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How To Decorate Your Home With Flea Market Finds

House Digest logo: MainLogoHouse Digest 6/16/2022 Melissa Nicholson
flea market box of stuff © cesar iannarella/Shutterstock flea market box of stuff

Is it the thrill of the hunt? The incredible bargains? Or maybe the nostalgic walk down memory lane? Whatever it is, treasure hunters agree -– flea markets are an oasis away from the modern world. They signal that summertime is here, and it's time to freshen up the house and get to those projects you've been wanting to finish in your home. 

Flea markets are a place to find things you need, things you want, and obviously, stuff you can't live without. According to Travel Awaits, flea markets most often occur every weekend from May to October, depending on where you live. They also suggest we should be careful not to confuse flea markets with swap meets. Swap meets are geared toward tractors, cars, and auto parts. 

At a good flea market, you'll find everything, from tiny trinkets to beautiful old furniture and complete bedroom sets. If you need a place to get inspired, your local flea market will do the trick. In this article, we'll discuss how to decorate your home with flea market finds, so the next time you're out treasure hunting, you'll be loaded with inspiration and ideas.

Architectural Salvage Pieces As Trim

gothic architectural salvage windows © Susan B Sheldon/Shutterstock gothic architectural salvage windows

Architectural salvage pieces are items salvaged from old buildings and homes. They're usually aged objects that are rescued rather than destroyed and could be anything, from porcelain sinks to scrolled pieces of trim or old doors and salvaged wood floor pieces. According to ThoughtCo, an architectural salvage company is usually a warehouse full of salvaged items that they buy from demolished or remodeled structures and then sell. Sales are open to the public or to businesses depending on the place. 

If you love the thought of giving these rescued pieces a home, search for a salvage company near you (and the flea market). There are a lot of places online as well. One of the most popular ways to use salvage in the home is with the use of old trim and posts that have a gingerbread or gothic look to them. Use smaller trim to hang at the corners of a doorway in your house. Cut an old porch post lengthwise, and it can hang flush to the wall as trim or simply as a piece of art. Old doors set in a corner are useful for displaying artwork or photos. Salvaged wood of any kind makes the perfect canvas for creative signs or, if you find enough, design a unique floor. Don't worry about chipped paint or scratches on any of the old wood you use in your decor. It's preferred and lends to the charm.

Old Baskets And Bins For Storage

baskets in many sizes © Kostikova Natalia/Shutterstock baskets in many sizes

We all want to reduce clutter, but it's sometimes hard to find the perfect place for every little thing. The mess from clutter causes people to feel stressed. According to Psychology Today, too much clutter, whether physical or mental, affects our ability to move and think. It's helpful to create some simple storage, so our "stuff" isn't just lying around.

When out flea marketing, look for containers that look cute just hanging out but can secretly hide items. It's like decorating and organizing at the same time. Long ago, products came in metal, tin, or glass containers before plastics and cardboard took over. They were and are quite useful because it's easier to repurpose them. Look for coffee cans, old kitchen items such as cracker tins and glass peanut butter jars. Clean up the things you find when you get home with some soapy water, then use them to store anything you like. Dump your paper bag of coffee into a glass jar or an old coffee can, and you can leave it right next to the coffeemaker because now it looks adorable. Small baskets or bins set on the counter are great for collecting keys, spare change, and sunglasses. Use picnic baskets and wooden boxes and crates to store coloring books and crayons, or books and magazines. The goal is to find storage that actually looks like unique décor.

An Old Farmhouse Door As A Headboard

old farmhouse style door © Jennifer Burbridge/Shutterstock old farmhouse style door

Make a statement in your bedroom and have a headboard like no other with an old farmhouse door. Don't worry if the paint is all chippy -– that makes it even better. To help that lovely patina stay put, lightly sand the door with a fine-grit sandpaper. You want to smooth the edges of the chips without removing too much paint. Clean off the dust, then add a coat of furniture varnish to help your old door last a lifetime. 

However, if you don't want a chipped look or want to paint the piece a fresh color, go ahead and sand more thoroughly, paint, and then varnish. According to Renovated Faith, the lower the grit number on sandpaper, the rougher it is. For a finer sanding, use a higher number and to get rid of more paint and make a smooth surface, try a lower number. 

Attach the door to the wall and scoot your bed right up to it or attach it to the bed's frame. You could use two or three doors vertically or one door horizontally. The wonderful thing about vintage finds is that the imperfections make them beautiful, and everything doesn't have to match.

A Mix Of Old Chairs

chairs at flea market © Jeanette Dietl/Shutterstock chairs at flea market

Older chairs have a certain character about them that we don't see today. Forget chairs that match around the dining room or kitchen table. Make your room interesting with a mix of flea market-found chairs. According to Mix and Match Design, mixing dining room chairs at the table brings more visual interest to your gathering space. Using antique-style chairs brings even more uniqueness and an eclectic, fun vibe. 

