The Idealist

Flea Market Design Chic

When it comes to giving your home a unique look, why not make your first stop a flea market or antiques fair? These seemingly simple locations yield incredible finds, and often at limited expense. When choosing the right pieces for any space of the home, adding something out of a flea market (think anything from Parisian style street markets to local bric-a-brac and vintage fairs) can help to set the tone for any space.

Where to Find the Perfect Flea Market

Perhaps at the heart of any flea market success story is finding the perfect location. Not every location with a flea market sign is going to yield the same interesting fields. Choose larger cities whenever possible that bring together larger groups of people and more imaginative smalls. Larger flea markets, such as those found in the heart of New York, Paris, or Rome, give you an incredible opportunity to access the very best treasures. You’ll also find countryside flea markets and fairs can work well, depending on where you’re travelling too. Of course, location is everything. Choosing one in the centre of Madrid will yield incredible Spanish pieces, one in rural France will bring that French vintage look.

The big ones

Most larger cities will have one or more flea markets to select from, but you may have to travel to find something special. An old country style flea market may present the most interesting of elements. L’Isle sur la Sorgue near Avignon, France probably has the best selection of genuine objets d’art, antiques, and handicrafts of such a market in France. Paris is of course home to multiple markets, alongside the design stores we explored here. Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton Park, Surrey is great for larger pieces, but be quick – it opens at 6am! London also boasts the New Caledonian Market in Bermondsey, Portobello Road Market and a host of pop-up events. New York has a market in Hell’s Kitchen, Boston has the South End Open Market, Madrid the Cascorro (which we featured here) and Rome its soffitte in piazza (featured here).

How to Search Flea Markets for True Treasures and Unique Finds

Walking through a flea market is easy enough, but finding truly interesting pieces can be a challenge. Consider this approach for finding something that’s a good fit:

  1. Think of alternative uses for objects you see. Don’t view them just as they are. For example, old wood pieces can become a tabletop. Old floor-standing cabinets can be hung on the wall. Old ceramic pieces might just become plant pots or light shades.
  2. Look for solid construction. Pieces that will need a great deal of work to fit into your space are going to be a much more difficult project. Don’t assume you can find replacement components for old or antique items either.
  3. Invest in the right sized items. This is particular important when trying to fill a small space. Don’t allow the item to take up so much room in the area that it overpowers it.
  4. Keep your style or theme and colour scheme in mind. Vintage signs and art are beautiful but don’t sit well in the wrong scheme.
  5. Specifically, focus on items that offer something interesting to the space. It doesn’t have to match, but it should add visual interest.
  6. Walk throughout the flea market to get an idea of what it has to offer. Don’t be afraid to pick up and really look at each item. Think of creative uses for any item. Remember, though, that less is often more. You don’t need to fill the vehicle with too many pieces. On the other hand, more is more if you are looking to create a matching collection. Just don’t buy at random.

Making Your Flea market Finds Fit Your Home

As you leave for the flea market, have an idea of what you are looking for specifically. Then, choose items that fit the space properly. For example, shop for items that will fit in your kitchen or living room space specifically. Have a “home” in mind for any piece you select. You can also look for items that fit your specific design. If you already have a design in mind for your living area, be sure the piece fits that theme.

You might shop for treasures first and design the space around this if you like, but this is harder to pull off. Choose items that fit a theme. Midcentury pieces, for example, in the room, should be coupled with other items like them. If you don’t want to narrow down your home’s elements that much, focus on antiques that range in age. And, allow each to tell a story of its past.

Creating Collections of Similar Objects

Another fantastic way to make flea market treasures work is to create a collection. Perhaps you love vintage tin toys. As you look through the flea market, pick up items that fit this theme. Perhaps you collect antique pictures. Pick up items that can serve as the ideal picture frame – such as any type of glass or shadow box. Create collections of similar options such as toy cars, old cameras, or medicine jars. Be as creative as you like.

Then, take these items and display them in your home. You can turn an entire room into one collection or just create a grouping on a bookshelf or curio cabinet. Depending on the item, you may wish to display them prominently or tuck them into a beautiful storage box in your living room to bring out as a display piece when visitors arrive.

A simple walk through a flea market can be an incredible opportunity to embrace a new style for your home. Flea market goodies, not just those items that seem like “junk”, can be an excellent stylish addition to any home even a modern property. Your goal should always be to rethink the piece or add it to your home as a way to tell a story. What will adding this piece mean to your space? 

Remember you’re Upcycling

Another way of considering flea market finds – especially larger items of furniture – is to remember you are doing your bit for the environment. Rather than buying new all the time, you’re breathing new life into vintage objects, objects that tell a story and are looking for a little love. Making your home unique by mixing and matching in this way is a nice alternative to buying everything new and adds a sense of heritage when you sit them alongside new vintage-look pieces from the high street.

Happy hunting!

  • Ellie lives in a village outside Oxford and works in fashion in London. She loves the vintage look, traditional English afternoon tea, prosecco and hiking in the Lake District.

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