Flea Market Décor

A Piece of the Puzzle

Stop strictly searching for pristine nostalgic treasures, and open your eyes to the value of a broken or not-quite-put-together flea-market find.


OFTEN WHEN I ENTER A FLEA MARKET, I GO TO PIECES. My eyes don’t see objects. Instead, they zoom in on loose parts, incomplete items and dazzling scraps. Hunting for a certain old book? Me, I just want the kitschy dust jacket.

Crafters have generated booms for some kinds of fragments. Think about how many broken-off typewriter keys have been transforme­d into jewelry that announces people’s initials in retro fonts. And certain search-and-rip missions are classics, like stripping magazines of oldtimey advertisem­ents that beg for framing.

Now let me suggest some additional fun. Got a penny jar? An old coffee can, perhaps? Here’s an idea: substitute a nostalgic Tinkertoy or Lincoln Logs canister. You’ve been looking for those, but with at least most of the pieces included? Forget the innards. The containers are bric-a-brac treasure.

A game board alone—minus spinners, dice, markers or, heck, all else that’s required to play—could be anything from wall art to a tabletop display under glass. You want an antique globe? My notion of geography is a desktop of multiple Risk boards. That’s going to take some real artisanshi­p from me, or more likely, outsourcin­g.

Of course, there are simpler inspiratio­ns. A friend with great flea-market radar likes to scoop up vintage Anagrams tiles. Five of them now sit elegantly atop the frame of a serene watercolor bouquet her son created for a Mother’s Day.

My major project for a while has been to pluck the comic-book gold—visual gold, anyway—that most folks ignore. Common sense tells you that the stacks of comics at fleas and thrift stores are not going to be of investment-grade quality. Expect lots of tattered and stained pages. But, ah, then there are the covers.

With perseveran­ce, you’re going to discover copies with iconic, splashy, memorable and relatively clean, bright and presentabl­e covers. Oh, yes, and wonderfull­y corny. Like the 15-cent-era Action Comics cover teasing a baseball story about the KID WHO STRUCK OUT SUPERMAN. I’ve been gradually creating a mix-and-match wall display of eclectic covers, with a plan to periodical­ly rotate certain genres in and out. If they pass muster as eye candy, the interior condition and collectabi­lity of the comics is irrelevant.

Spread the word about these strategies, and your friends are going to start asking you to be their scout for every conceivabl­e remnant and shard of beloved memorabili­a. Just the box from a favorite toy, please. Just the Schwinn emblem from the bicycle they once rode.

Even better, they may want to team up for the hunt.

“Crafters have generated booms for some kinds of fragments.

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