The flea market look has come full circle. What started years ago as a way to decorate your home when you couldn't afford fashionable furnishings has become a style of its own.
"If you and your neighbors go to a flea market, you will all come home with something different. It lets you be an individual," says Harry Rinker, author of "Price Guide to Flea Market Treasures" (Krause Publications, 1997, $19.95).
Vicki Enteen of Teaneck, N.J., calls herself "the queen of flea marketing."
Almost every weekend, she goes to one of the many flea markets in New York City and its suburbs.
Several times a year, she makes longer treks to attend huge antiques flea markets in Brimfield, Mass., and in Lancaster County, Pa., where four big flea markets are located within a few miles of one another.
Many of Enteen's favorite possessions are authentic flea market finds, such as an empire sofa, circa 1810, purchased for $675. Her dishes are old Fiestaware and Hall china. Her rugs are Orientals. The most expensive is a 12-foot rug, which cost her $750.
Her bedroom bureaus hold silver-backed brushes and combs, all acquired in flea markets.
The accessories that stand on her tables and the decor that hangs on her walls are also flea market finds.
While the look is old, not all of her furnishings are. "If you want to decorate in flea market style, you can do it using both old and new things," Enteen says. "My fabrics and, of course, my wallpaper are all new."
Others go even further, combining vintage-look new items with the old.
Experienced flea marketers know how to mix. Those needing help will find a number of new books on the topic including: "Flea Market Style" by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead (Clarkson Potter, $30); Deborah Harding's "Crafting With Flea Market Fabrics (Reader's Digest, $24.95); and Rachel Ashwell's "Shabby Chic: Guide to Treasure Hunting & Decorating" (HarperCollins, $30).
"Today's young collectors are buying these things to live with, not to put on a shelf, as their parents did," Rinker says. The younger buyers do not appear concerned about having only antiques. They decorate mainly for appearance.
Perhaps that is why vintage-look furniture, accessories, fabrics, wallpaper and china are making their way into stores and catalogs.
Copies of unassuming flea market-type furniture, such as upholstered rocking chairs and mirrored vanities, were shown in April at the wholesale furniture market in High Point, N.C., and will soon be on retail sales floors.
There are also plenty of items to set a retro table, including beverage sets with polka dots reminiscent of the 1950s. The popularity of new Fiestaware china copies of originals introduced in 1936 has led to many versions of homey, solid-color earthenware.
Remember Lava Lites? The original lamps with colorful bubbles that move have been fixtures on the flea market scene for years. Now facsimiles can be purchased new. Spun aluminum cocktail shakers and wine coolers inspired by those of the 1930s and 1940s are also widely available.
To complete the look, there are new textiles and wallpaper.
Waverly, for example, is rolling out the Victory Garden Collection of fabrics and wallpapers, and related soft items such as pillows inspired by vintage printed tablecloths, awning stripes and checks from the 1930s and '40s. (Fabrics start at about $25 a yard; wallcovering at $27 a roll.)