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Sunday, December 20

A gift for thrift

What a great Sunday to wake up and find this wonderful COVER story written in The San Francisco Chronicle about shopping at the Alameda Flea Market!

It was such a great story to work on as I got to really spend some time making over some great finds- but at the same time really get to know writer Anh-Minh Le and spend time with her making over these pieces (including a few yummy lunches and chatting about great things design and passions for food). Thanks so much to Anh-Minh - and for everyone who hasn't seen her blog- make sure to check it out!

Here is the story and what we found at the flea market and has fun with!


Anh-Minh Le, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's barely 8 o'clock on a Sunday morning and interior designer Grant K. Gibson has already driven across two bridges to meet me at the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire.

For Gibson, a flea market junkie since childhood, the early morning and extra miles are minor sacrifices. Although he is a regular, it is my inaugural trip to the event, which draws more than 800 dealers and thousands of customers the first Sunday of every month.

"I view shopping at the flea market as a way to rescue items - giving them a whole new life," says Gibson, who launched his eponymous San Francisco design practice seven years ago. "No matter what your design style, it's nice to mix in unique things that you might not see everywhere."

Our goal this morning is to find a handful of pieces in need of some rehabilitation. I'm hopeful that with his designer's eye and knack for budget-conscious decor, we can remedy a few of the empty walls and corners in my home.

Heeding Gibson's warning that not all the vendors accept checks, I have cash on hand. There is an ATM on-site, but it has been known to run out of money, he told me.

We join the true early birds who have been here since 6 a.m., when the gates opened and admission was $15. Because we arrived between 7:30 and 9 a.m., our fee dropped to $10, but after 9 it's just $5.

As we start scouting, Gibson rattles off makeover ideas as easily as most of us recite the alphabet. One of the first booths to catch our eye has stacks of beautiful old posters from Europe; they are priced in the thousands. Nearby, a vendor offers hundreds of inexpensive flashcards that could be framed for easy artwork, and another sells vintage subway signs that have become increasingly popular as wall decor.

Although the flea market has been open for two hours, it isn't crowded yet. We make our way into the second of many rows of booths and immediately gravitate toward three stools that are reminiscent of Warren Platner's designs for Knoll. The vertical metal rods are in pristine condition, but the round seat cushions need new foam and fabric.

The vendor is willing to knock a few bucks off if we buy all three stools. Still, we hesitate about the price tag of $50 each. Unfortunately, when we return less than five minutes later, someone else is snapping them up. According to Gibson, they were prime candidates for a dealer, who could spruce them up and then sell them for a tidy profit.

Lesson quickly learned: Get it while you can.

For those who have trouble making decisions, Gibson suggests bringing backup: "a friend who knows you well - someone that knows your taste and style."

"Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, the pressure can get to you and you can make choices that you'll regret later. Having a friend along who can tell you 'No, that is really ugly' or 'No, that is way too much money' or 'You have to buy that,' is a great thing. It will make you feel more confident in your choices."

Ultimately, however, it comes down to one simple rule: "Think of it as love at first sight," says Gibson. "If you purchase things that you are in love with - and not just out of desperation - then you will end up loving the piece for years to come."

After missing out on the Platner-like stools, our luck begins to change. We even manage to negotiate with a vendor after pointing out a couple of flaws with one piece. By the end of our joint outing, plus a follow-up visit by Gibson to the next month's flea market, we have the makings of five affordable transformations:

- A mid-century Danish armchair ($45) and fabric for reupholstering ($5)

- A two-tier metal bar cart that easily folds up for storage ($25)

- Six watch faces ($6 each)

- Three fashion illustrations from the 1970s ($6 each)

- Two vintage wooden tennis rackets ($5 each)

By late morning, Gibson has run into half a dozen colleagues - including fellow interior designers, stylists, antiques showroom owners and collectors. "It has become a monthly tradition," he says. "It's fun to see what everyone finds. And there isn't any competition with others, as there's something for everyone at the flea market."

