Ask the Experts: The Flea Market Queen
Ask the Experts: The Flea Market Queen

Advice for flea market newbies?

If you get there before 7 a.m., the pickins are still good and you have some time to think. Your car size really doesn’t matter, unless you are planning on buying everything for your house in one go. Then you should rent a U-Haul. I have strapped a couch to the top of my car because I "had to have to it" and I had already filled the inside. I’m pretty aggressive, though, when it comes to getting the perfect piece.

What should you bring?

Cash. Many vendors will not take checks. Some will take credit cards, but very few. Cash is king. I bring a tote bag for the accessories and small home décor. You can also bring a rolling cart, but honestly, they just get in my way. Most vendors will bring large purchases to the loading zone and help you load your car—if you’re nice.    

What are some of your favorite flea markets? 

My all-time favorite is Long Beach Antique Market. Some say the Rose Bowl Flea Market is overrated. I disagree. You just have to weed through the over-the-top fancy-schmancy stuff to find the winners. I have recently added the Palm Springs Vintage Market to my list. So good. I mean, any excuse to go to Palm Springs... 

Ask the Experts: The Flea Market Queen

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Do you like to hunt solo, or with a partner?

I do better on my own. I get in my head a lot and have to visualize pieces, where they will go, what they can be paired with. So I’m not the most talkative if I am on a mission for a client. I gotta focus. But taking a friend is a lot of fun. You just need to remember to be true to your style and go with your gut. It’s usually right.

What’s your litmus test on whether to buy an item?

Usually, if I can’t leave the piece without feeling like I’m tearing my heart out, it’s a buy. 

But how do you distinguish between trash and treasure? 

If you love it, it’s not trash. I usually look for things that will be playful or glamorous for the home without putting it over the edge. I also think it’s about the balance of old versus new in a house. If you include too many old things, it may look like Grandma’s house. I usually make sure the item is in pretty good shape before I purchase it. If it requires too much work, then it may sit in my studio longer than I’d like, or it will cost more to repair than the item is worth. 

Ask the Experts: The Flea Market Queen

Do you negotiate pricing?

I do if my budget can’t hold the current price. But I also realize that these vendors get up at 2 a.m. to arrive sometimes by 3 or 3:30 a.m. so they can get into the gate and set up before the crowds arrive. Many of the fleas open as early as 5:30 a.m. For real. People like me will be out there with flashlights if we have to. So I always decide first what I am willing to pay for a piece, and then I respectfully tell them what my budget is and understand if they can’t meet it. Ninety-nine percent of the time it works.

Designer Black Book

My door guy:
Builders Trading Co. in
San Marcos 760.653.2011

Unique lighting and bookshelf styling:
Antique Warehouse
in Solana Beach
858.755.5156

The best coffee table books and unique home decor:
SoLo in Solana Beach
858.794.9016

Vintage finds: 
Harlow Lifestyle at Newport Avenue Antique Center in Ocean Beach
harlowlifestyle.com

Patterned and colored hides & amazing fringe: 
Threads upholstery on Morena Boulevard
858.274.8484

You post a lot of your flea market finds on Instagram @smidthat. What are some of your faves?

The green couch now in my living room. As if I needed another couch. I also love the gold-tufted vintage sofa I found. That one was the one I strapped to my smaller car. The sink in my client Hallie’s bathroom (one of my favorite projects) was found at Architectural Salvage. It was an old zinc tub that I restored with salvaged wood and added copper finishing and brass accent pieces. 

Once you have the items in tow, what are some tips for incorporating them into your space? 

Keep varying heights in a room. But seating in one room should be around the same height, so you don’t have one big Goldilocks and the Three Bears chair beside a really tiny one. Sprinkle old with new and never too much of one thing. Add pieces that make you smile, and make your place feel unique. 

Why go vintage over brand-new? 

There is so much more character in a vintage piece.

One design trend you are loving right now?

Give me all the tufted sofas with dramatic textured white walls and heavy modern splashes. Love.

One trend that’s on its way out and rightfully so?

I think wall panels with geometric patterns will go out soon. They are super hip right now. They are beautiful, young, and playful, but so restricted and really overdone at this point. I think we will continue to design spaces that feel light and airy with rich vintage accents. Even fashion is trending heavy in ’70s and vintage concepts. Give me Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Charade any day.

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