You want a seating area to be inviting and a place for conversation. Imagine the great conversation starters your flea market chair collection could create. When at the flea market, look for chairs that still feel sturdy, or plan on tightening up the legs or rungs, if necessary, when cleaning them up. It's easy to remove seat covers and replace the material with the use of new material and a staple gun. You can also seal up chipped paint just as you would on an old door, with light sanding and some varnish, or sand down completely and repaint.

Group Collections Together

collection of antique items © BrAt82/Shutterstock collection of antique items

What's the item that stops you in your tracks when at a flea market? You know –- the one when everyone says, "don't you already have a few of those?" We get you. Collect to your heart's content. If you aren't sure how or what to collect, start small. According to The Collector, starting slowly is wise because it gives you time to truly understand the market, so you don't end up with a "fake" collection. Also, as you collect slowly, you'll begin to see how much space you'll need for your new collections as they grow (maybe a shelf ... maybe a new house). 

To make collections look like art or décor and less like clutter, group them together, so they have a purpose. Your fireplace mantel, shelves, or on top of furniture and cabinets make wonderful areas for your collections. Popular items at flea markets today for collectors are scales, globes, clocks, retro phones, and vintage fans. Place whatever it is you love in a straight line or mix all different sizes out of order.

Design A Gallery Wall

gallery wall in home © Photographee.eu/Shutterstock gallery wall in home

A gallery wall can be large or small but usually covers a good size area. You can use all kinds of things to create one. If you aren't sure what you want to use, just wander around the flea market. Something will surely catch your eye. You don't have to fill an entire wall in a day. Collect slowly but surely until you have it looking the way you want it to. 

Some gallery wall ideas are mirrors, antique frames, family photos, artwork such as oil paintings, or a mix of a few different things. You want to be careful not to have too much of a variety of collections, or it will make people dizzy when they look at it. The point is to create a collection, so make sure it all fits together. For the "winging it" type people, you'll enjoy a gallery wall with mix-matched sizes, hung in random order. For those who like things neat and tidy, go for a grid-style gallery wall. This style uses a collection of similar colors and sizes, and a square grid pattern is used when hanging. According to Framebridge, grid-style gallery walls make a big statement, create a modern vibe due to the symmetry, and are perfect for those of us looking for a precise, measured area to fill.

Turn Enamelware Buckets Into Planters Or Vases

white enamelware bucket on floor © Barita/Shutterstock white enamelware bucket on floor

Old buckets ... is there anything more charming? They bring us to an English garden at a dainty cottage somewhere. Enamelware buckets, especially in light blues, yellows, pinks, and whites, beckon to be filled with flowers. Choose a color to hunt for or snatch up every color you see. Keep an eye out for colors that aren't as easily found, such as pink and yellow. Most often, if a piece is truly old and not a reproduction, it'll have a little rust on it. That's part of the appeal. 

Before using your darling new antique bucket, give it a gentle cleaning. According to Adirondack girl @ heart, you should use a soft rag, along with hot, soapy water to clean your enamelware. Never use anything abrasive, or you'll risk scratching your new treasure. Drill a hole in the bottom for drainage if you'll be using a bucket as a planter. If it's just a fun vase, enjoy how lovely your favorite flowers look in a colorful enamelware bucket.

An At-Home Bar From A Vintage Hutch

liquor cabinet with liquor © olegribak/Shutterstock liquor cabinet with liquor

Finding the perfect hutch when at a flea market is life-changing. You can do so many things with these great pieces of furniture. An at-home bar is one of those things. You probably don't need a list of reasons as to why a home bar is a great idea ... but let's talk about them anyway. 

According to Quinn's Mercantile, an at-home bar is a cost savings (you'll pay ¼ of the price for a drink at home), you get to choose who comes to your bar (no more annoying club people), and the atmosphere is designed by the one and only, you. Whether simple or elaborate, using an antique hutch will add a sense of nostalgia and charm to your cozy lounge. 

Wipe down the hutch you bring home with warm, soapy water and a rag. Sand until smooth if you plan on painting it. Hutches offer drawer and cabinet space which is why they work so well. The classic Hoosier style even has a built-in, small counter for the mixing of drinks. Fill the cabinets with glassware and booze and the drawers with stirrers, toothpicks, and cocktail napkins.

Vintage Suitcases As A Side Table

stack of old suitcases © BrAt82/Shutterstock stack of old suitcases

If you aren't interested in building something, you'll love the idea of simply stacking a few darling suitcases on top of each other for a side table that impresses. Plus, the additional storage of these old travel partners is a bonus. Choose a variety of sizes and stack from largest to smallest, with the smallest on top. 

Many old suitcases have been well-loved and need a little cleaning up after you've adopted them. According to Lora Bloomquist, it's helpful to take the suitcases outside on a sunny day, along with some sudsy water and a sponge, a soft scrubbing brush, and a toothbrush to get the gunk out of the corners. She also recommends a bleach-free cleaner for scuff marks and ground-in dirt. Dry thoroughly before putting them to use. Stack them up, add a lamp on top and hide your favorite magazines inside for the perfect relaxing station before bedtime.

