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An Insider Look at Flea Market Shopping

I have been shopping at vintage flea markets for about thirty years and today I am going to share with you some of my insider tips to flea market antique shopping.

Flea Market Antique Shopping

When people ask me “What style of decor is your home?”, I always answer “Vintage flea market antique decor”. It’s true. I am sure the majority of the items in my home were bought at a flea market. I have been shopping at vintage flea markets for about thirty years and today I am going to share with you some of my insider tips to flea market antique shopping.

If you look at the photo of our back porch, there are twenty-two items in this photo that I bought at a flea market. So trust me, I know how to shop at a flea market.

Flea Market Antique Shopping

Living Room Accent Piece

Why do I like shopping at antique flea markets?

I love the hunt.

Most of the time I have a list. But usually my list is not for a specific item. Rather, it mights say “wall next to the front door, spring colored glassware, etc. I love the thought process of when I see something I love and my mind races to think of how it might fit in our home. Most of the time I buy the item to use as it was never intended to be used. I love the creative thinking that flea markets bring.

How to Find a Flea Market Near You

I primarily shop at flea markets in California but I have been to Brimfield in Massachusetts and Round Top in Texas. If you are looking for a flea market in your area, House Beautiful published a great article called “The Absolute Coolest Flea Market in Your State”.

Some of the best flea markets are small so be sure to google flea markets (or swap meets) in your area. There are a lot of lists online of “The Best Flea Markets” but I looked at them and was disappointed. Any list that doesn’t have the Rose Bowl Flea Market listed in California is not worth reading. You might have more luck asking your local antique store owners where the best flea markets are in your area.

Vintage Bedroom Nightstand

Tips on Shopping at a Flea Market

I can’t even begin to think of the number of flea markets I have attended. I put together a list of some tips that should help your flea market antique shopping.

  1. Get there early. The die-hard shoppers arrive early and a lot of the good stuff is sold in the first hour of the show. I have been to plenty of flea markets in the dark when the vendors were unloading their trucks. It may cost a few more dollars to get in early but it’s worth it to find the best products, beat the crowds, and park close by! 
  2. Bring cash. Most flea markets have ATM machines but come prepared with cash. A lot of the vendors take credit cards and/or Venmo but you don’t want to miss out on a great find if the vendor only takes cash.
  3. Come prepared. Bring a cart with some bags. Wear comfortable shoes. Dress in layers. Bring water. Bring a tape measure.
  4. Measure before you come. If you are looking for a table in your entryway, measure the space in advance. In fact, measure all of the potential areas in your home that might need an antique find.
  5. Negotiate in a kind and friendly way. I usually ask, “what is your best price?”. It’s a polite way of asking for a deal.
Flea Market Antique on the Back Porch

Repurpose Things

It is rare that I use a vintage flea market purchase for the purpose it was originally intended. I use these metal tool and lunch boxes to hold napkins, magazines, remote controls, and flowers. I have purchased many items at a flea market because I loved them, even though I had no idea what to do with them. That’s what makes flea market antique shopping so much fun. Repurposing is really fun to do.

swap meet flea market

I wanted to mention my three favorite flea markets. In Southern California, I love to go to the Rose Bowl Flea Market (the second Sunday of the month). I also love the Long Beach Flea Market which is the third Sunday of every month.

Lastly, I love the Round Top Antiques Show in Warrenton and Round Top, Texas. I will be there in about one week!

Hanging Shelves on the Back Porch

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Vintage Finds Are Not Perfect

When you buy a vintage item, you may have to take it home and give it some TLC. This photo in my craft room has two items that I refurbished. This worktable was turquoise when I bought it. Yikes! I sanded the top and repainted the base and the transformation is remarkable. The entire makeover is in my blog post, Restoring a Flea Market Table. The tool chest on the left was covered in auto grease. I cleaned it and spray painted the entire cabinet. 

Craft Room Vintage Table

My favorite makeover of a flea market find was the coffee table in my living room. The wooden chest was dark originally dark brown. I painted it with milk paint and then nailed two vintage ceiling tiles on the top. I absolutely love it. You should read my post the DIY Coffee Table Makeover blog post.

Flea Market Coffee Table

Do Your Homework

It is important to know a little bit about the items you are hoping to buy. If you want to start collecting transferware do some research online and find out what the average sale price is on eBay. If you know anyone that already collects the item you want, reach out and ask them what prices you should expect to pay. Also, find out how you can tell if the item is authentic and not a reproduction. There are a lot of items at flea markets, especially wood and metal items that look like they are vintage and from France and yet they are reproductions from Mexico.

By the way, reproductions are fine as long as the price you are paying reflects that it is a reproduction.

Most importantly, have fun. There is something about hunting at a flea market that I love. I ignore the junk and look for the treasures. Because if you look hard enough, you will always find them.

And by the way, I counted 91 flea market items in this blog post. Can you find them?

Vintage Cheese Mold

My Favorite Home Decor Items

Home Decor Favorites
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Tips to Flea Market Antique Shopping

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ABOUT LESLIE

Welcome to My 100 Year Old Home. I started my blog so I could share my passion for entertaining, décor, cooking, and crafts. You will find all this and more right here. Read more…

14 Responses

  1. These are great suggestions! I used many of them this past weekend in fact. Someone mentioned that the Wednesday Ventura Market is really good. I had no idea, what do you think?

  2. You are such an inspiration Leslie!! I never knew I LOVED vintage things till I started following you on Instagram and your blog!!! I have started looking and shopping at our Market Days here in town every first Saturday of the month and boy, what a beauty of things there are when you don’t look at them as junk! Hahaha

    Thank you soooo much for sharing so much with all us!! I’m from Deep South Texas and I have NEVER been to Roundtop, but it’s on my bucket list!!

  3. Great tips! I live in Massachusetts and plan to go to Brimfield in May with my husband if they have it. I hope they do. Good luck at Round Table, can’t wait to see what you get. We are also planning a trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show in Jun, it’s outside and I hear it’s a great show w awesome vendors. 🌷😊

  4. Thank you for all the great ideas. I have made several chenille wreaths Also, I made some cherry blossoms. They look so good !

    1. Beerly, that makes me so happy! Tag me if you post a picture of your projects on Instagram and I will share it!

  5. Love your post! You certainly have bought some “treasures.” I agree with the fun being in the hunt. Many times I can find something totally unexpected too. And, I especially love using something not for its intended purpose!

    1. Thank you Karen! The hunt really is the best part. And, the unexpected surprise when you find something wonderful and use it for something entirely different than its intended purpose, I agree!

  6. I love the anticipation and excitement of what I may find each time of go to a flea market! Even if I don’t find something I don’t look at it as a failed day. Any time I get to go is a good day!! Miss not being able to go as often as I was before the pandemic but substituted doing more local antique shopping instead. Thanks for the tips Leslie. Love to see all the ways you have used your finds in your house.

  7. I love your Sunday blogs (actually all your blogs). and also love seeing your beautiful home and your many vintage treasures and craft inspirations!! I live in Southern CA too and now I will have to find my way to the Rose Bowl and Long Beach Flea Markets, thanks for the many wonderful tips 🙂

    1. Oh I hope you do Vicki, both Rose Bowl and Long Beach are filled with so many treasures! I have been frequently both for so many years. I appreciate your kind words, thank you!

  8. I have the same wrought iron patio set, and having a hard time finding cushions. Please let me know where you found yours😉💙

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I'm Leslie,
Welcome to My 100 Year Old Home

I started my blog so I could share my passion for entertaining, décor, cooking, and crafts. You will find all this and more right here.

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