Flea Market Treasures

On the first Sunday of each month, while most of us are still in bed waiting for our automatic brewers to coo us awake with the morning’s fresh coffee, thousands of local treasure hunters are combing the stalls of the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire. Over 800 dealers hawk their wares at this outdoor behemoth of a flea market. Among the barrels of used buttons, rows of rusted mailboxes, stacks of vintage luggage and the occasional rogue miniature guitar, Serena Dugan, the designer and co-owner (along with Marin’s Lily Kanter) of the Serena and Lily furniture and textile empire, is hunting for the company’s new Bazaar line.

The highly successful Serena and Lily brand, based in Sausalito, has been lauded for its use of fresh and style-driven original fabrics and bedding sets for children’s rooms. The brand evolved to offer bedding for adults along with furniture, decor, gifts and paint. In September of 2009, the brand expanded again, this time with the launch of Bazaar. The new facet of the business is a collection of eclectic, one-of-a-kind finds culled from flea markets, estate sales and literally bazaars around the world.

“We do quite a bit of travel for inspiration for the company and buying purposes and on our wish list was that we really wanted to create a venue for people to buy these eclectic, more unusual, hard-to-find items,” says Serena, as she simultaneously motions to Aaron Mutscheller, Serena and Lily’s executive vice president of brand and product design, to check out a nearby booth’s stash of oil pantings for sale.

Although Serena (photo above) finds many of her smaller and more decorative Bazaar items in Morocco and textiles in Istanbul or the Republic of Uzbekistan, most of the furniture (which will be reupholstered and painted) is found locally at spots like the Alameda Faire. But flea markets don’t just provide items for the Bazaar site; Serena likes to traverse the stalls for inspiration pieces, like swatches of intricately designed fabric that may influence a future Serena and Lily textile design, or unique props to use as pieces in the catalog shoots.

“We’re looking for pieces with good bones, items that can really make a person’s home unique,” says Serena as she examines a vendor’s pair of buttercream-yellow chairs; which she ends up purchasing and plans to reupholster with a solid linen and contrast piping to highlight the crown of the chair’s unusual shape.

On the Serena and Lily e-commerce site Bazaar pieces are grouped in their own section. Items are as diverse as a set of ikat rattan chairs designed by Elinor McGuire, repainted a burnt coral and reupholstered in a navy silk and cotton ikat fabric from Uzbekistan to giant Moroccan silk thread tassels and a vintage marionette elephant from India.

Although Serena and Aaron, along with assistant Maura Nealon, scour Alameda’s flea market almost every Sunday it’s open. One of Serena’s favorite pieces was one of the first she found. It was a Suzani carved bench that was originally covered in a gold crushed velvet. The team reworked the bench with an emerald green silk tapestry with a vibrant embroidery that Serena found in Istanbul through a textile antiquarian who sold it to her from his personal collection.

That merging of intriguing fabrics from Serena’s travels around the world and the furniture (in need of some love) that she finds on scouting trips in Marin’s backyard have created true treasures for the Bazaar customers. “We created a vehicle for these beautiful fascinating textiles. What we did was create something usable.”

Alameda Point, Main Street and Atlantic Avenue, Price: $15 6–7:30 a.m.; $10 7:30–9 a.m.; $5 after 9 a.m.; 510.522.7500, antiquesbybay.com

Serena Dugan gives us her top five tips for securing great finds at a flea market.

1 Get there early if you want to get the best stuff.

2 Look for good bones. If you want to actually find an item that you will paint or refinish, look for something strong and sturdy. Look past the original upholstery and finish.

3 If something is priced too high for you, give it some time and go back. Most vendors try and sell everything in every show; a better deal might be had later in the day.

4 Try not to get overwhelmed. It’s helpful to go with a thought of what you’re trying to find. For example, if you’re looking for decorative bowls for your mantel keep that in mind and look past everything else.

5 The ATM runs out of cash by mid-day; plan accordingly!