Light Fixtures With A Little Flair

antique light fixture on wall © Dpongvit/Shutterstock antique light fixture on wall

The right light fixture pulls a room together and creates a fun focal point. Look for rare light fixtures at flea markets and use them in any room in the house. There's one rule, don't go plugging in a 100-year-old light fixture before having it rewired. According to The Washington Post, when purchasing a vintage or antique light, ask the seller if they know if it has been rewired or not. Old wires are a fire hazard, and if it's a European fixture, their wiring isn't U.S compatible. 

Rewiring isn't a big deal, and most lighting stores can get it done for you. Always better safe than sorry. Choose the light that trips your trigger. If you prefer getting what's in vogue, keep an eye out for art deco lights, mid-century modern, industrial style, or chandeliers unashamedly wearing sparkling crystals. Like most flea market finds, a repurposed light brings a different warmth than a new, big-box store light can't do.

Display A Comforting Quilt

vintage quilt folded © CreatewithClaudia/Shutterstock vintage quilt folded

Have you ever noticed quilts get better over time? The more their used, washed, and snuggled, the softer they become. That's why buying a new quilt just isn't the same. Display your new old quilt over the back of a couch, hang it as a work of art on the wall, or lay it at the foot of a bed. You can even put an old quilt to work as an everyday blanket, as long as you don't become heartbroken as it wears out through the years. Older quilts tend to come apart a little here and there when they're washed often. Still, many people enjoy their quilt as this happens because of the softness it creates. 

According to American Patchwork & Quilting, Bettina Having tells us that only cotton quilts should be washed, and only when it's very much needed. To clean them, she added that you can gently wash them, after making any needed repairs, in a gentle detergent. Then, hang dry or dry the quilt flat. If you love history, then hunting for a quilt that certainly has its own story is a perfect way to spend the day. Older quilts were hand-made, and that makes them a beautiful treasure.

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall

antique mirrors as decor © Nelia L/Shutterstock antique mirrors as decor

Mirrors aren't just for doing your hair. They also make beautiful décor on a wall or a distinctive part of a restroom. Flea markets tend to be full of vintage-style mirrors, so have fun hunting. A great thing about older mirrors is although they sometimes have streaks or a cloudy look on the glass, due to desilvering from age, it's a patina that looks stylish. Still, according to GlassOne, if you'd like to get rid of that streaked effect, try rubbing alcohol followed by glass cleaner, give shaving cream a try (rub in an S pattern), or use jewelry polish to make the mirror less cloudy looking. 

If you're afraid of losing that old look of the glass mirror, using glass cleaner regularly won't take it away. Search for mirrors with gothic or Victorian era frames. Leave them as is, or cover the mirror with newspaper and spray paint the frame. You can create a gallery wall of mirrors, hang them to use in the restroom (two different mirrors over a double sink are eye-catching), or simply hang them anywhere you need an artistic vibe.

Place A Trunk At The Foot Of Your Bed

antique trunk on rug © Radanasta/Shutterstock antique trunk on rug

Sometimes the foot of the bed just needs a little something. A trunk is a perfect solution to fill the space and act as storage. Of course, only old trunks need apply for the job. 

At a flea market, it's not uncommon to find the ideal trunk, only to open it and see a nasty inside. Don't panic. Remember, we're hunting down old objects, so there's bound to be some gross encounters. The good news is that everything can be cleaned up and used. If the trunk is lined and unsightly, rip out the old lining and give the inside a good scrubbing. Next, reline the trunk. According to Farmhouse 1820, you can line the inside of a trunk with wallpaper. Simply sand the inside and clean out the dust, then line up the wallpaper and cut to fit. Get out your favorite jar of Mod Podge and glue down the paper using a foam brush. Allow to dry for 24 hours, and voila! Place the trunk at the foot of your bed for blanket storage and a unique piece that pulls the entire room together. You can also use a flat-top trunk as a coffee table.

Signs From Yesterday

vintage business tin sign © Zerbor/Shutterstock vintage business tin sign

Signs seem to never go out of fashion. When you walk into a home, your eyes are probably drawn to each sign and what they say. Do you prefer quotes of inspiration, funny phrases that make you giggle, or vintage signs from shops and restaurants of yesterday? Either way, flea markets are a mecca for old signs. And the cool thing is, if you can't find the sign you're looking for, you can probably find the aged wood to make your own. 

According to Old World Garden Farms, look for old wood pallets or barn lumber to use for a sign, and clean them up with your pressure washer. This will save you time as the pressure washer cleans well and can even do the sanding. Once they're dry, use stencils or freehand with paint markers, whatever you want to put on the sign. The goal is to end with something that looks old rather than new. It's the wood that matters, and many dealers at flea markets sell just that. If tin is more your thing, retro tin signs are a hot commodity these days at flea markets. If you see one that has you swooning, grab it before someone else does.

Read this next: How To Decorate Your Bedroom According To Your Zodiac Sign

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