505-995-8626.

  • I love Don and John! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them on a number of occasions here in Boston and not only are they amazing people but such talented artists! I’m so happy for their success and recognition. Congrat’s guys.xoxo

  • Wow, am I really the first person to say how Gorgeous that photo of the two of you is??! The tips are great and I’m inspired to go on a flea market adventure, but really, you had me at “Hello”.

  • Ditto on the FAB photograph of you two! Congratulations on this well-deserved article! I overhear so many compliments on your work when customers walk through the shop! Bravo! and thank you for the flea market tips.

  • I remember meeting these guys at the NY Gift Show years ago and I always found them to have a unique spin on everything…So fun to see them putting their PATCH spin on the WEST ELM collection….I was so surprised to see the West Elm collaboration but so excited to go check it out.

  • Wait… what do you mean minus the risk of bodily injury? You obviously go to less chaotic flea markets than I go to…

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