Vintage homegoods expert Robin Spires, who owns Flea Market Chicks and the Robin's Nest, joined the weekly chat.

May 19, 2011

Vintage homegoods expert Robin Spires, who owns Flea Market Chicks and the Robin's Nest, joined Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza for their weekly Home Front chat. Together, they gave advice on interior decorating and home improvement.

Good Morning! I look forward to answering some great questions. You can find me, along with my treasures at Chartreuse, located at 4007 Buckeystown Pike, Frederick, MD 21704. We hold once monthly tag sales in a barn filled to the rafters with vintage furniture and wares. We are open every third Fri/Sat 9 - 4, and Sun12-4. We are open this weekend!

For those who need a "junk" adventure, check out our Pavillion at the Old Lucketts Store Antique Fair, 42350 Lucketts Road
Leesburg, VA 20176, this Sat and Sun.

Good morning, chatters. Today we have Robin Spires with us. Robin is an expert on  finding vintage homegoods and  repurposing and reinventing flea market finds. She owns Flea Market Chicks and the Robin's Nest and takes part in a once-a-month barn sale in Frederick, Md.

Let's get started.

We're holding an open house party on Sunday afternoon/evening. Besides cleaning the house, shutting away the animals, and providing food, is there anything else we should do to get ready? Do you have any tips for making a small rowhouse particularly "open" feeling with lots of people around? Thanks as always for your chats, which are a great resource for me.

If it's during the day, I would just make sure all of your curtains are drawns, shades and blinds pulled up and shutters open, to get as much natural light in the house as possible. Put some fresh flowers around, too.  Otherwise, sounds like you're all set.

I have an end row house in NW w/vintage, contemporary and quasi traditional pieces. My one fireplace is in the dinning room with built in cabinets. Above the fireplace, the wall and the wall facing the fireplace is a goldenrod/mustard color. The side walls are off-white. The brick is the original to the 1908 house. What are your thoughts? Also, what are your thoughts on a fireplace in the dinning room and not in the living room.

I'm envious of your dining room fireplace! How cozy to eat and entertain in the winter with a fire roaring in the background. My thoughts on what you describe: paint all the walls the same color, built-ins includedm especially if the room is small.

Good morning! I have a collection of antique children's ABC plates and some large feather edge platters. I would like to hang them on my dining room wall, but I am concerned that the spirng-loaded hangers might damage the plates. Any suggestions?

Many many collectors have used the spring-loaded hangers over the years.  I personally have several brown and white transferware platters in my kitchen hung with these gadgets. I would not worry about damaging them. Your collections sounds lovely by the way and what a great way to add your personal style to your room.

Not to open this up for discussion again, but I was recently in my cousin's home. She had fake flowers everywhere and I have to say they just did not look good and made the rooms look really fusty. How hard can it be to buy a five dollar bouquet of daisies at the grocery store each week? (If you have the money, of course). I just don't think that fake flowers add anything to a room except clutter.

I agree with you. I think they are dust collectors. But plenty of people love them.

If you have easy to move furniture, try rearranging the furniture to leave an "aisle" to allow flow from the front to the back of the house. The problem with row houses is that they are narrow and once people are standing around, moving from the back of the house to the front or vice versa can be tricky especially if you have to navigate around furniture. The best situations I've seen is where you rearrange the furniture to provide easy flow. Also make sure there is adequate seating so that people have a way to socialize without standing in the walkways.

Good suggestions. Thanks.

I recently visited some relatives and stayed in a wide range of guest rooms. Of course, I was happy to enjoy everyone's hospitality and so glad they opened their homes to me. But it did make me realize that I need to lie down on my own guest bed to see if the light on the nightstand shines in my eyes when I'm trying to read. And I have to say that I really dislike futons. (BTW, the best guest bedroom was the one with the view of the ocean--awoke each morning and lay in bed watching the waves crash on the shore.)

Everyone should make a habit of spending an occasional night in their guest room to make sure it's comfortable and to make note of anything it lacks.  Lighting is especially important.

And paint the fireplace brick a contrasting color that works with the rest of the decor. You want the fireplace to be a focal point, so make sure that it "pops" from the wall color.

This is good advice. Here is another idea. I was at a party this week in house where the den was painted coral - the walls, fireplace, surround, bookshelves, everything. The family says this small room is their most cozy, favorite hangout.

