How to Shop Like a Pro at a Flea Market to Furnish Your Space

Mar 31, 2023 / Liset Marquez

Shopping like a pro at a flea market to furnish your space doesn’t have to require a whole lot of training.

We visited the Melrose Trading Post for advice from the people who know it the best.

The open-air market is held Sundays in the high school parking lot in Los Angeles and features a range of vendors selling antiques, vintage goods, and collectibles.

Plan Your Outing

Your flea market planning should start days before your excursion. You’ll want to look at your space and create a checklist of what it is you need.

Once you’ve compiled your list, measure out the room or rooms you’re shopping for and doorways. This was the top recommendation from all the vendors we spoke to at the Melrose Trading Post Flea Market.

After all, you don’t want to learn too late that the midcentury modern three-drawer dresser you bought won’t fit through the door, or it takes up much more space than anticipated.

“Have a photo and dimensions of the room to make sure it flows, and the colors work,” said Jimmy Hibbler, who runs a booth called Upcycled Treasures at the market.

You’ve got your measurements all squared away, now comes the fun part: shopping!

Make sure to check ahead and follow all the social distancing guidelines at your local flea market.

Arrive early, says Natalie Jackson, with the Melrose Trading Post Flea Market. Early morning is usually when the best or newest items are snapped up.

Since most flea markets are outdoors, Jackson also suggests you prepare for extreme weather conditions. Piling on extra layers always helps, especially if you will come when it might still be a chilly morning when doors first open.

Don’t forget to pack some sustenance or eat at the flea market; most have food vendors on site.

“It’s about making sure you’re ready for the day,” Jackson said.

If there aren’t any flea markets in your area, then consider shopping an estate sale for furniture pieces. We have guide on how to shop estate sales.

Even with the rise of mobile payment services, some vendors still believe cash is king. Not only will having cash on hand make the transaction go quicker, but it might also help you bargain for a better price. Another reason to bring some money, it can help you stick to a budget.

Purchasing the Right Piece

storage files at flea market

For the past eight years, Hibbler, who works in IT by day, has specialized in repurposing or restoring midcentury modern furniture pieces as a hobby.

He had a three-door dresser at his booth, which was previously painted with thick globs of white paint. He stripped off the layers to the original wood.

“I like finding a piece and turning it into a treasure,” he said.

He’s noticed that a younger demographic tends to stick to clean lines when it comes to furniture pieces, especially since it’s more accommodating for small spaces.

When buying furniture, don’t think there are any rules you have to follow, says Hibbler. Your furniture doesn’t have to match, for example, mix teak, walnut, and rosewood chairs to compliment a dining room set.

He also suggests looking for bright accent pieces, such as lamps or rugs that make a neutral space pop with color.

As long as you like it, then it’s ok, adds Jackson.

“That’s the fun of it here. You can piece together a whole room by just walking around the market,” she said.

She also suggests you don’t sleep on pieces with a unique style. If you see a piece that fits your style, and you love it, then Jackson recommend you get it. Because when you come back, it might be gone.

Make it Instagram Official

tables at melrose trading post flea market

If you’re not entirely in love with a piece or maybe the price isn’t right, then ask the vendor for their website or Instagram account so you can follow their latest pickings.

“It’s a pretty good option. If you like someone’s style, then it’s perfect to look at their website or Instagram account,” said Jackson, the marketing manager for Melrose Trading Post. “Some of the vendors sell on Etsy, so if you know you really like this one person’s style, you can even work with them to make you a piece of custom furniture.”

Several of the vendors we spoke to at the Melrose Trading Post said they have an Instagram account where they will post their newest finds.

Pair up With a Friend

Bringing a friend or significant other will come in handy in more ways than one. For starters, they can help when you’re indecisive on a piece.

But those extra hands might also be helpful if your search for a one-of-a-kind gem turns into a large haul.

The vendors we spoke to suggested you bring a wagon or a cart of some sort to store small but more substantial items while you shop. Trust me; you don’t want to end up carrying what seemed like a 10-pound typewriter to the car (rookie mistake on my part) because you will feel it!

As for furniture pieces, Jackson said there are vendors who can deliver the item to your home, or work with a delivery system. Prices will range, and you should discuss that with your vendor before you pay.

If you can transport it yourself, then some vendors can help take it to your car. At the Melrose Trading Post, dollies are available and can be borrowed at no charge, as long as the user leaves a form of identification. But not all flea markets have this option.

If you’re looking for Parisian-inspired items specifically, then read our blog on the Little French Flea Market. Or learn how to shop not only at flea markets, but garage and estate sales to create that vintage chic design.

While some search for furniture, we found one woman whose vintage cosmetic collection dates back to the 1800s.

If you want to declutter before your visit to the flea market, then follow our garage sale tips for making money and how to advertise a garage sale .

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