Vintage markets - the secrets from those in the know
Love a flea market, vintage store, or brocante but don't know where to start?
We take you along to the markets - to France and Italy, over to Los Angeles and back home in England, quizzing the vintage obsessed - Lisa Burdus for France & Italy, Alana Ward in Los Angeles and Rococo Davis back home in England - for their best tips on where to go, what to look out for and how to ship it home!
France & Italy tips with the Cotswolds-based Australian interior designer Lisa Burdus
As an interior designer how important is finding one-off antique or vintage pieces for a space?
I have always felt finding one-off antique or vintage pieces is vital when designing a space if the clients don’t already have items of their own. For me it's how a room feels, not just how it looks and it's important to mix the new with the old to get that feel just right.
What are your favourite antique markets in France / Italy? And what do you think are their best finds?
There are so many antique markets in France but I particularly like Marche aux Puces de Clignancourt when in Paris but usually I head south and have found wonderful things in Toulouse, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Pezenas and Cahors.
How did you learn about these?
If I’m on holiday I will always google when the next nearby market is on via www.vide-greniers.org . Part of the fun is the unexpected finds and trying to work out how to get them home. On more than one occasion I have bought art, lamps, dinner sets etc and filled my suitcase and then shipped my bag of clothes home with www.sendmybag.com. Furniture is far more tricky but there are many companies who will organise collection and delivery. If its a planned buying trip I would usually go to the dealers antique fairs which are held throughout the year in Avignon, Montpellier or Beziers.
Left: Lisa (middle) on the Brocante hunt
Do you have a game plan for your day?
My game plan for the day is to have a list of items I am sourcing and the sizes I am looking as well as someone on hand to ship it for me. Besides that you can’t really plan too much as you never know what you will find. If I absolutely love something I will usually buy it anyway knowing I will find a space for it, sometimes the best things appear when you aren’t looking for them but they must come home regardless. I once bought a pair of carver dining chairs in Arles for 20 euros and had no idea what I’d do with them but they ended up on either end of my dining table and I just can’t part with them.
What’s your best tip for negotiating in France / Italy?
Well unfortunately for me I don’t speak the language so I probably pay way more than I should but sign language and smiling is always helpful :)
I have used Hedleys in France and Simon Hall in the UK for large pieces otherwise I buy cheap suitcases and send my clothes home with www.sendmybag.com and take the goods home in my suitcase.
I love dinner sets and kitchenware. I recently found the most beautiful workshop in Montepulciano, Tuscany making copper saucepans by hand.. I didn’t know I needed a copper saucepan but they were so lovely I bought two and will now add to the collection as needed. I enjoyed seeing the workshop and the process of them being made, it makes the purchase so much more special.
I am always looking for art, textiles and tapestries as well as unusual pieces of furniture, particularly armchairs or unusually shaped side tables and ottomans. Not all beautiful things are expensive, it's like finding a flower in a field of weeds.
The copper pot workshop Lisa found in Montepulciano, Tuscany
Can you tell us about a favourite piece you have in your home and/or sourced for a client from an antique market?
I was on a road trip in France in 2019 and stopped in a town called Uzes. As usual, I hunted out the antique stores and stumbled across a 75-piece dinner set monogrammed with my initials, LB. After agonising over whether it was necessary and then how I would get it home I decided I would never find anything like it again so bought it and then found a UPS store in a larger town where it was boxed and flown home. I love it and bring it out at Christmas and when having a dinner party, so much more special than a set from John Lewis and certainly worth the effort.
I'm pretty good at knowing when something is a must, I can feel it and it's pleasing. I really don’t care if anyone else likes it or not. If it's a winner, it's coming home.
Interior Designer Lisa Burdus has spent the last 25 years making a name for herself as a respected asset to the Australian design industry. In July 2020 she fulfilled her dream of living and working abroad by moving to Gloucestershire in England where she is now living and building the UK arm of her design practice. Lisa combines traditional charm with modern-day sensibility for those who seek distinctive and innovative design solutions that are warm and textured.
She travels regularly to source unique one-0ff items and prides herself on using artisans that are masters of their trades. Follow @lisaburdusdesigns
England's green and pleasant markets with vintage guru Rococo Davis
As an interior decorator how important is finding one-off antique or vintage pieces for a space?
Finding one off pieces is my favourite thing. They are what defines a house and what makes a room tell a story. My whole life I’ve always loved the thrill of buying and finding such pieces. Confidence is the key though - whether matching, clashing, expensive or inexpensive the most important thing to remember is that things you love will always find a place in your home.
What are your favourite antique markets in England? And what do you think are their best finds?
There is so much out there to discover – whether it be a large-scale market or a random car boot sale. Not knowing what you might stumble upon is part of the excitement and I don’t think of any market as the ‘best for’ for this reason. What you find on one visit could be totally different to the next. For size and variety, however, Shepton Mallet Flea Market in Somerset is a winner for me. It’s also conveniently close to Frome where I’d also visit some fun antique shops and a very good reclamation yard! Some other favourites include Ardingly in West Sussex (large scale) and Wimbledon Antiques Fair (small scale).