I'm thinking, yet again, about paint my family room. The problem is that the space is open from the kitchen, a small dining area and the family room. I want to differentiate the areas without it looking like I've lost a battle with a box of crayolas.

Yout don't have to rely on paint to differentiate between the spaces. You can use area rugs, furniture, window treatments, etc.

What advice would you give someone that is new (and clueless) with vintage furnishings and markets?

It's best to just dive in. Keep in mind that you don't have to comprimise on quality just because it's vintage. For instance, I have a "butt" test for vintage seating. ALWAYS sit in it before you buy. Look for wobbles and sturdiness in tables. Know what your budget and stick to it. There will always be something in your price range, you may just have to be patient and look for a bit.

It's best to just dive in. Keep in mind that you don't have to comprimise on quality just because it's vintage. For instance, I have a "butt" test for vintage seating. ALWAYS sit in it before you buy. Look for wobbles and sturdiness in tables. Know what your budget and stick to it. There will always be something in your price range, you may just have to be patient and look for a bit.

I'm moving into a studio with limited storage space, but a nice entryway space. I need a place to store my shoes, and the entryway where I'd be putting them on seems like an ideal space. I'd like to put some sort of organizer under my console table, but I don't want the storage to detract from an otherwise neat and clutter free area. Do you know of any storage solutions that would hold about a dozen pairs of shoes in a hidden but accessible fashion under a regular height console table?

I would use a storge ottoman tucked beneath the console table.  Urban Outfitters has a nice one for only $240.  YOu could also use two storage cubes, which you could also use for extra seating when you have guests, like these from

Do you think it is appropriate to give a flea market or vintage item as a gift? I've always wondered this...

I think giving a vintage item as a gift is a wonderful idea; I do it all the time.

That's not hard, but cleaning up the spilled mess when my toddler or cat knocks them over stinks.

Try to keep them on bookshelves or on your mantel.

I have two matching, floor to ceiling (almost), bookshelves from Restoration Hardware in my dining room. The wood of the shelves and my table is rustic, and reclaimed, ashy colored. What do I put on the shelves? Books seem wrong for a dining room, but my crystal and fine china seems wrong too--too formal for such casual wood and open shelf display. Suggestions, please? (P.S. The shelf height is fixed around 20 inches apart.)

Have you ever thought about using your china serving pieces as display instead of your crystal. Platters and bowls look a bit more rustic and substantial than crystal. Make sure to add a bit of texture with faux plants and natural pieces like shells, whatever your theme is. Go ahead and mix in some books to add height and interest.

Rather than think the choice is between fake flower and real flowers, how about having a living potted plant (one time cost) if buying fresh flowers every week is not in the budget? Much prettier than fake flowers and comparably priced.

Yes! Great suggestion. Thank you.

I love flea markets, really I do! But shopping them can be overwhelming because amidst the treasure is, well, a lot of crap. How do you become a discerning shopper and bring home the items you don't regret, but cherish, later?

It's best to make a list of the items/furniture you are looking for along with measurements before you leave the house. Make sure to look the piece over carefully before buying it. I have two rules, if you LOVE it, buy it! You will always find room for it. However, if you're not sure, walk AWAY! Don't talk yourself into a piece because it's a good deal. There will always be more stuff to buy!

Does anyone have experience with Pantone paints? (Am interested in a specific blue -- Pantone 287). I know there are retailers (Monarch, for one) but do not live near one. The paint is pricey and would love to know if anyone has used it.

Terri and I have not used it, but it is a very well respected brand. Anyone out there want to chime in?

I saw on one of the HGTV shows, if you want variety for rooms that are visible to each other, select different shades from the same paint chip. You can make the room with the most windows the darkest shade and then use lighter shades for rooms with less natural light. And sometimes the colors look quite different when painted on walls, but they are still complementary.

Yes. This is a good idea. Thanks  for sharing it.

Just adding my 2 cents from what a previous poster said, I just brought a real houseplant for $2.98 at my super Walmart & if taken care of properly will last for yrs. Maybe she should buy her friend a real plant & see how long before she throws out those dust collectors for the real deal.

Ha ha. Good suggestion.

