Some people can look at a dilapidated table and envision the exquisitely carved legs turned into lamps. Or, they see past the ripped cushion of a chair to the ottoman that is hiding underneath. Unfortunately most can't, but Lara Spencer does every day. In her new book, "Flea Market Fabulous" (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $25.95), she shares some tips that can give anyone the courage to dive into the treasure that can be a flea market, yard or estate sale.
The Garden City native, HGTV's "Flea Market Flip" host and "Good Morning America" co-anchor offers readers tips and techniques to turn someone else's trash into a treasured piece of decor. With before and after photos, prices and lively text, she walks readers through nine different room makeovers that highlight the process of finding and restoring or repurposing items. "You have to go in with an open mind and never judge a book by its cover," says Spencer of developing an eye for the unusual.
One such find was a tired trio of nesting tables. Despite their being apparently on their last legs, Spencer saw something more.
"This was my favorite before and after," Spencer, of Riverside, Conn., says. "Those little tables were pretty useless in a modern room and had outlived their prime."
Instead of passing them by, she saw their true worth, turning them into wall art.
"As mirrors, they are exquisite," Spencer says of the tables that many others had passed by.
Before you go
Spencer says she has a few things she never leaves home without -- items that will make even a novice feel more like a pro.
"I always have certain things in my bag or my car," Spencer says.
These include a notepad and list of things she hopes or needs to find. She also carries measurements for specific items.
"This is especially true of artwork and photos," Spencer says. "You always find great old or vintage frames. It is OK to have the frame larger than the artwork, but you have to know your measurements. Buying these frames is always going to be cheaper than going to a frame shop."
Other necessities include a tape measure, wipes or hand sanitizer, wrapping material such as newspapers and bags with handles.
"If you're really a woman or man after my own heart, you'll bring a flashlight and an extra 20 dollars to get in earlier than others," Spencer says of paying an early bird price to enter some flea markets, estate sales and other places.
And remember, cash is king. "It increases your negotiating power exponentially," Spencer says.
A little inspiration
Spencer suggests that it is a lack of confidence that keeps many from taking the step from browser to purchaser.
"If you're unsure what to buy, pick up a few design magazines," Spencer suggests. "If you see something you like, tear the page out. You'll start to put together the puzzle of what you like. And, if you're in a thrift store or estate sale and see something that makes you smile, buy it. This is not like Walmart or Pottery Barn. Most things are one-of-a-kind. They don't restock."
For example, she says that almost anything can be turned into a lamp, either with a do-it-yourself kit or by turning to an electrician.
"You have to be open-minded to inventiveness," Spencer says of the ability to see an item's potential.
In her blood
Spencer says that it was Saturday morning trips with her mom to flea markets and garage sales that sparked her creative fire.
"At first, I went because she couldn't afford a baby-sitter," remembers Spencer, who also is author of "I Brake for Yard Sales," which was published in 2012. "Then, I began to look forward to going. I'm just lucky that shopping at flea markets is part of my job."