Don't Be Afraid to Dig
Some of the best pieces are found in dark corners of junk shops. This stepback cupboard, probably more than 100 years old, boasts original hardware and leaded glass doors. It was filthy and a piece of trim needed to be reattached, but it was otherwise in great condition. After a good scrub and some minimal repair, it was ready to be filled with ironstone, linens and cookbooks.
Shop Like a Pro
Flea markets and antique fairs can be overwhelming, so it's a good idea to show up prepared. Make a wish list with measurements for any furniture or rugs before the event, bring cash, prepare for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. When shopping for furniture, bring a tape measure so you'll be sure that it will fit in your space. Also, have a plan for transporting the furniture home, since most vendors will expect you to take it with you that day. Most prices at markets and fairs are negotiable, but be polite when asking for a better price; a vendor is not going to give a bargain if he or she feels insulted.
Built to Last
Farm tables and chairs are an excellent way to bring a sense of history into a modern kitchen. The patina of worn wood or the charm of mismatched chairs and plank benches can become the focal point of a boring kitchen. Look for pieces that are sturdy and practical for everyday use. Furniture that wobbles, shows signs of poor repair or has suffered extensive water damage should be avoided.
A kitchen can never have too much storage. Utilize wire market baskets, wooden crates, tool caddies and antique jars with zinc lids as stylish organizers. They're great for displaying pretty linens, family cookbooks, serving platters, flatware, produce and dry goods. Look for pieces that are in sturdy, usable condition and scaled right for the space. For instance, an oversize dough bowl would be fabulous on a huge island, but it would overwhelm a small galley kitchen.
Beyond Kitchen Basics
Sneak some unexpected accessories onto the kitchen counter to keep things interesting. A trophy won at a 1905 relay race houses wooden spoons and utensils, keeping them on hand next to the stove. Use a small wooden card catalog to organize recipe cards, large silver trays and platters can be hung over counters to act as a backsplash, and office file baskets can store plates, napkins and flatware. Look at pieces for how they can be used, not just how they were made to be used.
Scale Is Key
Antique and vintage scales are another great way to add character to the countertop. Not only do they look great when filled with seasonal produce or a stack of linens, but accurate ones can also be used to weigh dry ingredients for baking or portion sizes for meals. Don't limit your search to kitchen scales alone. Keep an eye out for postal scales, scientific balances and hanging grocery scales.
Set the Table
Dishes, flatware and linens are some of the easiest things to find at flea markets, estate sales and thrift stores, plus they're usually inexpensive (sometimes just a few cents each). Store pretty plates in a drying rack, open cabinetry or just stacked in a basket, readily available for everyday use. Feel free to mix flatware patterns and styles. Keep them handy in mustard crocks, canning jars or ironstone creamers. Linen napkins, tea towels and runners are economical and environmentally friendly, not to mention beautiful. Skip the ironing for casual everyday meals or bring out the starch for a crisp look on special occasions.
Vintage and antique kitchen gear can look great, but it might not always be practical or safe for everyday use. Some glazes used on antique pottery contain lead or the wiring on a great vintage toaster might not meet modern safety standards. Make sure to research what is safe to use and what's best enjoyed for its decorative value. Whether put on display or used every day, pieces found at flea markets and antique sales will fill any kitchen with personality and style.