15 flea market secrets; how I find the best vintage pieces

How to shop at a flea market: Scoring those killer pieces can be challenging, so here are some tips to help your flea market trips get less, well, trippy.

I like the flea market.

Also, the sky is blue.

It’s ma thang, those flea markets. Part of why I’m good at it is because I’ve been dumpster diving and thrift store shopping since I was old enough to spot my first brass animal. It’s in ma blood. But it doesn’t have to be in your blood to be good at it. It can be learned, grasshopper.

Here are 15 tips that can help anyone shop and buy the best pieces at the flea market whether they are a flea market virgin or a pro.

flea market

1. Get there early. I know, I know … so boring. Everybody says, “Go early! Go early!,” but the truth is you can find average, good pieces all day long, and sometimes you can absolutely find great pieces at 2pm. But those great pieces aren’t normally the no-brainers, those are the risk-takers, the ones that you need to have a huge imagination for and a lot of guts.

But if you don’t want to have to turn on that part of your brain, then know that all the obviously amazing stuff will get eaten up by designers, store-owners, and collectors by 10am. All the Milos’ or Mccobbs’ are gone before the sun is up. Go early if you want incredible pieces. Go later if you want just good stuff. I shoot for 7am at the Rose Bowl Flea Market and 8:30 at the others.

That’s Orlando and I at 6am, FREEZING. Lord, I miss winter flea markets. It’s been 90-100 degrees every Sunday the last few months. I long to wear scarves.

2. Bring a list. It’s easy to get distracted at the flea market because it’s total sensory overload — the loud people, the hot dog breath (hot-dog-o’clock — 9am is the worst … so much hot dog air in your face at such an inappropriately early time), people are bumping into you, and so many colors and shapes to see … it’s just a lot. So if you write a list beforehand it helps curate things in your head, and then if and when you get distracted, you can reference it constantly to remind you of what you are there to do. You’ll be shocked how often you forget that you are looking for vintage castors for your stools. Write it down. You’ll forget about the stuff you need and just end up seeing the stuff that distracts you.



3. Go big first, small second. “Bigs” are furniture, “smalls” are accessories. So if you are looking for furniture then go around the market fast the first time, soley looking for furniture because that is what goes the fastest. Cruise around quickly and if as your eye catches something amazing, slow down and check it out. AS you spot things take photos, get prices, write down booth numbers, and then pull the trigger or decide to wait. The second time cruise for accessories, artwork, lighting, jewelry, and clothes. If the “bigs” are still there, then offer a price, but think big first, small second. Don’t dilly dally looking at earrings at 7am when you are there for a new coffee table. Race around. Fast. Then go slow for the smalls.

4. Love the shape more than the color.  If you are wondering if something is good, picture it in a different color. If you still like it then it’s probably worth the splurge. Remember, the finish, color, and fabric can always change, but the shape really can’t. So if the shape is amazing, but the color is bad, calm down. It can all be changed, but if the shape is just OK, but the color is good then don’t spend a ton. Make sure you are in love with the shape if you are spending actual money.

Like this piece. I just got two of them for $80. Amazing shape. Terrible color, obviously. But worth the splurge … which brings me to my next tip.


5. Splurge on the unique.  The is one of the most frequent questions I get — “Dear Emily, what do you splurge on?” It took me a while to realize what I splurge on, and that’s items that will start a conversation. If you see something that sparks something inside your insides, that sings a song inside your brain, that draw you to it, then that is what you splurge on. I am confident that I could design a room with Ikea furniture, and then use a few great weird and inspired statement pieces to turn it into a room that people will talk about. Sure, your sofa needs to be comfortable, but if you are about to spend a ton of dough on it, try to make it really unique as well. Otherwise go crazy with art, sculptures, weird furniture — that is what will turn your house into something truly conversation worthy.

These guys are now in beautiful gray belgium linen and totally amazing. And still for sale for $3400. Email me at emilyhenderson – at- mac.com


6. Don’t hoard unneccessarily. I have this rule for myself. If I wouldn’t spend $100, then don’t spend $30. But I have a SH*T-TON of stuff. Accessories are not what I’m lacking. If you feel like you don’t have enough “smalls” in your house then yes, buy cute, great, personality-filled accessories, but if you are worried about bringing more into your house that you don’t need, then ask yourself that question: “If this were $100 would I still buy it?” Then listen to your answer.

