Design Board: '40's Finds at the Flea Market

Today we introduce a fab new column from reader/blogger/house tour volunteer Victoria.

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Pretty much everything I own is a yard sale or freebie find off the street. (Hey one person's trash is someone else's treasure, and it's a great form of recycling, too.) But a lot of friends tell me they're intimidated by the flea market and are overwhelmed by the vast array of "stuff."

There is a lot to choose from, and I find that the best way to go about it is to take it slow, have an image of what you're looking for in your head and just enjoy the process of strolling through the market aisles, with an eye out for what you seek.

To demonstrate how I think about designing a room around existing pieces and introducing flea market finds I did a mock flea market shopping spree for a studio apartment with a retro, feminine feel.

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To get started I pull scraps from my piles of design magazines in search of inspiration and use paint chips for color ideas. I lay it all out, or paste into one of my inspiration journals. (For this demonstration I've created an Inspiration Board.) This visual tool helps me think about what pieces I need to really add flare and personality to the room.

I'm feeling prepared, like any good scout. On the first Sunday of the month I head off to the extremely large Alameda Flea Market.

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First, I find the perfect oversized, deco-looking chair in a soft pink fabric with great tapered legs. I'm going to use this chair as my muse for the rest of the room. And it's under $140.

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I see some fun vintage drapery fabrics from the forties that would make fun throw pillows and pick up the fresh green accent color I'm planning on using. Pillows are easy, just about anyone with a sewing machine can sew a simple pillow. So I take one of the panels for $40.

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I also find this nubby, bouclé wool upholstered side chair in a similar pink hue to my deco chair, so I scoop this one up for $85.

(And just so you know, I don't literally scoop them up - I leave larger pieces at the booth after paying and make note of the booth number so I don't get lost going back to fetch them! I then come back at the end of the day's shopping with one big cart, usually provided by the market, and collect all my purchases.)

I wander on and find this funky pink and black lacquer end table. It'll look great between my two chairs for only $35. I just need a dining set that will work with my desired look.

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I find one later that afternoon that's a perfect retro style and am able to get the table and four chairs all for $150. With that, I'm feeling really good and load up for the day.

There's nothing like that "queen of the flea market" feeling you get when you pull away as other shoppers stare with envy. And it feels even better when you know you've pulled together a whole room for under $500. But it just gets better from there as you get to take it all home, lay out your room, add your existing pieces and make your vision a design reality.

Victoria's Flea Market Tips:
I bring swatches of colors, measurements, a tape measure, paint samples and anything that will help me decide if the purchase is worthwhile. I have a little kit I put together and I throw it in my bag before I hit the flea market, along with my rolling shopping cart - always good to have on hand. And I try to be fearless. Should you get something home and it's not quite right - there's always craigslist and ebay just a keyboard away. Sell it, move on and keep looking. I do it all the time.

Also -- I'm pretty brave about swooping up a must have if I see it. Even if I have no clue what I'll do with it, if my gut says buy it and it's in my budget, I do!

- victoria