IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How to spot the potential in flea market finds

Sarah Humphreys of "Blueprint" magazine has tips on how to find

You know that lonely chair left on the curb? Those aggressively uncool tag-sale lamps? Your sad stack of mismatched frames? Others may overlook them, but we see potential. Sarah Humphreys, editor-in-chief of “Blueprint” magazine, provides tips for finding fantastic pieces and quick upgrades to turn items into household treasures.

How to spot a good piece

  • Buy what you love.
  • Peek in, under, and behind the object to make sure it’s in good condition. And if it’s not in great condition, consider how much effort you’re willing to put into it to make it so.
  • If you’re looking for particular items, educate yourself on them.
  • Read relevant books that list telltale signs of authenticity and, vice versa, reproductions and fakes. Surf Web sites like and to get a feel for current market values — what you should be looking for, what you should be wary of, and what you should be asking vendors.

What to avoid

  • With the exception of lamps (which can be rewired easily), avoid pieces such as electronics, with complicated wiring and engineering that can’t be tested on site.
  • “As is” notations next to prices means the item is damaged. This doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t purchase, but use your judgment in terms of what you can fix and what you can’t.
  • Be wary of super-high-priced antiques if you’re not familiar with the markings.

Frame of mind

A little green semigloss paint turns a ragtag crew of (glassless) frames into an artful display. We rounded up $1 to $10 orphans at a flea market.

Benjamin Moore latex gloss paint, $19 per quart, in Golden Delicious (390), Perennial (405), Olive Tree (392) and Apples and Pears (395), for stores. Bench (similar to shown), $2,300,

Fold-up bed to bang-up table
A foldable cot makes most people think backache, but it can easily become a coffee table.

Table how-to
Your dad might have one of these wood-and-canvas military cots kicking around his attic. If not, nab one on eBay. They're cheap to ship because they fold, and easy to update with some oil-based paint. Use a muted palette or paint each tray a different bold color. Standard Army cot, about $25, Bowery Kitchen Supplies trays, $12 each,

Fine Paints of Europe semigloss paint, $40 per liter, in E8-37 (cot) and E8-43 (trays), for stores. Jasper Van Der Hurd 6-by-9-foot Alhambra carpet, $2,700,

For more information visit and check out the complete story in the September/October issue of the magazine.