How To Shop Flea Markets and Estate Sales: My Tips Featured in Vintage Style Magazine!

Have you seen the new Vintage Style Magazine? It's a good one, and I'm not just being biased because I'm in it. I swear. Ok, well maybe just a little. But it really is a cool publication. 

For the Spring 2013 issue (yes, it's Spring already on newstands. how did that happen?) I was asked to share my insider tips on shopping vintage for the "Tag Sale Gold" article. It's a great guide, with contributions not just from me but from interior designer Elaine Griffin, Jason Nixon & John Loecke of Madcap Cottage, and Mary Carol Garrity of Nell Hill's. 

Most of my suggestions were included, but I'm giving you a few extras here on my blog. Because you are special and I appreciate your readership. Well, that and I'd hate to waste good shopping tips!

1) Cabinet and Door Hardware

I’m always hunting for knobs, pulls, hinges, towel racks, and door knobs. Doesn’t matter is they are mismatched or odd sizes, because I don’t necessarily use them in the traditional way. Cabinet and door knobs, for example, make excellent purse hooks when attached directly to the wall.

2) Lighting

Vintage lighting is not always easy to find, but when you see something you love, grab it quickly! I’ve got a few fixtures I’m using now, including a $3 Mad Men-esque lamp from a recent garage sale. If it’s in working condition, great. If not, you can always have a fixture rewired.

3) Vintage Linens

One of my favorites! I don’t look for fancy linens so much as the everyday pieces. Tablecloths in fun colors and patterns quickly liven up a table and you don’t care if one gets stained because it only cost $3. And I never pass on a good set of cloth napkins. They are an excellent “green” alternative to paper napkins, and many times they haven’t even been used.

4) Jewelry

I’m a sucker for vintage jewelry. At least half of the jewelry I own and wear is from estate sales. I love it because it’s completely unique and there is a sense of story behind each piece. It also looks great on display. I actually have created a jewelry art piece that hangs in my bedroom and was inspired by much of the vintage jewelry I own.

5) Ephemera, Wallpaper and Notecards

Ephemera is any printed, paper material that was never intended to be preserved, such as ticket stubs, movie posters and restaurant menus. This is one of the most interesting items to comb through at an estate sale. I found some 1958 SwissAir menus awhile back with the most beautiful bird art. They cost 10 cents a piece and are now framed and hanging in my living room. I’ve also framed old wallpaper, Con-Tact paper, notecards and color charts. Almost anything can be art when you make it art.

6) Furniture

Of course, I always keep my eye out for a good piece of furniture. Some days I’ll have something specific in mind, but most of the time I just look for something to fall in love with. One day I came home from a sale with a $65 pink velvet wingback chair. Definitely not what I had in mind to buy that day, but it has now become a favorite piece in the house. I’ve learned not to edit myself too much when shopping for furniture. Buy what you love and you will find a place for it. At the same token, don’t buy something just because it’s a good deal.

7) Kitchen Utensils

Estate sales are an excellent place to find all sorts of cool kitchen utensils you never knew you needed. I recently picked up a Kitchamajig for 25 cents. It “strains, drains, beats, blends, whips and mixes.” And it’s made in the U.S.A. I’m convinced that these utensils were made better 50 years ago, which is why you can find so many of them. They were built to last. And even if they don’t, I only paid 25 cents for it! 

8) Dishes

I can’t remember the last time I bought a dish anywhere other than an estate sale. I’ll pick up anything from serving platters to mixing bowls to tiny ceramic plates. Some I use for kitchen purposes - colorful Pyrex is so fun to bake with! - and other dishes are used to collect jewelry, hold a bar of soap or organize office supplies. And I’m keeping my eye out for a cool set of china. I haven’t found it yet, but someday...

9) Household Tools

Staplers, tape measures, ladders, hammers...why buy these things new when you don’t have to? I pick up household tools all the time. How can I resist when they cost a quarter? Staplers are one of my favorite finds, especially Swinglines. I have started a mini-collection and have enough staples to get me through 2050, I’m sure. But I do use them. And if one breaks or gets lost, I’ll always have a back-up. And did I mention the colors? Where can you get an avocado green stapler any more?

10) Books

I am a bit of a book hound. Specifically, I hunt for cookbooks and books on design, decoration, color and “keeping house.” I am completely fascinated by the culture of home and domestic arts. These books give me a glimpse into how things used to be and how far we’ve come...or not come. And I always get a good laugh from some of the recipes. Goose Livers in Jelly, anyone?

Do you shop tag sales, flea markets and estate sales? What are some of your favorite finds and strategies? Do share!