Flea Market Finds for the Frustrated

thrift shop sign


If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent hours looking at blog posts and pinterest links to interiors that scream originality, spaces filled with items that are one of a kind, exuding the owner’s sense of style. Often, the owner will mention that they’ve picked them up along the way, at flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores. Armed with inspiration you head out, driving in circles around the neighborhood, hoping to god you’ll find the showcase piece you’ve been looking for, only to find a bevy of used George Foreman grills and a few laminated pieces better left in the 80’s.

Searching for one-of-a-kind pieces that give soul to a home requires more than just tenacity and a full tank of gas.It requires footwork. It requires strategy. And that’s where your computer comes in handy. With a few tips and tricks, you can find just the right piece for your home, and a Foreman grill or two along the way.

Craigslist is the daddy of all home-shopping thrift operations. People often get frustrated trolling Craigslist, sorting through mountains of listings only to walk away bleary-eyed and empty-handed. But by thinking about key terms and keeping an open mind, you can find rare gems. For instance, if you’re in love with Hollywood Regency style, you can, of course, type in “Hollywood Regency” into the search option. But you might also find what you’re looking for by typing in materials and designers that were popular during the era such as malachite, lucite, art deco, and Dorothy Draper. Also try terms that are used to define the style, such as luxurious, glamorous, glam, and Hollywood.

Also try searching outside of your immediate area. Confining your search to your city, or the nearest large city, may make for easier driving, but there are a number of listings that won’t necessarily show up in your search if it’s confined to a certain area. By clicking the map view you can see geographically where items are located.

Craigslist is also great for seeing what garage sales will be going down in your neighborhood and giving you a preview to items that will be sold. Most people will post images of bigger ticket items such as furniture, so you’ll get an idea of whether an early Saturday morning is worth your while.

And a last note on CL; make sure to search with the “pic view” option or “grid view” option . It enables you to preview the item without having to actually click the link to look at it.

Auctions are another often untapped resource. And I’m not just talking about Ebay here. Nearly every city holds auctions. A simple google search can produce a list of local auction houses. Spend some time on their sites. Find out when they hold their auctions and what the basic requirements are (prior registration? preview dates? hold time on a purchased item?) before you go. Most auctions will also post images of their auction items online prior to the sale, so take some time to peruse their listing before you make the trip.

Thrift Stores are the place where creativity pays its dues. Most items found in thrift stores are not going to be investment pieces. Think of thrift store finds as the place where your imagination gets to play. Paint and new drawer pulls can rescue the dullest of dressers, and with a little ingenuity, that sorry-looking chandelier can be the centerpiece to your outdoor space. Remember, since most items from a thrift store will require work, think about how much it will cost to improve a piece before you buy it. And how long you can stare at it while it sits in your garage before you get up the energy to do the work.

The Flea Market. Living in Northern California, I am blessed by the fact that within a short drive I can stroll one of the best flea markets in the nation, the Alameda Point Antiques Faire. It really is a site to be seen. But if you’re not in the city–or any city–by the Bay, chances are you might need something a little closer to home. And that may be to your advantage. Small, local, flea markets can often be the best place to score something fabulous for less. Since larger flea markets often require larger rental fees, those costs are passed on to you. But at smaller, regional markets, rental fees tend to be less, as does the number of people shopping the market. Remember high school econ class? Less demand equals lower prices. Another cool thing about local flea markets are that they tend to be filled with regional sellers who often have things from the area. Looking for an antique restaurant sign for your kitchen? You just might luck out with one from the diner downtown.

Whether it’s online or on your own two feet, flea market finds can be found without an intense headache or empty wallet. All that’s required is a bit of persistence, some strategery (yup, strategery), and an eye for diamonds in the rough.

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