7. Calculate in all costs. Furniture costs normally don’t stop at the purchase. When I see a $100 sofa that needs to be reupholstered, I automatically add $600-$800 for the labor of the upholstery, plus $300 for the fabric, plus delivery to and from the upholsterer, maybe $60 each way. That obviously changes the price of the sofa, and therefore I have to LOVE it in order to put in all the time and money. Just be prepared for the added costs before you get hosed.



8. Stay away from the new stuff.  I know that flea markets are expanding and they are starting to include many a cell-phone cover and imported tablecloth, but in general avoid these. I’m pro-small business, LORD KNOWS, but the flea market is not the place to be marketed to for your jewelry. What is acceptable are things that are made from vintage things — like pillows from vintage fabric, furniture from reclaimed stuff (although, come on, let’s get some innovative design out there, if i have to see one more “reclaimed wood and iron industrial bench” I’m going to get all Russell Crowe on it). For sake of time, just stick to the old stuff. The new stuff will just distract you while Mr. and Mrs. Fast-Paced-Johnson are buying all the amazing regency pieces.

9. Look high and look low. People often wonder how I find things that they don’t and one of the biggest reasons is that I have CRAZY EYES that have the patience of hungry two-year-old T-Rexes; they are constantly wondering, darting, not making eye contact during the most serious of conversations. But also because I look really high and really low. Don’t forget what people are hanging on the walls or above their tents and don’t forget what is under the tables. You have to dig to be properly rewarded, so make sure you cover all the highs and lows of most booths.



10. Bring cash, but know they take checks. EVERYONE enjoys cash most and they will give you a better deal with cash. But if you need to most will take checks. If you promise someone cash but you don’t have enough, simply offer them a deposit then go to the ATM and bring the rest later. Give them your phone number and take theirs just in case. But if you are on the fence about whether you should bring your checkbook or not, the answer is YES, many take checks.

11. Haggle respectively.  I could write a whole book on this. Here’s how the dialogue goes every weekend:

Me: Sir, how much is this?

Him: $120

Me: It’s amazing, I love it.

Him:  Right? Look how great the lines are.

Me: I don’t need it, but i love it … What would your bottom price be?

Him: $110

Me:  That’s a great deal and totally worth it. I’m not sure if it’s in my budget, but you’ll definitely get it for that.

Him: Well, what’s your top price?

Me: Probably $90.

Him: Alright. Give me cash and it’s yours, but only because you love it so much.

It’s EXTREMELY simple. Ask them what they are charging, counter with WHAT IS FAIR and then if you love it, tell them that you love it. I have friends that have huge manipulative strategies, but I don’t (also people know me, so I can’t). These vendors have spent hours, days, and tears finding the perfect pieces. Please don’t try to insult them by low-balling them unless you truly believe that they are overcharging. If you can’t even come close to affording it, then tell them that. Say how much you love it and how you’d use it but that it’s not in your budget. Then they might budge. As much as they are in it for the money, they are also emotionally involved with these pieces and they really want them to go to a good home. So if you make a case for how much you love it and how well you’d take care of it, then you can get the best discount. This isn’t meant to be manipulative. It’s common sense.

In short: Be nice, be grateful, be respectful. We are not in the mid-evil ages where people are trying to “getcha” all the time. These are real people, collecting things they love and trying to make a living. Be respectful and you’ll get the best deal. It’s that simple.

… Although yes, there are times when people overcharge and I have got into skirmishes, although unfortunately because people know me I have way less leverage than I used to.

OH, wait … the more you buy, the better deal you get. I’m sure that’s obvious but just in case it wasn’t, know that if you combine items at the same vendor you’ll get a better deal.

12. Furniture needs to be special in order to be expensive. I’ll buy a standard but pretty mid-century chair for $250 from the flea market, but once it gets to $400 it better be VERY special. If I can get two chairs for $600, then that changes the story because a pair is more unique. But in general make sure that if you are spending real money that you are getting something unique. Mid-century can be average, uncomfortable, and boring, so get it at a good price or make sure it’s unique.


