In general, the earlier you arrive, the greater the selection. The later you go, the better the bargain. For many markets, the day could start as early as 5 a.m. Merchants expect dedicated collectors early in the morning and are less inclined to negotiate. Furniture sells early, so go early if that's what you're seeking. The bargaining begins at about 9 a.m., and toward the end of the day, usually noon to 3 p.m., things slow down and vendors begin to pack up. This is the best time to get a good deal, since dealers won't want to bring everything home with them. Don't be too cautious though, it's best to buy what you like when you see it; it may not be there at the end of the day.
Some merchants accept credit cards, but most prefer cash. Bring plenty of small bills so making change is easy. If it's a yard sale, cash is the only way to pay. It's also smart to set a budget before you hit the market, or set price limits for certain items so you don't overspend.
Good manners make for good negotiating. When you walk up to a table, say hello and be friendly. Never ask, "What's your best price?" Instead, ask, "Would you consider less?" In general, expect 5 to 10 percent to be taken off, but don't push it. Dealers are there to make a profit and may get insulted if you try to haggle too much. A good tactic is to play hard to get, even if you are smitten with something. It might even work in your favor to walk away; the dealer might call you back to make a deal.
If you see an item you absolutely must have at any price, don't act coy. Place your hand on the item and keep it there while you're negotiating. According to an unwritten rule, whoever is touching an object has first claim on it. Even if another buyer comes up and offers more money, the dealer can't sell it to him without first allowing you to meet the higher price. Any dealer who doesn't respect this code of ethics risks tarnishing their reputation.
To keep your kitchen sink uncluttered, shop flea markets or housewares stores for pretty little trays to hold sponges, brushes, and dish and hand soap; the trays minimize spillover to the countertop and enable you to remove multiple small items quickly when you need to clear the sink. Find a glass bottle with a spout in which to decant your dishwashing liquid; the main supply can hide under the sink.
Leftovers are the bane of the sewing room as well as the kitchen. But the same creativity that inspired cassoulet can save odd lengths of fabric from ragbag ignominy. One idea: Use strips of cloth or lace to trim the opening of a cotton pillowcase. A monogrammed handkerchief from a flea market can be folded diagonally and machine-stitched to a pillowcase, creating a wonderful gift for someone with the right initial.
Wrap goods in vintage napkins, handkerchiefs, or other linens graced with lively patterns, and the packaging itself will serve as an added gift. Look for linens at flea markets or online. Fabrics are particularly helpful when wrapping articles whose shapes don't lend themselves to paper. The rest is a cinch: Gather fabric around item; tie with ribbon.
Ceramic planters like these once brimmed with flowers and greenery on windowsills. In the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, florists stocked these vessels in shades of green, yellow, white, pink, and blue, in styles from classical to Art Deco. Now they're mostly relegated to attics and basements, where they hold only dust. As a result, you can find them often at prices from $5 to $30. Use them anywhere you need a colorful set of containers. Many bear the names of well-known potteries, such as McCoy, Roseville, and Frankoma; but even more are unmarked.
Old-fashioned enamel milk pails, available at flea markets and farm-supply stores, have a rustic charm. Place sword ferns or similar plants in 10-inch pots inside large buckets; consider ferns in 4- to 8-inch pots for smaller pails. If the bucket is too deep, put an upturned plastic pot inside, and stand the plant on top. Remove plant to water.
Vintage letters are a clever way to designate hooks on a coat rack. Try to match the style of the letter to the personality of the owner. These flea-market finds are easy to install -- secure an initial above each hook with adhesive mounting squares, which can hold up to two pounds, or use a heavy-duty two-part epoxy intended for most surfaces.
These two flea-market cupboards looked nothing alike, yet it wasn't hard to turn them into a single piece that functions like an armoire. All we did was paint them the same shade of white and blue-green and then add polished-nickel latches and crown molding. We stacked them and placed display items in the glass-front and linens underneath.
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