The Treasure Hunt — How to shop a flea market, antique store or estate sale

 
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Hello! For those new to the site or store, welcome! I’m Melanie, the owner of Curated Home Decor and a born and raised Milwaukeean with an eye for design and a passion for scouring the world to find unique and beautiful pieces. Curated’s doors officially opened last fall, and the store has since grown to include a small — but mighty! — team and more than one dozen partnerships with brands and vendors throughout the city. We sell our inventory online on Chairish, too.

This month I’m thrilled to share that we’re launching a blog. Its purpose is twofold: to serve as a resource for you, our loyal customers and followers, and to inspire you to try something new. To push your creative limits, so to speak, but to know there are no rules when it comes to design. (That’s our philosophy, at least!)

Our first post answers your most frequently asked question: What’s the best way to shop a flea market, antique store or estate sale? I’ve admittedly spent thousands — yes, thousands — of hours shopping markets, stores and sales nationwide, so know these suggestions are, without a doubt, coming from a place of “been there, done that.” Our goal is to set you up for success.

  1. First and foremost, enter with a plan. When shopping for this post, and in the spirit of July being America’s birth month, I knew I wanted to focus on items with a nautical or Americana-esque feel. Entering without a plan can lead to an experience that is not only intimidating, but overwhelming and discouraging, too. If purchasing a larger item — think furniture and large-scale wall decor — is on your agenda, take measurements of the space(s) in your home you need to fill prior to shopping. A rookie mistake is arriving unprepared.

  2. Know the difference between vintage and antique. The distinction can be tricky, but antique pieces generally predate 1920. They’re more than 100 years old, and their value stands the test of time. Vintage pieces are less than 100 years old, but no less than 20 years old. Understanding this difference is imperative when dealing with vendors and negotiating prices.

  3. Go early, dress comfortably, and bring cash. For flea markets and estate sales, arrive on the first day of the market or sale for the best selection. Wear comfortable walking shoes and lightweight layers, and bring cash, as some sellers don’t accept credit or debit cards.

  4. Give the item a thorough once-over, but embrace imperfections, too. On furniture, inspect the drawers and pulls, and on art, check out the frame, nails and craquelure — the subtle cracks on the surface of aged paintings. (A good thing, we promise!) Rugs and textiles are most likely to show imperfections, like uneven stitching or slight wear and tear, but these so-called “flaws” only add to the beauty and charm of the piece.

Next comes the fun part: the homecoming! We styled two spaces for this post, using a mix of new and old pieces to create a cohesive setting. Mixing antique and vintage pieces with modern and transitional items is key; without a proper mix, the space may turn from tasteful and timeless to dated and tacky. (All items in these photos can be purchased at our Germantown store.)

The star — no pun intended! — of this space is undoubtedly the vintage, 48-star American flag. I picked it up last summer at Cedarburg’s Maxwell Street Days, a fantastic local flea market, and recently had it professionally framed.

The star — no pun intended! — of this space is undoubtedly the vintage, 48-star American flag. I picked it up last summer at Cedarburg’s Maxwell Street Days, a fantastic local flea market, and recently had it professionally framed.

Here I combined vintage sailboats and vases with more contemporary items, like oversized fashion books and round rope balls, to create a styled coffee table vignette. The coffee table is handmade by Shepherd Design Co., a Milwaukee-based custom woodworker and furniture builder.

Here I combined vintage sailboats and vases with more contemporary items, like oversized fashion books and round rope balls, to create a styled coffee table vignette. The coffee table is handmade by Shepherd Design Co., a Milwaukee-based custom woodworker and furniture builder.

How perfect are these oars? They’re vintage, but were painted to freshen their look.

How perfect are these oars? They’re vintage, but were painted to freshen their look.

With summer still in full swing, I wanted to style an outdoor decorative tablescape with a relaxed, bohemian vibe. Many of the items in this photo are antique or vintage, but the striped throw, blue rug and coral pieces are all new. Like I said earlier, a mix is key!

With summer still in full swing, I wanted to style an outdoor decorative tablescape with a relaxed, bohemian vibe. Many of the items in this photo are antique or vintage, but the striped throw, blue rug and coral pieces are all new. Like I said earlier, a mix is key!

This may be favorite vignette of the bunch. There are two standout items here: an antique wood cart wheel sculpture, and landscape painting by Frederick Frary Fursman dating back to the early 20th century.

This may be favorite vignette of the bunch. There are two standout items here: an antique wood cart wheel sculpture, and landscape painting by Frederick Frary Fursman dating back to the early 20th century.

How stunning is that vintage sailboat? The white bench is vintage, too, as is the fishing net.

How stunning is that vintage sailboat? The white bench is vintage, too, as is the fishing net.

 

Photos by Marie McGeorge Photography