Flea Market Secrets


What is my secret for sourcing the most exquisite antiques? It’s a question I’m often asked…and the answer isn’t simple.

For FrenchGardenHouse, I buy from antique dealers all over the world. I’ve been in this business long enough to have developed a network of fellow dealers and now friends. They are amongst the best in the business, and I am so blessed that often, they give me first choice of their treasures.

If they are local, I invite them over and serve them breakfast, coffee, lunch, or sometimes all three, depending on how much they’ve brought for me to see!


Then there is the thrill of the hunt. This “hunt” takes me to flea markets all over the world, and to private by-invitation-only sales, but it’s the Flea Market that is a favorite hunting ground.

Shopping for antiques at markets is in my blood. I can’t wait for flea market season to be in full swing again!

At your request, I’m offering some sage advice for shopping at a flea market this spring, in no time you will be able to shop a flea market like a pro.

Flea Market Secrets

1.GET THERE EARLY. Be there right when the market opens. It really IS true that the early bird gets the worm. I usually see the best pieces fly out of booths in the very beginning. Often, they get bought by other flea market dealers, who then resell in their own booth. Pieces can travel the market on that same day, and have a price increase each time it lands in a new booth.



European flea markets start much later than the ones here in the states, but be there when it opens. In France, the Flea Market Stall Holders will make you wait while they drink their Cafe~au~lait until 9 or 10, but it’s still worthwhile to be there when the flea market opens to find the best treasures.  It gets very crowded in the afternoon.


2.TAKE CASH. Get small bills, it makes bargaining easier when you have exact change. Some dealers accept credit cards, a few take a check. Cash is still the preferred payment. Get a fanny pack or something that will help you keep your money on you.  I wear a small leather cross body bag, it has long straps and is perfect. This way I don’t worry about losing my money, and it’s always accessible.


3. BE COMFORTABLE.  Forget your wonderful fashion sense, and wear comfortable clothing, especially shoes. Take a sweater or jacket, it’s cold in the morning, but can heat up quite fast, so dress in layers. Don’t dress too nicely. Skip the designer clothes, you want to mix in with the crowd. Trust me, if you dress too nicely, prices will go up.  Take sunblock, a hat and sunglasses if it will be sunny.


4. TAKE WATER AND A PROTEIN SNACK. Most flea markets are big! All that shopping and walking makes you thirsty, and hungry. Most flea markets do not offer wonderful food. You may not want to stop shopping to stand in line to buy something to drink. Be sure to take a little packet of anti-bacterial wipes, too.


5. TAKE NOTES ON YOUR PHONE. Or take a small notepad and pen. This way you can write down what you paid for a certain item, an address a dealer may tell you about, or an idea for using something in a creative way you saw. These days, I use my phone for notes, and take a photo of something interesting I want to remember, or a stall number where I leave something.

If you buy something large, the vendor will keep it for you ’til you leave. But be sure you make clear and descriptive notes about where your item is. The last thing you want to do at the end of the day is run through aisles and aisles looking for your purchases.


6.  BE COURTEOUS. Unlike antique online sources, flea market dealers price {=charge more than they want} their items with some negotiating room. I usually decide for myself what a certain item is worth to me before I ask “What is your best price?” and smile. If you buy several items from a vendor they’ll usually be amenable to a group discount.

Do NOT degrade the item, or offer $5.00 for an item marked $60.00. {I overhear people doing that!..I once saw a dealer throw a vase on the ground he was so mad at a ridiculous offer, saying “I’d rather break it than sell this to you!”} Dealers work HARD. They spend days, weeks months traveling looking for the best pieces. Respect. Graciousness. Politeness. Friendliness. As in life, these things matter at a flea market.


7. TAKE TOOLS.  A measuring tape, a magnet, and a magnifying glass are all great to take along. If you know the measurements of your walls (put in your little notebook or phone) you can measure the huge cabinet to see if it will work for you.

The magnifying glass is always great to check out marks, and look for chips, and hairline cracks on porcelain pieces. I also always feel porcelain and glass with my fingertips for breaks and chips.

The magnet will not stick to: Brass, Bronze, Copper, Sterling, and Gold. (a magnet will stick slightly to some Sterling, but not like it will stick to Silver Plate)


8. MAKE A LIST. Especially if you have a limited budget, or space, a list keeps you focused. There are so many things to buy at a flea market, that it can get overwhelming, fast. A list keeps you in line with what you are looking for, what you can afford, and what you need.


{If you find something that almost gives you a heart attack you love it so much, throw the list out of the window and buy it!}


9. BUY WHAT YOU LOVE.  There are so many treasures to be found, so be selective. But if you see something that sends off sparks your mind, something that is a conversation piece, something that is a little quirky and out of the ordinary….buy it.  It’s those one of a kind unusual pieces that will infuse your home with your personality.


10. BE POSSESSIVE. When you do find something you love, hold it in your hand. Or put your hand on it if it’s big. Possession is 9/10th of the law, at the flea, it’s 100%.

Don’t put the item down until you are sure you aren’t going to buy it. Believe me, once you look interested, all of a sudden three other people want it. If you ponder too long, or let go of the item, someone else will buy it.


11. BE CURIOUS.  Look everywhere, in icky cardboard boxes, at all the stacked plates. I often find amazing antique treasure by asking to look in boxes, and digging a little. Be patient. Flea market shopping is not a quick fix. It takes perseverance, but the rewards are so worth it!



12. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE BUYING.  Be sure that if you are buying an antique, that it really is what the vendor thinks it is. Educate yourself about the way antiques should look, feel, about hallmarks and backstamps, about patina and the grace of time. There are plenty of really, really good reproductions out there.

There you have it! Use these Flea Market Secrets&  tips and you will be a flea market pro in no time. Have fun if you decide to go to the flea market this spring!