13. If you love something pull the trigger. It’s like finding the perfectly nice, hot, talented, edgy dude when you are 28; if you don’t pull the trigger SOMEONE ELSE IS ABOUT TO. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought something and then later when I go back to pick it up, the vendor tells me that so many people came back for it, but they didn’t have the balls to pull the trigger fast enough. Don’t be hasty, but if you love it, if your friends love it, if your partner loves it, and it;s not a bad price, then BUY IT before it sells. Because it will sell and you will be sad.


Like this round chair for $100. I shoulda pulled the trigger, but I didn’t and now I will regret my life.

14. Buy quality, not knock offs. How to find quality pieces: I get this question all the time and it’s a hard one to answer. In general, you don’t have to worry about it as much at the flea market as you do at thrift stores. Normally the vendor isn’t selling total crap. But otherwise ask the vendor if he knows who made it. Look for signage: on dressers, it’s inside the drawers, on chairs, it’s under the seat, on tables, it’s underneath. That will help you know if it’s worth a splurge or just a few bucks. Feel the weight of it; pick it up. If it’s super lightweight, then it might not be too high of quality. Check to see if the wood is solid or if it is just a veneer (which is just thin wood on top of cheap wood).


Like this dining table for $350. I love the shape of it so very much. But the wood was cheap. It looked and felt like pine. I could paint it and it could be fine, but that would be like $300-$500 to do it right, and since it’s a dining table that will get a lot of surface wear, that isn’t something I could do myself. So I passed on it, but vowed to have it made by a furniture builder, in quality wood. I actually normally love tables that can fold down for practicality sake, but I hated the seams on top, so I’d make it to not fold down.

15. What to bring:

Cash money


Phone camera

Notebook to write down what booth pieces were in — you won’t remember, trust me.


Food. The food normally sucks; you are a captive audience so at least in LA, they feed you absolute garbage.

Bottled water

A canvas bag. I love the huge canvas bags from Lands’ End because they are super lightweight so you aren’t weighed down at the beginning.

And that’s how you do it, folks.  Go forth, and shop.

Congratulations to Megan for winning the Rose Bowl shopping trip with me in December.  I hope you are more prepared for it now. :)

This post is in partnership with Smartwater.

smartwater, simplicity is delicious.



Vintage Romantic Canopy Bedroom

It’s a bright, airy, romantic, feminine, unexpected and yet totally calm bedroom.  Welcome to one of my favorites rooms i’ve ever designed.  It was for Secrets from a Stylist, but i never had the chance to shoot it properly.  Well, luckily i met Bethany Nauert and last week we stopped by the house and shot the hell out of this bedroom.


I really want this room.  The canopy bed, the regency dresser, that orange chandelier – AND I DON’T LIKE ORANGE.  But i love these colors together.

So here’s the story:  The homeowner is still one of my favorites ever because she was just so grateful, happy, easy and funny.  I actually redid her backyard for this backyard makeover video that i blogged about because she was just so lovely to deal with.  She has a really adorable mid-century house in the hills that has so much charm and light so its easy to make-over, plus she doesn’t live far away which makes it easy and she has great style.


Her style was ‘Eclectic Modern Romance’ (i think) and she wanted something soft and pretty, but feminine without being too girly, which is pretty much my fantasy.

The color palette was definitely a risk, but once i saw this photo below i knew i wanted to try it.

That Hermes orange is really captivating, partly because it is so classic/iconic and partly because it is just so bold. But i went a little grayer and warmer with the lavender, since it was on all the walls instead of just an awesome settee, and i brought in more gray accents to counteract the femininity.  I honestly can’t remember what color I painted the walls, i do apologize, but i think that this ‘French lilac’, by Benjamin moore is pretty close to the wall color and ‘Rumba’ by Benjamin Moore is a pretty close ‘Hermes’ orange.


I knew i wanted a statement bed, but in a quiet way, so one day when i was shopping at the antique mall i found this crazy bamboo canopy bed that was stacked on top of itself, totally taken apart and discarded. The guys told me it had been there for years.  ‘IMPOSSIBLE’, i thought, but then again my eye hones in on shit that other eyes just don’t.  Years as a child at the dump can do that to you.  I think it was $150 and i about peed in my culottes.  Sure, getting it painted the perfect matte gray was going to be $300 but that is $450 for a total statement piece and 100% worth it.  If it were at a beach house i probably would have left it the natural bamboo, but on this carpet I knew that it wouldn’t look that good, and that painted this soft gray color its so much quieter.



