As someone who built a career for himself as an interior design and entertaining expert in Manhattan (even helming a few parties for us here at InStyle), it may come as a surprise that Eddie Ross (pictured, above) is also a specialist in the decidedly less posh world of junk shops, thrift stores, and flea markets.
A true aficionado, Ross has logged countless miles zigzagging around the country chasing after bargain-priced treasures. He writes about the thrill of the hunt in his new book, Modern Mix ($29; amazon.com), which decodes how to score beautiful secondhand goods even on a strict budget. (Plus lots of styling advice on how to make these pieces shine within your own home.) We recently chatted with Ross to get a few ground rules for flea market success and get his take on the top, under-the-radar places to shop.
Tip No. 1: Start in reverse. "Upon arrival, head straight to the back of the flea market and work your way forward to beat the crowds," Ross advises.
Tip No. 2: Don't stress about timing. "Going early definitely means best pickings, but going later in the day has its advantages too," he says. "Since dealers don't want to have to repack all their things, they're more likely to offer bigger discounts."
Tip No. 3: Educate your eye. "I window shop at high-end antiques stores and the home department at Bergdorf Goodman just to see what they're selling," he says. "Study the materials, the silhouettes, the markings and details on their products. This kind of information will serve you well when you're combing junky stalls for treasures, so you know what to look for."
Tip No. 4: Come equipped. There's nothing worse than buying a piece of furniture and hauling it home, only to find it doesn't fit. To avoid this, bring a measuring tape, fabric swatches, and snapshots and measurements of your space, Ross advises. "If you're shopping for tabletop pieces, it can be helpful to bring a smaller piece, like a bread and butter plate, from your existing set to make sure everything coordinates," he says. "I also come prepped with extra shopping bags, sunscreen, a hat, and an umbrella—you never know when the weather might change."
Tip No. 5: Bargain wisely. Everyone wants a deal, but just don't insult the dealer. "Make an offer that everyone feels good about," he says. "You don't want to come off as rude. As a general rule, ask for a 20- to 25-percent discount as a starting point."
Tip No. 6: Check yourself. "If a dresser has broken drawers but you like the silhouette, you need to consider how much time, energy, and money it might take for you to be happy with it," he says. "Anyone can recover a seat cushion with a little fabric and a staple gun, and you should never be deterred by dusty or dingy dishes. But refinishing an old sofa could cost more than ordering a custom one."
Tip No. 7: Know where to dig. Some of the lesser known markets rank among Ross's favorites. Here, a list of his go-to's from coast to coast.
In Atlanta: Scott Antiques Market. "A true one-stop shop," Ross says. "I could decorate an entire house from here, down to cushions and curtains."
In Long Beach, Calif: Long Beach Antique Market. "There's a cool California vibe here—lots of mid-century pieces, but also a good number of more traditional antiques from people who migrated west from back east," he says.
In Mount Dora, Fla: Renninger's Twin Markets. A massive indoor/outdoor vintage bonanza in central Florida that's got everything you ever wanted and more.
In Charlotte, N.C: Metrolina Antique Market. A genteel, southern vibe, this place is rife with stately entertaining accessories monogrammed linens and heirloom silver.
In Brimfield, Mass: Brimfield Antique Show. Held thrice annually, this is well-trafficked by corporate creative types with deep pockets, though you can still score at the junkier booths, Ross says. "I always bring a wheelie cart for my haul—it's sprawling, so be prepared to walk."