Design lesson: Fabulous flea markets
There's an art to successful flea marketing. Some tactics (like keeping money tucked away) are useful at any flea market, while others are specific to a particular place. For instance, in France, if you don't begin an exchange with "Bonjour, Madame/ Monsieur," you're finished. Canada's dealers stand less on protocol; however, I've known several who refused to sell to buyers who were "unappreciative." Whether you're on the search for that one final addition to a treasured collection, a perfect memento, brocante (a collectible with charm but little monetary value), or a specific item of furniture, you'll find it at a flea market. Here's how to make the most of the shopping experience.
1 arrive early. My motto is, "If you don't need a flashlight when you get there, you're too late!" The good stuff goes fast.
2 do your research. Confident negotiators are familiar with the qualities and price ranges of particular items.
3 determine quality. Look underneath furniture and inside drawers for clues to quality and state of repair. Are the joints dovetailed? Can you see finishing nails or glue? Has a dark stain been applied over the drawer interior or underneath the item, likely indicating a repair? (Note: A repair isn't necessarily a bad thing; it may make the item more affordable.)
4 ask the dealer, "What's been done to this piece?" This simple question implies that you have some knowledge and encourages the dealer to be forthcoming with information.
5 grab it! Successful flea marketers rely on instinct. If you're considering a particular item for purchase, keep your hand on the goods. This signals to the dealer and other potential buyers that you spotted it first.
6 try creative negotiating. I once challenged a dealer to a card game when he and I couldn't agree on a price. A sense of humour and an appreciation of the goods make any dealer more inclined to work with your budget.
7 keep your money tucked away (a waist belt is ideal since it frees up hands for shopping). Also, carry small change for coffee, lunch and little impulse buys.
8 measure before you purchase. Forgot your tape measure? Remember this: a Canadian dollar bill is 6" wide.
9 show your enthusiasm for a dealer's goods before venturing to make a deal. Negative comments like "You can't be serious—there's no way it's worth that much!" are unlikely to encourage positive negotiating. Keep in mind that the dealer has probably spent weeks acquiring the item in question, and he or she believes it to be of real value.Suitcase smarts
For many of us, marvelling at and sampling local crafts, furnishings and foods is a major part of the whole travel experience. If you're like me, you'll agree that nothing compares with the satisfaction of buying at source. Here are some of my favourite suitcase splurges—those little gems that pack easily and forever remind you of a favourite destination.
Original artwork should be at the top of every traveller's shopping list. Unframed pieces are nearly indestructible, fit easily into suitcases, and carry fond memories for years to come. Look beyond the local marketplace for artists. A talkative shop or restaurant owner may tip you off to the location of a local studio where up-and-coming as well as more established artists show their work.
Antique boxes are widely available in a variety of materials. I search out wooden boxes with inlaid marquetry (contrasting wood in different shades of stain), shagreen and lacquered finishes.
Serving trays lie flat amid folded clothing and are always welcome gifts. Regional examples might be made of tole (hand-painted metal), wood, pewter or silver.
Antique textiles and lace can be framed or used to create decorative pillows when you get them home.
Guest towels fashioned from linen, cotton or hemp are easily transported. Vintage examples often feature embroidered details or monograms. I've spent years looking for my own initials without success, but I've presented linen guest towels to friends with their initials, and they're always greatly appreciated. A larger set can also be used as dinner napkins.
Local delicacies such as jam, pâté, cookies and tapenade can be savoured for weeks following a trip. I search for beautiful sugars wrapped in unusual packaging, infused with lavender or decorated with fanciful details, to give away as hostess gifts once I'm home. Make sure you wrap packages in heavy sealable bags in case of breakage. I once opened a suitcase only to discover that everything in it was marinated in the olive oil I'd purchased in Tuscany.
Leather-bound books, though they're quite heavy, are often priced very reasonably at flea markets, fairs and antique shops. Vintage tomes look wonderful on bookshelves and tabletops.