The dresser i bought from Wertz brothers as well for $150 but the finish was in really bad shape, while the shape and lines were perfect – nothing that a $300 lacquer job can’t fix.  And yes, in general anything cost $300 to lacquer. Some might be more and some barely less, but in general it’s expensive to have something painted properly.



The chandelier was purchased (again) at a vintage store and spray-painted orange. The color was a readymade spray paint color from Home Depot, but sadly i don’t remember the brand or color. We painted the chain as well to make it more sculptural. I like a swag, i do.  Especially for chandeliers that are kinda statements.  It’s so much less committal and therefore it takes a serious chandelier and gives it a bohemian vibe.


And this rocker? Yep, i bought it and had it painted. Although i had it painted by a guy that basically just spray paints things so no, i realized afterwards it wasn’t the best job. If it were a chair that got a ton of use then it wouldn’t have been acceptable, but it looks good as is and was like $50 to get painted and we were out of money. If you ever go to Pepe’s on Sunset know that if he offers to ‘lacquer’ something, it just means spray painting it.  It’s a running joke amongst Orlando and I. It’s not that spray painting is bad, because its not – its a great finish for many pieces, but for major pieces of furniture spray paint is temporary and doesn’t wipe up or hold up well, so lacquering (which takes coats of a certain kind of super durable paint, with sanding in between coats and at least 2-3 days with the drying time) is much higher quality.

That beautiful throw pillow is DwellStudio for $88.  The two behind it i thought were Dwell, but i’m not finding them now on their site, now.

I do however, like this pillow if you wanted some that were similar and looks just as good, if not better, with that adorable persimmon bird pillow.

And lastly on the wall opposite the bed, i did a gallery wall of beautiful antique botanicals.

I bought them all at the same vendor at the rose bowl, but you can buy them a ton of places online.  I think i spent 2 hours and $500 at that booth, picking the perfect orange mushrooms and eggplant….eggplants.  I mixed high and low – some were originals and strangely expensive (like $80) and some were reprints, yet still old, and were cheaper $5-$7.

We framed them in a mix of vintage frames that we collected at thrift stores and flea markets and then we dropped of some to have framed at a fairly cheap framer in Los Feliz.  But the wall as a whole was probably around $1500.  Not cheap, i know, but is so beautiful. Laying in that bed and waking up to these beautiful drawings of nature is so peaceful.  We wanted it to look really collected and authentic. The room was really quiet so of course i didn’t want a ton of orange frames, but i didn’t want it to feel new and shiny and modern – i wanted them to look as authentic as they were and sometimes these botanicals can look really cheesy in bad frames so we had to be careful to make them look authentic and not look like hotel art.  They turned out totally beautiful.

And after visiting this room again last week, its truly one of those spaces that is so light filled and happy that you could just hang out all day in there.

Bethany Nauert photographed this room so beautifully, so many, many thanks to her.

And in case you want your own fantasy bedroom, don’t forget to enter the Leggett & Platt Pinterest challenge to win a free tufted headboard, adjustable base and $1500 in cash to get your own makeover.  Details HERE.  And remember, i’m judging (with a couple people from the company). It’s not a random contest, the more you pin and curate the better chances you’ll win-  which to me makes it actually attainable, not just luck.


Leggett & Platt Pinterest Challenge

OK, folks. So here’s the story:  I was approached by this adjustable bed company and like most of us that saw those commercials for them in the 1980’s wasn’t exactly thinking it was for me. I mean, i’m not old, i don’t have back issues annd i’m not old.  BUT part of being a designer is not being snobby and being open to everything, if it’s a good product. So i tested one out and fell in love.  It makes it so comfortable to read, be online and watch TV in bed, plus it has massage settings, which is quite the luxury.  It’s not so much that i’m pushing for people to buy these luxurious adjustable beds, but their whole campaign is about creating a bedroom that feels like a haven, a room that you love, that you relax in, that at the end of the day you feel totally calm and comfortable in.  



For me, this means really soft bedding, a soft mattress, low lighting, a comfortable rug and now i have this awesome adjustable base which lets me lay with my knees slightly raised above my waist to release my lower back and it feels oh so good.  You can use whatever mattress you already have, this is simply selling the base and headboard, which looks like this:




You can get whatever size you wan 


















You can have whatever size you want, twin – king, and you can use the mattress you already have, the giveaway is not for a mattress but for the bed base (which is upholstered in the same fabric as the headboard) and the headboard.  It’s up to a $3500 value.  That’s a lot of value, folks.  

