top left image (brimfield sign) via selectism
Summer on the East Coast means one thing to me – the beginning of flea market season! Dealers have been collecting goods all winter long and travel from all over the country to bring their finds to Brimfield. This was my third visit to Brimfield and I finally feel like I’m getting a handle on it (Check out what we shelled out for this year). Here are some tips from the design*sponge team:
- Arrive early – This was the first time that I made a real effort to get to the fields at Brimfield when they opened and what a difference! We saw the best stuff bounce around the market – with a price increase each it landed in a new booth! The same hold true for any market – it really is true about the early bird.
- If you see something you love but miss out out, set up an eBay Favorite Search. Last year I missed an amazing bird house, but hunted on eBay and found it at half the price!
- Bring cash! Most dealers don’t take credit cards. In the weeks leading up to Brimfield, I did some spring cleaning and sold books and unwanted furniture on Craigslist. I cleaned house and had cash for Brimfield!
Grace and I thought it would be fun to get some general flea market tips from folks who frequent flea markets on a regular basis. So we collected tips from some of our favorite flea market shoppers: Russell Whitmore from Erie Basin, Eddie Ross, Pam Zsori, of Ink & Peat, Christiane Lemieux, of DwellStudio, Katy Elliot and Mike Perry. Got a great tip of your own? Leave it in the comments! –amy a.
CLICK HERE for flea market tips from the pros after the jump!
- Remain calm. Buying at flea markets requires focus, and it can be difficult to concentrate in the whirlwind of people and stuff. Just relax and settle into a quiet corner where no one else is looking. Sometimes the best stuff is hiding.
- Be friendly. A lot of people that sell at flea markets do it for fun, and their things are often from personal collections. Take the time to chat and try to be respectful of their things, and considerate when bargaining.
- Don’t buy from mean people. If you’re like me, you’ll always regret a purchase that was pried from the hands of some old mean-sprited, racist dealer (of which there seem to be too many). A big part of the joy in buying old things is the experience in acquiring them.
Eddie Ross has worked everywhere from Martha Stewart to Food Network. In 2008, after an appearance on season two of Bravo’s Top Design, Eddie left the publishing world to start a lifestyle company, with partner Jaithan Kochar. Together, the two lead flea market trips around the country.
- Brass is Back: Look past the tarnish. More often than not, it’s easily fixed by super fine wool and brass polish. Personally, I love my brass polished, but some prefer a patina. A lot of times at flea markets, you can find single “onsie” candlesticksCreative Candles in great colors, like hot pink, watermelon or lime green.
- Lighting: More a constant than a trend. Flea markets are fantastic places to buy great quality lighting (sconces, chandeliers). Just because it doesn’t have a plug, don’t worry about it. Missing crystals? Easily replaced. Rewiring a fixture is easier (and less expensive) than you think. My favorite place is Shandell’s (here in Millerton) but another option is to head to Home Depot for a rewiring kit. If you find a great fixture for $100 at a flea market, invest another $100 into it, and you’ll still come out way ahead. Good lighting is an investment. High-end antique dealers on the web sell lighting for a lot of money, but you can find antique pieces with great character, then freshen them up yourself by rewiring them, adding new shades, trims, etc. One more thing: If you find wall sconces you love that plug in, let the cord hang, then paint it the same color as your wall.
- Find new uses for old things, especially furniture: Dressers as sideboards, armoires as bathroom storage, a sofa as seating at a dining room table, outdoor furniture indoors (you make the rules!), little dressers with drop-sinks for powder rooms, antique rugs with holes to upholster ottomans. All wood isn’t created equal, especially when it’s veneer from reproductions. Paint it, repurpose it, and you’ll love it all over again!
people generally don’t want for next-to-nothing prices. Buy them, collect a whole bunch at varying heights, then group them together on a mantle, dining table or sideboard. Update them with tapers from
- Pricing can be complicated when it comes to antiques. If you are looking for something specific, try to do a little research on ebay or other antique sites to get an idea of the range of prices to expect. A knowledgeable bargainer is always respected. Decide what you want to pay before asking and then ask the seller if that is their “best price“. Unlike retail shopping, in most case they will go lower than the marked price.
- The early bird really does get the worm! Try to be at the shows as soon as they open. You will be competing with savvy dealers from all over the world – go the same time they do – when it opens. In the case of Brimfield some shows open at daybreak or 6 am. You can sleep when you get home!
- Wear comfortable clothes and dress in layers. You may have a 30-40 degree temperature range while shopping. Since you will be out there at dawn, it can be chilly but you can always “peel” off layers as the day heats up. I think we calculated one year walking over 12 miles each day – wear tennies!
- As I mentioned on my blog – Fried Dough does not fall into a food group! Bring snacks like granola bars, gorp, and water – you will be having too much fun shopping to stay on a proper eating schedule!
- Know your price – Ebay can work in your favor! If you are hunting for something – say a particular chair….this year I was looking for a Kofod Larsen Chair and I know that I could get it for $200 on Ebay but wanted to pay much less – when the dealers gave me crazy prices at Brimfield – I scoffed- I could get that for way less on Ebay and then they really started to negotiate.
- Bring a tape measure – Something that looks right in a field may be way too big or not have the right proportion for your own space. There is nothing worse than finding something you love only to get it home and find that it does not fit through the door.
- Look in the cardboard boxes – It is easy to get pulled in by the dealers with merchandised booths. Their inventory is well displayed and clean but I say – always rummage through the cardboard boxes. For every pulled together vendor at the flea market, there is one who has boxes full of random stuff on the ground. It is in these boxes where the real finds are – like the two dollar Rosenthal Studio Line vase. My favorite flea market find ever was a complete coffee and tea service of platinum plated china that I found in Brussels at the famed Marche Du Grand Sablon – the service was in the bottom of a very dirty box that had been pulled from someone’s attic. I got the whole thing for $80 dollars! One tea cup alone would cost twice that at a china shop!
Katy Elliot, an avid flea market shopper, writes a daily lifestyle blog about renovating a 257-year-old house in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
- Don’t let a dealer rush you. Inspect every item thoroughly. Pick it up, flip it over, sit in it – don’t get distracted by the dealer and pay attention to every detail of its construction.
- Before you go make a wish list. Research prices and characteristics of the item on ebay, craigslist, auction sites and blogs.
- Get to know your woods. Purchase solid hardwood pieces made of maple, cherry, pine, and oak. Stay away from veneered pieces.
- When you see Mary Kate Olsen, make sure not to say hi.
- Don’t eat at restaurants that yelp says has 4 stars but no one is in the restaurant. Especially after driving around for ages and seeing nothing.
- Wish you were the cute Japanese couple that was walking around more prepared for Brimfield then you will ever be for anything.
- Don’t argue about buying something with your partner.
- If you are a big company buying everything up, don’t make your own sticker and mark all your goods.
- Bring a granny cart, you’ll need it.
- Bring (and wear) sunblock.
- Check the weather before you pack.
- And most importantly, something which I didn’t do, bring handy wipes. The hand washing opportunities are scarce. And with all the delicious kettle corn – not so great with dirty hands.