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Combing the NYC flea markets for treasure.

Combing the NYC flea markets for treasure.

We do seem to be constantly bombarded by a whole plethora of low-budget television shows espousing hideous design ideas — you know, the DIY programs that suggest all one needs is a hot glue gun and some black spray paint to realize the perfect designer interior? It reminds me of a point a grand old decorator once made: you wouldn’t cut your own hair, why would you try to decorate your [own] home? Of course this is a bit of an extreme statement, but the point is, a well selected professional designer will bring so much to a project — not just his or her years of expertise and vision, but access to resources like artisans, crafts people, fabric houses, contractors, etc. A good decorator really facilitates the process, and as I often say, should also give people something that perhaps they never knew they wanted!

That being said, there are those who developed a true decorator’s eye after years of experience. Nancy Lancaster, for instance, worked with legendary decorators like Stephane Boudin and John Fowler. Over time, she no doubt learned a great deal from these masters. Or in another case, my friend Jackie de Ravenel worked with Alberto Pinto for many years, and that (along with the fact that she is just so innately chic!) gave her the depth of knowledge she needed to design her current home quite beautifully on her own.

An adept designer also knows how to work on even the smallest of budgets. With an educated eye, a designer can easily sift through all of the trash to find that perfect treasure. I myself have worked with billionaires and even they have budgets (I think one probably doesn’t remain a billionaire for long without one!). A particular client of mine purchased a rather large ten bedroom house. The bulk of the budget was spent on the main rooms and a few guest suites, and I had to be rather clever to decorate the remaining rooms at a fraction of the cost, but stylistically still give them a look of continuity. I scoured the antiques centers in Stamford Connecticut as well as the flea markets here in New York City and soon found a pair of twin beds for $200. I had them painted a French blue to match a custom colored Quadrille naval toile wallpaper we made. The combination resulted in the most ravishing room for very little money!

Many designers are more than happy to work on a consultation basis. I personally do this quite often, and this gives people the opportunity to get professional advice even if they are not in a position to invest in a full time project decorator. Perhaps this is the sort of thing that you yourself need to start your own decoration project — no black spray paint or hot glue guns though, thank you! đŸ™‚

I’m captured (top) at a flea market here in New York City scouting for hidden deals and treasure for a few clients. I’m sporting a Tom Ford indigo and ivory silk glen check jacket, navy dot print cotton shirt, vintage pocket square with red and royal dot print, Uniqlo slim jeans, Ralph Lauren red alligator belt with sterling buckle, Pierre Hardy cobalt suede demi boots, Gucci black leather tote, vintage Rolex, Tom Ford “Marco” sunglasses, Jo Malone Earl Grey & Cucumber Cologne, and Tom Ford Bronzing Gel provide a healthy-looking touch of color.


  1. William J. Totten says:

    Thanks for this post James. If only clients would read this as well, it would make everyone’s job so much easier!
    I used to know a decorator/antiques dealer in New Hope Pa. who , not really needing the money, would weed out the good clients from the problematic ones by stating – “My job is to design your room for you, your job is to write the checks, and if you tell me that you have a friend with an opinion, I’m off the job!” A bit harsh but, I think everyone was happier in the end.
    Keep up the good work!
    Best Regards
    By the way, that looks like the w.25th st. flea market, am I correct

  2. Terri says:

    Wise words James. No matter how much I love to decorate and spend all my free time looking at stunning rooms and studying details, I simply don’t practice the trade and for our renovation need to hire a designer. I have a lot of ideas but I want someone to edit them for me and develop a coherent plan for the whole house as we will do it over time. Oh and the access to the tradespeople and knowledge of fabrics and access to an architect for the structural bits and all the other minutiae I just won’t have the skill or experience to navigate no matter how much of an enthusiast I am. I want my modest home to look as good as possible as for that only a pro will do!!
    Xo Terri

  3. James Andrew says:

    Hello William J. Totten,

    Indeed! – I am hoping to share more rants like this- not sure the shelter mags have done such a brilliant job – promoting this concept of using a designer and in turn helping all the related industries and artisans.

    I don’t think it harsh at all – reminds me of my grand old decorator and his statement!

    That was indeed the 25th Street Flea mkt- a vapor of what it once was – an occasional treasure can be had now and then.

    Cheers and All Best


  4. James Andrew says:


    I wish there were more people like you who had the sense to work with a professional.

    It is about working with a clients fantasies- so all your research etc – would all be incorporated into the most ravishing set of rooms- that feel like you.

    An “educated eye” would help you to sift through all of your ideas and inspirations to create something cohesive and chic.

    Where do you live btw?



  5. Bill Fleming says:

    Love a flea market find!

  6. Karena says:

    James, you have such an excellent eye and that is how you can accomplish the creation of your client’s visions! Many could not be this resourceful!!

    The Arts by Karena
    Giveaway from The Enchanted Home!

  7. James Andrew says:

    Dear Bill Fleming,

    The flea markets here in NYC used to be fab – so many treasures to be had.

    Now sadly it is a rarity!



  8. James Andrew says:

    Dear Karena,

    Thank You!

    It is one’s eye after all- that determines everything!



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