Do you have a game plan for your market day?
The only game plan is to get up as early as possible, have a (good) coffee in hand and be ready to deal! If I see something very special I snap it up there and then – gut feel is so often best and I have learnt the hard way missing out on pieces when I haven’t followed it. For other pieces I am happy to go back once I get a sense of how many things I might be buying that day. I think that is part of the fun - buying it on feel or waiting and then possibly missing out. Sometimes it’s not meant to be and that’s fine! I also believe it’s important to give it my full concentration (especially if it’s early!) rather than a casual stroll around, so I usually go by myself – to my husband's relief!
Tips on market day
Watch out for condition and comfort. It sounds obvious, but carpenters and upholstery costs can be vast if something needs a lot of work!
What’s your best tip for negotiating?
It’s important to have an idea of value and know where to start which is why I am always researching. It’s also good to know when to walk away - and that the seller recognises this too.
Any tips on transporting your finds home?
Have a big car and be a Tetris expert to get it all in! While there are usually a huge variety of carriers at the fairs, I will do my best to safely cram as much as I can into the car. Top tip: be prepared and take out anything you don’t need in the car before you set off. Dog gates, children’s toys – they all take up a HUGE amount of space!
What’s on your wishlist? What are you searching for / collecting?
I love antiques with shape to them and am currently eyeing up a set of eight dining room chairs – something a bit different which looks great but are also comfy. My wishlist is getting longer and longer though as I’m currently renovating our home which is an old farmhouse!
Can you tell us about a favourite piece you have in your home and/or sourced for a client from a flea / antique market?
I was on a buying trip for stock to sell to clients and found an amazing Antique pine chest of drawers which had the most beautiful shape to it. I knew instantly It would be the perfect addition for my online store. I’ve never had so many enquiries!
Tell us about the thrill of finding the piece that you’ve either been looking for or just know in that moment you have to have?!
I remember a freezing cold morning when I saw a beautiful Victorian shell back chair that was looking very unloved but I knew I had to have it and turn it around and bring it back to life. The size and scale were perfect. My upholstery team did a fantastic job restoring it and I chose a pretty natural plain pink linen to cover it. I was so happy with the result, it’s incredibly rewarding - it makes the logistics and hard work worth it every time!
How do people work with you to find their special pieces for the home?
I like to get a sense of their style, personality and the home a piece is going to live in first but I also have my own online store where I sell pieces curated by myself and if people like my style then they can dive right in!
Rococo Davis describes her style as ‘classic English with a twist’, injecting plenty of colour and layering pattern where possible. From finding chairs to match a dining room table, to unearthing the perfect door knocker, Rococo takes pride in creating warm and welcoming home environments.
Los Angeles mall markets and out-of-town gems with resident Alana Ward
In LA the obvious place to visit is Rosebowl Flea Market in Pasadena - it’s the biggest but honestly, I think it’s a bit overpriced and overrated. I prefer Long Beach Flea - a little further out but worth it and quick to get to if you take advantage of getting there super early.
Topanga Flea Market, Melrose Trading Post and Los Feliz Flea Market are all good traditional flea market options too however I’ve found the Vintage Malls here are better options and more unusual.
The flea markets are at the weekend - Rosebowl and Long Beach are on alternate Sundays. Topanga is once a month on Sunday. Los Feliz is every Saturday and Melrose every Sunday.
My favourites in LA are:
Pasadena Antiques Center and Annex
480 S. Fair Oaks Ave
Pasadena, CA 91105
(Made up of two buildings - the main one is brilliant and always has great stuff however the second site across the parking lot that most people miss is a bit of a hidden gem. Less expensive and definitely requires more digging but worth it)
King Richards Antiques Center
12401 Whittier Boulevard
Whittier CA 90602
(Huge vintage center - bit of a drive but well worth it)
The Mart Collective
1600 Lincoln Boulevard, Venice CA 90291
(Great for smaller collectibles, books and art)
For the truly dedicated (and for better bargains) there are a few brilliant spots outside LA:
San Diego’s Largest Vintage and Antique Mall
3602 Kurtz Street, San Diego CA 92110
(the train to San Diego hugs the coast so is a beautiful journey and a good excuse for a night by the beach!)
Victoria’s Antique Attic
69930 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage CA 92270
(About 20 minutes further on from Palm Springs and probably my all-time favourite place to visit. Over the years PS has become super popular and most people stick to the vintage shops in Palm Springs itself which are very pricy and almost all mid-century - Rancho Mirage is about 20 minutes further out and so worth it!)
The other thing I’ve found – which I guess is the case everywhere is there are SO MANY brilliant spots outside of the bigger cities. Whenever we go on a road trip or are driving out of state I make sure to check for anything interesting along our route. I’ve found the best things in the most remote towns and have learnt never to judge a book by its cover! Most often the most run-down or random spots have had the absolute best treasures – you just have to be willing to dig!
Alana Ward moved to Los Angeles in 2006 with Gucci working as their Worldwide Director of Mens VIP. She now designs and renovates houses in both LA and Palm Springs.