This past weekend, John and I had a rare kid-free afternoon and we decided to hit up the Kane County Flea Market, about an hour west of Chicago. We both love flea markets but realized we hadn’t ever been to one together (crazy!). So we drove out in the cold and snow for the flea market’s opening weekend of the year, not quite sure what to expect but looking forward to a few hours of browsing around. We mainly wanted to see what this flea market had to offer and hopefully find a little inspiration along the way.
Flea markets are fun, but can be overwhelming if you don’t have some kind of plan ahead of time. Keeping our 2015 goals in mind, we agreed to purchase something only if A) it fit our specific home renovation needs, and B) it was a good value for the cost. John wanted to look for benches for our front and back entry areas, and I planned to keep my eyes open for cheap picture frames (for a wall art project I want to do in the nursery) and interesting drawer knobs (for the toddler’s new dresser). We also brought some essential flea market tools with us: a tape measure, our list of things to look for, measurements and diagrams of the rooms in our house, and low expectations.
Once we got to the flea market, we kept our eyes peeled for items that were solid and affordable, and avoided the booths selling mass-market junk and cutesy-crafty stuff. We noticed that a lot of the furniture for sale was of the “vintage-repurposed” variety, like these pieces we saw when we first walked in.
It reminded us a little of “Flea Market Flip,” the TV show where people buy raw-state items at flea markets, create something new with them, then turn around and resell them at the flea market as custom design pieces. The “flip” furniture we saw at the Kane County Flea Market was pretty cool, but not really something we’d consider buying – both because we want to refurbish pieces ourselves, and because the “flip” prices were way above our budget. Still, we enjoyed checking them out for inspiration and ideas.
In terms of potential benches for our entryways, nothing we saw was quite right for our needs (or wallets). But because our expectations were low to begin with, it was fun to just browse around and see what else people were selling. We noticed a lot of vintage woodworking tools, like these old planers that John found.
I spent some time looking through this table full of old drawer pulls, handles and other hardware. Nothing that was perfect for my dresser project, but I got some good ideas.
We discovered a lot of random odds and ends, like a doll-sized metal play kitchen (so cute), an old rotary telephone (for when the toddler starts asking for her own phone), and a box of red 45s.
And a plethora of pop culture memorabilia, like this Star Trek game (a nice collectible for Spock fans – RIP, Leonard Nimoy).
I browsed around booths full of old books, and found gems like these useful handbooks for judo and revenge (hey, you never know when knowledge like that might come in handy).
Ultimately, we didn’t have much luck in our hunt for benches, knobs and frames. Since we were only able to get out to this flea market during the afternoon of the last day, not a lot of good finds were left, and in fact some dealers were already calling it a day and packing up their booths. So we ended up going home empty-handed this time.
But despite the less-than-ideal conditions, we had a fun afternoon! Cheaper than a movie date (it’s $5 admission for adults, and children under 12 are free), especially if you don’t end up making any big purchases. I definitely want to go to this flea market again, but maybe when the weather warms up a bit (so there’ll be more dealers outside) and next time we’ll come earlier in the weekend when things aren’t so picked-over. And we can even bring the kids along for a fun family outing. This Conde Nast Traveler article has some great tips and advice for visiting the Kane County Flea Market, if you’d like more information.
The best advice we have for flea market goers: Have a list of ideas ahead of time, but keep your expectations low and your budget firm. Consider your visit as an adventure with a mystery ending. Expect to see fun, interesting and just plain weird things (and people!). Be flexible, and you won’t be disappointed. And if after all of that, you score an amazing find for your home too… bonus!