Having a stylish home doesn’t have to cost a fortune. It’s all about scouring flea markets and being creative, as Anna Reynolds discovers.
We all want our homes to look wonderful but tight budgets can put costly furnishings and luxury homeware out of reach.
However, there’s a treasure trove of bargains to be found – if you’re prepared to explore car boot sales, market stalls, antique fairs and auctions and websites such as eBay.
If you’ve previously dismissed their wares as just someone else’s junk, or goods that are unfashionably past their sell-by date, then you’re missing a trick. Not only is second-hand chic one of the cheapest ways to transform your home, it’s currently all the rage.
Unlike buying new items, when buying second hand you can end up with an individual, one-off piece which has a history and tells a story – for a fraction of its original price.
“Flea market finds put the fun back into shopping, and you don’t have to worry about getting a huge credit card bill at the end,” says stylist Liz Bauwens, co-author of Flea Market Chic, which reveals thrifty ways to create stylish interiors.
“It’s also about creating a sense of history and a home that reflects your life and personality.”
Reassuringly, you don’t have to be a regular viewer of Antiques Roadshow to know how to spot the rubies among the rubble.
“Forget about investment – simply go for things you love,” says Bauwens. “Focus on just a few types of objects that you like so you can start a collection or follow a theme. Have a mental list of what you’re looking for – this will stop you accumulating a jumble of objects which have no cohesion.”
So turn homeware detective and track down treasures to transform your rooms.
MIX NOT MATCH
Collections of interesting items can become focal – and talking – points in rooms. It could be vintage china, colourful pottery, paintings or quirky displays of anything from old-fashioned utensils to antique hand mirrors. The only limit is your imagination.
“The trick is to be methodical. When you go to a market or second-hand sale always start at one end and work your way down each row, looking at every stall in turn from one end to the other,” advises Bauwens.
“Don’t dart about, as you can easily miss things. Over time you’ll develop an eye and soon learn to spot your favourites in a pile of clutter. Look out for familiar shapes, colours or designs.
“Don’t despair if you find something you like that has a small flaw or chip, if you are prepared to make minor repairs, it will only add to their charm.”
WHERE TO BUY: Charity shops and car boot sales are great sources.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Most furniture stores have a section where slightly damaged goods, or ex-display models, are sold at discounted prices. It’s always worth making an offer or cutting costs further by asking for free delivery.
Provided you’re happy with the shape and quality, you can always get creative and give it a facelift with a coat of paint to hide any defects, or ensure it harmonises with your scheme.
“Paint isn’t just for walls and floors,” Bauwens points out. “Few people would think of painting soft furniture such as a leather sofa - but if you haven’t paid much for it in the first place, then you have much less to lose.”
Always test a small patch first to check for colour fastness.
Look for pieces of furniture which can be broken up and remade – church pews can be re-cut into tables, dining tables cut down to make coffee tables or panelling re-used for kitchen counter tops. Be creative – if there’s a particular design or pattern you like, try stencilling. Floorboards, stairs and cupboards all lend themselves to this technique.
Beautiful, quality fabrics can be hugely expensive but ends of lines, odd rolls or samples offer a more affordable solution. “Finding genuine vintage fabrics from the days before modern dyes is getting harder,” says Bauwens.
“But many companies manufacturing today reproduce old patterns, and these are now available second-hand too. Cut partly-damaged fabrics down to make pillows and cushions, lampshades and trims. A collection of fabric samples could be sewn together to make one curtain or a patchwork throw.”
Drapes, curtains, sheets and bedspreads can be found in flea markets. Though they will often be worn or marked, they could be used to upholster bedheads or make ornamental drapes for a bed.
MAKE IT REAL
New homes can lack character and old properties may have had their original details stripped away.
If you long to turn back the clock, or enjoy more period detailing, there’s plenty to inspire in salvage or reclamation yards.
“Original features – whether it’s a 1950s kitchen or an 1850s fireplace – are celebrated, even if they’re quite battered. They give a house a sense of belonging,” says Bauwens.
“These sort of buys require care and planning. Make sure you measure, so you know the piece will suit the scale and size of the room. Also check the quality and that it’s possible to make any alterations so that it’s suitable for modern living.”
You can introduce modern and contemporary touches through accessories – old peg rails and shaving mirrors make great additions to bathrooms.
>> Flea Market Chic by Liz Bauwens and Alexandra Campbell is published by Cico Books, priced £19.99. Readers can buy a copy for £17.99 (inc p&p) by calling 01256 302 699 and quoting: GLR7EX.