CONTEST ASSIGNMENT: Create a Pinterest pinboard featuring images for a bedroom for one of the following themes:  1) Coastal Getaway; 2) Modern Elegance; or 3) Eclectic Inspiration.  You must include at least one image of a Leggett & Platt adjustable base from either the Facebook contest, and you must include a minimum of seven additional images from other sources that complete the selected theme.  

HOW TO ENTER CONTEST: During the Contest Period, enter by visiting the Leggett & Platt page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/LeggettPlattABG), click on the Contest Tab to access the Contest Application and follow the onscreen instructions to enter the Contest. You must “like” the Leggett & Platt Facebook page to access the Contest Application. Enter your name, email address and the URL to your Pinterest board (“Entry”) and choose one of the three themes. 

THEN PIN AWAY.  Go crazy. 


CONTEST PERIOD: The Leggett & Platt Beautify Your Bedroom Contest (the “Contest”) begins on September 20, 2012 at 1:00:01 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (“EDT”) and ends on October 15, 2012 at 11:59:59 p.m. EDT (the “Contest Period”). 
ELIGIBILITY: Contest is open only to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 years of age or older at time of entry. Employees of Leggett & Platt, Incorporated (“Sponsor”), MWW Group, Promotion Activators, Inc., and their respective parents, affiliates, subsidiaries, retailers, distributors, suppliers, advertising and promotional agencies, and any other individuals engaged in any way in the development, production, printing, distribution or execution of this Contest, and their immediate family members (spouse, parents, step-parents, children, step-children, siblings and their respective spouses, regardless of where they reside) and those living in the same household of each such employee, whether or not related, are not eligible to enter or win a prize. Void where prohibited. The Contest is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations.


Pin anything else you want in it that fits in your category.  It could be pictures of bedrooms, furniture, lighting, accessoires, bedding with one of those categories as the title.  Then the best, most inspirational pinboard will be chosen.  Put the link to your pinboard on a comment on this post and your email as well.  

You have until October 15th to create the best pinboard.

Follow me on Pinterest where, starting tonight, i’ll be creating my own Pinboard for the challenge.  

And for more information on these beds go to Leggett & Platt  


Les Mis, the movie….

I love this musical sooo much, and this movie version of it is going to kill it.  Working on an actual post now, but until then, please watch this and try not to cry.   

One kings lane sale…whats left.

So those of you who checked the One Kings Lane Tastemaker sale know that a lot sold out real fast. We were giddy watching it.  Bonnie and i were staring at the computer, refreshing the screen every minute drinking champagne for the first hour, ridiculously happy to see all our hard work pay off.  

So there is 18 hours left and here is what is left.  

1. Newly reupholstered 1970’s Italian Peacock blue velvet sofa.  $3499  I love this sofa VERY much.  I’m shocked that its still mine. 

2. Newly reupholstered 1970’s Italian Peacock blue club chair $2199

3. Burlwood coffee table $799 Good. i’ll keep hoarding this, oh yes, i will. 

4. Newly refinished teak (or walnut…i can’t tell) low and huge mid-century coffee table

5. Mid-century chrome dome lamp Love this. it’s expensive, i know, but this is simply how much they sell for online. I think i bought it for $200

6. Large antique blue seascape oil painting.  

7. Vintage worn amazing leather settee $2499 So good, so worn, so much age to it.  

Gray Dining Table I

There are also 2 of these vintage Regency style dining tables, $1199

They are newly painted in a matte gray and would be perfect for a conference room, office or studio.  Or of course by one for your dining table.  

Gray Lounge Chairs, Pair

And i’m kinda happy that these 1970’s newly reupholstered gray linen lounge chairs are still around. I just might hoard them til we move in a few years and put them in our tv room.  Officially the most comfortable chairs on the planet. We are baffled that they are still available, just baffled. But Brian is extremely happy – he wants these chairs for his future man cave. 

Click HERE for the sale, and do me a sale and tweet it out, tell your friends. I really want to sell out mainly to say that i sold out.  I’m tempted to buy the stuff myself just so i can say it sold out.  Except that would be like donating something to Goodwill and then buying it.  

Which strangely, i’ve actually done. I’m emotionally stable like that.