Like most flea market hounds and thrift store junkies, my sense of style is an upshot of financial constrictions. As a teenager, I quickly came to understand that the fleeting fashions of the day were out of my reach, and if I were to get any style of my own, I would have to find it at the thrift store. These circumstances quickly turned me into a lover of vintage. When I moved out on my own I was already hooked, but vintage furniture was not as easy to come across in thrift stores as vintage clothing. It was then that I became a devotee of flea markets.
There are two distinct breeds of flea markets: the antique flea market and the tube sock flea market. Antique flea markets can be fun, but there aren't usually many bargains to be found. Tube sock flea markets specialize in dollar store merchandise, and while there are many bargains to be found, it's doubtful any of them are worth having. The best flea markets fall somewhere in between, with junk and new crap mixed in with the antiques. That leaves the possibility for a diamond in the rough.
Beyond economics and aesthetics, there is another reason to love flea markets, and that's the love of the hunt. When I was a child, my favorite holiday was Easter, and not because of Jesus or chocolate, but because I loved the egg hunt. The concept of hidden treasure stirs something very deep in me, and I have come to the conclusion that it's got something to do with evolution, that the hunter/gatherer has not yet been wiped from my hard wiring. I see my visits to flea markets as intensely pleasurable search and rescue missions. There are objects out there that have been abandoned that need love, that need me.
As a result of these rescue missions, I have become the proud owner of a house full of stuff, some of it indispensable and some of it, well, questionable. My belongings include a giant mirror from a 1940s office building that reads "BEFORE YOU GO OUT TO REPRESENT THE COMPANY, LOOK AND SEE IF YOU DO" across the top of it, a collection of prints depicting the boy Jesus, a chest of drawers full of vintage lingerie, about 40 mismatched dinner plates, a collection of '50s drinking glasses, at least 20 outfits that would be appropriate for a '70s dance party but don't really have much use beyond that, an antique hutch, enough mixing bowls to make 15 cakes simultaneously, a small wooden shrine to a faceless saint, a dining room table with no legs, two great-looking blenders that don't work, and three large boxes filled with vintage fabric to be used for some unknown project at an unknown future date. Throw all this stuff together and you get a sense of style that is all my own. Or, if you take the point of view of certain older relatives, you get a house full of junk.
Being new to town, I recently took my first trip to Cobb Parkway to check out a flea market in Acworth. It was an amazing mishmash of humanity, with Mexican families showing up to buy icons and fruit, Marines buying knives and guns, and falling-down shacks full of antiques and junk all mixed together. At the Lake Acworth flea market, a portrait of General Lee hangs in a frame over the stall of a man in a wheelchair, whom I overheard telling the story of how he shot himself in the leg. I had to pry myself away from the beautiful pie safe he had for sale -- hardly cheap at $250, but a few hundred bucks cheaper than it might be at an intown antique store.
Recently, my sense of style has become slightly confused. I have a little more money than I did in my early 20s. Certain realities have been setting in. My antique couch, which I got a few years ago for $10, has upholstery that is literally shredded, giving my otherwise pleasant living room shades of crack house. My ever-so-slightly damaged lace curtains do not provide any sort of privacy, which is something I am starting to be concerned about. I have been questioning the staunch scavenger aesthetic that has given me my sense of style for so long. Should I be heading toward a more modern, sleek minimalism that graces the homes of so many of my friends? Should I throw bargain hunting to the wind and open a credit line at IKEA?
But then I think about the homes that I really love, the friends whose apartments make me feel at home, the objects that inspire true lust and jealousy on my part. I think of my friend Michelle who lives in San Francisco, who has completely renovated her apartment and lovingly restored the kitchen to its 1930s glory, complete with period appliances, light fixtures, and tile work. Michelle scavenged every sconce, faucet, and drawer handle in her kitchen; every nuance has a story, every item is an object of love. I look at Michelle's home, and I realize I have something to aspire to, and it's not to be found in catalogs or in home fashion magazines. It's at that next booth, under a pile of old pillowcases, waiting to be rescued.
Three must-visit flea markets
Lake Acworth Antique & Flea Market, 4375 Cobb Parkway, Acworth. 770-974-5896.Open every Saturday and Sunday. Free admission.An eclectic mix of junk, tube socks, fresh produce, Mexican icons, used clothing and antiques.
Lakewood Antiques Market, 2000 Lakewood Ave. 404-622-4488. www.lakewoodantiques.com.Open second weekend of every month, Friday-Sunday. $3 (good for the whole weekend). Thirteen acres in five buildings, this is mainly an antiques market with incredible finds, but not as many bargains as you might find in the dumpier OTP markets.
Lakewood 400 Antiques Market, 1321 Atlanta Highway, Cumming. 770-889-3400. www.lakewoodantiques.com. Open third weekend of every month, Friday-Sunday. $3 (good for the whole weekend). A newer offshoot of the original Lakewood, this indoor market is also very antiques-oriented.
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