Monday, July 1, 2013

Purchasing Furniture at the Flea Market

(Updated 8/1/17)
I sell furniture at flea markets and in my shop in Sycamore, Illinois. I love to do it and have been doing it for over 7 years. The bohemian and farmhouse looks are very trendy now and that means that a lot of people are redoing furniture. However, not every furniture vendor is the same. I take pride in providing great quality pieces with a "whimsical" touch.  I will be selling at the Kane County Flea Market on August 5th and 6th in the Poultry Barn. There will be some excellent furniture choices at the flea market and some not so excellent furniture choices as well. How can you tell the quality from the quantity? 

Here are my suggestions to help with your furniture purchase. 

Don't be afraid to ask questions:

What year is this from? Knowledge of the year is important when making choices in refinishing a piece. If the vendor knows the year it was made, he/she knows best how to properly prepare and paint the piece of furniture. 

How is it sealed? Purchase something that will work for you. A painted dining table is tricky because of durability where a painted sofa table is just fine. Was is sealed with wax or poly? Poly is more durable but yellows over time. Wax is a bit less durable but holds color better. 

Did the vendor need to do any repairs to this piece? Repairs to a piece are fine as long as they are done well.

Is the padding new? Old padding in chairs or benches makes me squirm. 

What kind of paint did you use? Latex is fine. Milk Paint is fine. Chalk Paint (R) - my favorite - is fine. Watch for people with DIY paint. There is a reason that products go through a test period. You want to be guaranteed that the paint will stand the test of time. 

Fully inspect the piece.

Do all of the drawers work? - A Must!

Smell it. - If it smells musty, it was kept in a humid environment and could warp. If it smells like smoke, walk away. You can't get that smell completely out. If an antique smells like an antique, that is ok. It shouldn't smell brand new. 

Does it have dovetail drawers? This is a sign of good and lasting craftsmanship. 

Is it wobbly? Tables and chairs need to be checked for this. Be conscience of the ground at the flea market. Many floors are not level and it could make the piece seem not level. Try to find a flat surface to check it on.

Check the paint job. Is it neat and clean? Check the sides of the drawers. This will help reveal if the painter took time to watch the details.

It should be clean on the inside and out. All pieces should be free of cobwebs, dirt and junk. Dust is to be expected at flea markets simply due to wind.

Mistakes I have made:

Before I got into this business, I purchased a white painted table that was sealed with polyurethane. It yellowed within 6 months. 

I purchased a dresser that smelled like smoke thinking I could shellac the smell out of it. It was almost impossible. I put the dresser on the curb.

I bought a wobbly table. It never became un-wobbly.

I hope this helps you when purchasing your flea market furniture this summer. 


  1. great info and i see stuff others do and have to say mine I painted inside the drawers,fixed all the drawers and replaced bad knobs and sliders on the feet. They are selling 100.00 higher less effort and still drawers area makes a big difference

  2. So So true! Exactly what I look for! Great info, and what a great blog! I'll be following along!

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