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Overwhelmed at the flea market? Designers give shopping tips

| Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, 6:21 p.m.
Caitlin Murray, founder of Black Lacquer Design in Los Angeles, desgned this room, featuring a vintage abstract portrait. Murray often hunts for portraits like this at flea markets or estate sales and uses them to beautifully unite the various colors in a room.
Caitlin Murray, founder of Black Lacquer Design in Los Angeles, desgned this room, featuring a vintage abstract portrait. Murray often hunts for portraits like this at flea markets or estate sales and uses them to beautifully unite the various colors in a room.
Interior designer Jenny Dina Kirschner discovered one of these vintage Steinbock Enamel candy dishes at a flea market, then searched online for other pieces in the same series.
Interior designer Jenny Dina Kirschner discovered one of these vintage Steinbock Enamel candy dishes at a flea market, then searched online for other pieces in the same series.
This undated photo provided by Caitlin Murray shows a living room designed Murray, founder of Black Lacquer Design in Los Angeles. The room includes a sleek brass coffee table. When Murray searches for striking vintage pieces at flea markets or estate sales, she always looks for valuable brass pieces being sold well below their market value.
This undated photo provided by Caitlin Murray shows a living room designed Murray, founder of Black Lacquer Design in Los Angeles. The room includes a sleek brass coffee table. When Murray searches for striking vintage pieces at flea markets or estate sales, she always looks for valuable brass pieces being sold well below their market value.

Arriving at a sprawling flea market on a crisp Saturday morning can be exciting. So many potential treasures might be hidden among the dusty piles of cast-off, secondhand goods.

Yet often it's overwhelming, even for experts.

With acres of furniture, art, accessories and more stretching out in front of you, where do you begin?

With a list, suggests New York interior designer Jenny Dina Kirschner, who rarely goes hunting for vintage items without one.

On a recent flea market visit, “we made a list of things we still needed. Accent tables, some specific chairs,” Kirschner says. You won't always find what you seek, and you may find a few treasures you'd never imagined wanting. But having the list helps “avoid that insane feeling of arriving and, ‘Oh my God, what do I look for first?',” she says.

So what DO designers like to look for first at a flea market?

Depends where you are

For Los Angeles interior designer Jessica McClendon, founder of the design firm Glamour Nest, that depends where she is.

“When I shop on trips, I like to focus on items that are unique to the location. I found a Bavarian deer head carved out of wood when I was in Munich that is so interesting and unique to the Black Forest that I simply had to have it,” she says. “In Ireland, I zeroed in on textiles and antique bibles or prayer books.”

When shopping for vintage items closer to home, McClendon is always on the lookout for chairs.

Kirschner agrees: She hunts for chairs that have an eye-catching shape but may be covered in worn or ugly fabric. “As a designer, I know I can revive that chair” by refinishing the wood and updating the upholstery, she says.

If you're not in the market for furniture, try hunting for art and accessories at estate sales or flea markets, says Jaclyn Joslin, an interior designer and founder of the retail store Coveted Home in Kansas City.

Search for art

Interior designer Caitlin Murray, founder and CEO of Black Lacquer Design in Los Angeles, also loves hunting for art. Her favorite finds are abstract portraits of women, and she's had “a ton of luck finding interesting pieces at great prices,” she says. “I like to group vintage portraits together as a salon wall, or use just one as a focal point of the room to tie in other colors incorporated throughout the space.”

Smaller art and accessories can also be wonderful flea market finds.

Kirschner recently found a small enamel candy dish with a painted scene on it, and bought it for just a few dollars. She found an insignia on the back, searched online and discovered that the piece was part of a series created in Europe decades ago by a family of artisans. She's since hunted for more dishes from the same series, and they've become a treasured collection in her home.

If you're not sure what type of accessories you're looking for, consider focusing on one material.

“I'm a sucker for anything solid brass,” says Murray. “Some of my all-time favorite scores are a midcentury Mastercraft coffee table for $40, valued at $4,000, and a vintage, sculptural, 2-foot-tall giraffe for $25.”

Buy vintage

No matter which items make your personal list for a flea-market hunt, these designers recommend buying vintage pieces that delight you. If the price is reasonable, says Kirschner, don't hesitate: “If you want to think about it for an hour, there's a chance it won't be there when you get back.”

Melissa Rayworth is an Associated Press writer.

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