Monday, March 19, 2012

The "Light" side of Flea Markets

I've been on this kick lately where I love acquiring vintage pieces; partly because I love the history that comes with them, and partly because they have a certain look that can't be found in mainstream stores.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the 'Homegoods/Target/Ethan Allen/Pottery Barn' stuff just as much as the next girl.  But I think that adding in those unique pieces can add much-desired eclectic flair to a room. 

Flea Markets, thrift stores, estate sales, and yard sales (I'm originally from Connecticut, and we call them "tag sales" there) are great places to find fodder for DIY projects.  Looking for beautiful items that you can refurbish also allows you to achieve that high-end, designer-sourced look in your space -- without the hefty price tag!

While my husband and I were at the North Carolina Fairgrounds flea market this weekend, I spotted several very cool retro lamps & chandeliers.  Some of them had beautiful hand-blown glass bases, or had iron frames, and others even had intricate engraving and scrollwork.  There were even old-fashioned chandeliers designed to hold candlesticks (although I'm sure that you could wire them to be compatible with light bulbs too).  I also noticed that the circa-1980's style lamps are starting to make a comeback, along with art deco sconces.  It got my creative wheels turning, and I started thinking about DIY ways to transform these old light fixtures.

To be honest, you often have to use your imagination when you see items at the flea market.  Most of the time they're rusted and dirty, covered in cobwebs, or possibly scratched and missing parts.  You need to look past what they are, and see what they can be.  When you see something that intrigues you, and you're wondering if you should buy it or not, try to envision what it would look like if you:
  • clean it with steel wool or apply an antique finish
  • spray-paint the entire surface a bright color
  • add a metallic crackle finish to highlight interesting details
  • add a new lamp shade
  • apply decorative embellishments like trim, glass beads, metal hardware, wood finials, tassles
  • replace missing parts
  • paint a pattern onto the lamp shade
  • wire crystals onto the stem or arms
  • hand-paint or stencil designs onto the surface

 Before I buy, I always ask myself two things: "Do I love this?" and "Can I use this in different ways long-term?".  You should acquire pieces that you LOVE, not just like.  You can avoid buyer's remorse by making sure that the item can be used in various places in your home, again and again.  I also like to take pieces and re-purpose them for something other than what they're designed for.  For example, you could take old sconces and secure them to a wall in your entryway to use as coat hooks.  Old five-arm chandeliers can be turned into a custom baby mobile using ribbon, paint, a rotating spindle, and dangling objects.  And those cheap and un-loved brass candlesticks can take on a new life by being used as a base or vessel for floral centerpieces.

I find that it helps me get inspiration when I look at a finished product, pictures of rooms, or colors.  I try to catalog pictures of things that I love (lighting, rooms, furniture, etc.), so that when I see raw materials, I already have a vision of what I could do with them.  Websites like and make it really easy to create your own digital inspiration "cheat sheet" of what to look for when you hit the thrifty shopping scene.  I just recently discovered that they make apps for both of these sites, so if you have an iPhone or an iPad, you can literally take your inspiration with you wherever you go! 

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