12 Flea Market Finds You Can Upcycle Into Anything

Those old mason jars, bottles, bookcases and drawers you see at market? You'd be remiss to pass them by. See how you can transform these common flea market finds into something pretty and practical.

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So many treasures, so little time. Lucky for you, the shopping season at flea markets has only begun. On any weekend morning from now through fall, dealers will be unloading and setting up their wares on grassy plots and in parking lots across the country. Furniture and fiestaware, clocks and clothing, dishes and oh-so-many doodads... who knows what the day will bring? Still, picking through the pile can be daunting if you're unprepared.

Often, the objects offered—a solid-mahogany door, a cut-glass vase, an intricately embroidered tablecloth—have been made the old-fashioned way with superior materials, craftsmanship, and design. These wonderful leftovers from another era can lead a new life in your home. The challenge is to be discriminating; otherwise, you will simply end up toting home yet another lamp or chair you don't really need. The best strategy is to think about your desires before you go. Maybe you're after something specific: a long bench for the entryway or a mirror for the bathroom. Or perhaps you have more general requirements: splashes of color for the living room or objects to hang on the walls. Either way, keep a running list and check off what you find as you go. The best finds are the ones that can be upcycled into a new project for the home. Think: glass bottles into decanters, mason jars into storage containers, textiles and boxed crates into your newest decorative statement piece. Head out to market with your eyes peeled for some of these common yet endlessly useful items.

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Mason Jars


Mason jars have timeless multipurpose appeal and it's no wonder: With just a little retrofitting, an old-fashioned jar can be reused as a container garden or terrarium, pencil holder or kitchen container, a charming vase for flowers, or a new sewing kit with a built-in pincushion.

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Glass Bottles

painted glass vases with flowers on gray stand
Addie Juell

Ubiquitous at market, bottles of a bygone era are worth cleaning and polishing new again. They can be used as decanters for oils at the dinner table (or for liquid soaps in the bathroom), spritzed with paint as home décor or dressed up as hostess gifts. If your someone with a green thumb and looking for a more earthy feel, create a terrarium.

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Picture Frames

Sang An

Picture frames—whether they be weathered and worn or come with broken glass—are still useful as serving trays, trivets and coasters, mounted organizers, shadow boxes, key racks, and (as always) displaying photographs in a gallery wall. Leftover paint unifies a set of assorted frames into an artful display.

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Crates and Bins


Crates, bins, and boxes of all kinds can be restored into cubbies for useful storage. With a little restoration, they can also be stylish and sophisticated. Think of them as versatile building blocks that can be stacked, clustered, and configured in any number of ways: as a wall-mounted bookcase, a bedside table, an ottoman, an office desk, or a stepping stool for the kids.

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Tea Cups


Those mismatched porcelain cups and saucers are not so delicate that they can't be put to practical use. Pick up even a single teacup and it can enhance your everyday life by serving a a soft glow by candlelight, short-stemmed flowers as a vase, tea bags and petits fours as a gift, or to organize and display your jewelry.

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Costume Jewelry and Accessories

Raymond Hom

With easy, do-it-yourself reinventions, someone else's jewelry stash can shine in new ways. Start with a handful of inexpensive costume pieces—brooches and earrings with openwork designs—and turn them into belts, bookmarks, drawer pulls, magnets, wall-art, or a stately embellishment to your favorite pair of heels.

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Garments and Fabric


Something as simple as a jacket, bandanna, or rugged pair of jeans can be ripped at the seams, trimmed, and sewn into something entirely new. Think aprons, sleep masks, drawstring pouches, sachets, and storage bins.

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Magazines, Books, and Printed Paper

newspaper pots with seedlings
Janelle Jones

A stack of once-glossy magazines and newspapers have something e-readers never will: crisp, saturated pages you can repurpose for use at home. Flip through old issues and snip parts of images containing colors and patterns you like, then turn your clippings into beads or tasseled toppers on gift packages. And for those wrinkled, unsightly sheets? Transform them entirely in projects like seedling pots, holiday decorations, and papier-mâché toys for the kids.

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Ladders, Wheels, and Wooden Fixtures


A door can become a headboard. A wheel with spokes can divide plants in a container garden. Or take advantage of every bit of bedroom space by stacking your nighttime necessities instead of crowding them on top of a tiny stand. The four wide rungs of an extra stepladder provide a steady spot for a row of books as well as the necessary alarm clock and a reading lamp.

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Plant Pots, Containers, and Planters


They're solid containers for hosting flowers, herbs, and small shrubs—but that's only the beginning of their potential. They can be used on the desk in your home office, covering food when dining al fresco, or corrall items outside in the yard.

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Door Knobs and Hardware

paperweight collection
Bryan Gardner

Those knobs that catch your eye? Inexpensive and one-of-a-kind, these trinkets can be reused as a custom key rack, bookends for your home library, toppers for lidded jars, or even a new look for your cabinetry.

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Furniture and Fixtures

Eric Piasecki

Others may overlook them, but you see potential. A foldable cot becomes a coffee table. A cubby-hole cabinet becomes the space for a hidden drop-down desk. Two tchotchke lamps become a statuesque pair of spray-painted art. As these quick upgrades prove, an outcast is often just a makeover away from being an object of envy.

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