Sitting pretty

What we did: Using a screwdriver, we removed the seat of a midcentury armchair and used a staple gun to reupholster it with a yard of fabric also found at the flea market. With a rag, we applied an ebony Minwax stain to bring out the wood grain and condition the chair. The last step was to reattach the seat.

Design tip: "Look for pieces that have cushions that you can unscrew so you can re-cover them yourself. With a fully upholstered piece, you have to consider the added expense of having it professionally done."

Total cost: $55

Raising the bar

What we did: We spray-painted the bar cart's two trays black, and then spray-painted the cart silver.

Design tip: "Something as simple as paint can totally change the look. The silver paint is meant to mimic stainless steel. The end result is less cutesy and more modern and industrial."

Total cost: $35

Smart art

What we did: Gibson styled the watch faces in a $13 frame and glued them in place. He left the glass off to create a three-dimensional feel. The hand-drawn fashion illustrations and vintage map are hung in frames from Aaron Brothers that cost $15 each.

Design tip: "If you don't want to paint an entire wall, why not paint just a small rectangular area and create a gallery? Arrange your items so that they're pleasing to you. There are no rules."

Total cost: $49 for watch display; $63 for three framed illustrations; $21 for framed map

Play on

What we did: Gibson liked the patina of the wooden rackets, so we left them as-is. He had them outfitted with mirrors to turn them into functional decorative accents.

Design tip: "Cliff's Variety is great for custom mirror cutting. They're totally affordable." (479 Castro St., San Francisco; (415) 431-5365.

Total cost: $60 for both

Thrifty gifts

Gibson offers up some tips for inexpensive gifts based on items that can easily be found at a flea market or thrift store.

- Vintage holiday ornaments make a great hostess gift.

- Know someone with a collection? The flea market is a great spot for picking up a unique item to add to it.

- Purchase a set of vintage glassware and give them as a gift with a bottle of wine. Buy a pretty platter and present it with homemade baked treats.


Grant K. Gibson Interior Design, 3792 Sacramento St., San Francisco; (415) 939-0243.

The Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire is held from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. the first Sunday of every month at 2700 Saratoga St., the former Naval Air Station, Alameda. $15, 6-7:30 a.m., $10, 7:30-9 a.m., $5, after 9 a.m. (510) 522-7500.


Greet said...

I really enjoyed this post! It is always so nice to see what other people have found at the flea markets!
And your tips are wonderful! My favorite is what you have done with the rackets! SUPER!!

Brillante Home Decor said...

Priceless post. I am also a big fan of flea markets.
Happy Holidays Grant!

maison21 said...

you are awesome, grant!

Karen H. said...

Terrific article; very well written. After I post this I am going straight to her blog.

I want to fly out for this flea market! Here in upstate NY, they are few and far between. You are a man after my own heart with what catches your eye and what you do with the items. Speaking of said heart, as if it wasn't already skipping a few beats, it really started dancing when you suggested painting part of a wall to create a gallery section/effect. Whenever I have suggested doing the same in some past design consultations I get the "Are you crazy?" look. So, thank you, thank you for that - as well as for all of your posts. I am always inspired after reading them. Have a great holiday!

Transformations Home Stylists said...

Grant- This is awesome- I LOVE how you found things and reinvented and reinterpreted them. I've been doing fleas for years and consider them to be the bazaars of centuries past that still exist in many corners of the world. It's commerce at it's best, and we're all recycling! Congratulations on a great article that exposes your creativity and imagination! Robin

Laura Casey Interiors said...

Great finds Grant! I love what you did with it all. Merry Christmas!

Emily Amy Gallery said...

I love all of the projects...especially the mid-century modern chair. My husband and I find tons of great finds at our local flea markets here in Atlanta and have in fact created an entirely new look for our dining room by painting and recovering all of our dining room chairs from a great local thrift shop in our neighborhood (Paris on Ponce). said...

Hi Grant,

Very nicely done, good ideas also, love it when people use their skills to make wonderful things!!!


Calimyrna Moon said...

Your "love at first sight" tip is the best of your excellent advice, Grant. The only things I've ever truly mourned for years after were those that I fell in love with instantly - and then didn't purchase.


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