Our guest room has a queen size futon couch. To make it more comfortable, after we replaced our queen size bed, I keep the mattress in the basement and when I am expecting guests, I open the futon, put the mattress from the basement on the futon and then make the bed. Much more comfortable and doesn't cost anything, other than sweat labor to get the mattress back upstairs. If you don't want a full mattress, you can get thick mattress pads (Ikea has some that are like 2 inches thick) that roll up and are easier to maneuver.

Very considerate of your overnight guests.

As part of our den redo, we plan to buy a flat-screen TV. We're having a hard time finding a cabinet to put it on, and to put the components into. I think the problem is size: We can only accommodate 42 inches of width and don't want a high, armoire type piece. Aside from the usual suspects (C&B, West Elm, R&B, Restoration Hardware), do you have any suggestions of possible sources? Many thanks.

Ballard Designs,, Wisteria, CB2, Ikea, Ethan Allen

Locally: Mitchell Gold, Vastu, And Beige, Kellogg Collection, Random Harvest, Urban Country, Red Barn Mercantile, Miss Pixies. 

Start with these

Just to point out how cheap live flowers can be - I bought a mixed bouquet of flowers the day after Easter ($6). Separated them out into three vases by keeping the same colors together (a la Martha Stewart's directions). They are just finally dying now. And I didn't have to dust them. Although I will say that I like fake flowers that aren't trying to be real, like the ones made of paper or wood.

You make a good point. Buy a mixed bouquet for under $10 and fill a number of vases.  I do not personally like paper or wood flowers.

We're remodeling our (extremely small) master bathroom in our 1917 home in DC - any suggestions for a design/style direction (e.g. finishes, tile, etc.) to make the space appear larger?

Two words: classic and white.

I forwarded you a photo of the multi-colored brick of my 1940s house for you to suggest colors for shutters and trim. Currently all white. I also have a front porch with columns. Lots of multi-colored Victorians and Sears craft houses in the neighborhood, so I am tempted to go bold.

Terri and I think you should either go with teal blue or a sage green to go with the Craftsman style of your neighborhood. Meanwhile, the best way to see what might look good with your brick is to drive around the neighborhood and look for houses like yours and see what colors they have used. It really helps to visualize the colors and see what strikes you as fun and good looking.

Are there any good online places (I'm in Boston) to buy ready made something other than the solid-or-just-faintly-striped-curtains-like-they-have-at-bed-bath-and-beyond at a pretty cheap pricepoint? My rented apartment needs something with pattern and color and summer-ness since I can't paint the white walls and it will apparently never stop raining here.

West Elm has nice options. Try Anthropologie, too.

Can we please just agree to disagree? Taste is a subjective thing and while you may not like faux plants/flowers, I do for a myriad of reasons. I happen to dislike traditional furniture much more than faux plants, but I don't make it a point to try to dissuade someone who likes it from decorating with it. If you don't like them, don't decorate with them.

How about everyone just do what makes them happy in their houses and not care what anyone else thinks.

If I have real flowers, my cats will nip at them and pull the vase over, creating a mess. They leave fake flowers alone. I rotate mine for each season and keep them clean. Not to mention, I have a lovely garden outside where I can enjoy fresh flowers.

My cat has no interest in cut flowers. Thank goodness!

I think you can only give a gift from a thrift store or flea market if you've really put thought into it. If I see extra pieces of a friend's china or glassware or see a horribly wonderful Xmas sweater for a snarky friend, I snatch them up, but I wouldn't give a random, used cookbook as a hostess gift (unless maybe it was out of print, and I knew the hostess was searching for it!).

You give really wise advice here. Love the idea of finding a friend's china or glassware pattern.

Just wanted to share a few vintage shopping points!


Remember to always look a piece over thoroughly BEFORE you buy it. Sit it in, wiggle it, wobble it! Don't buy it if it's not sound! You will always find more treasures at the nest venue!

Aha! I feel vindicated.


There are all sorts of creative solutions for hiding shoe storage, like this one that hides inside a small sitting bench and could be easily tucked under a console. You can google for "shoe storage" and find loads of options.

First thing to do: declutter your shoes.

For the person in Boston, Country Curtains has a web site and some Massachusetts stores. I believe an Annapolis one also. They are not expensive, mostly fairly traditional looking and made in Massachusetts. Think it is

A curtain suggestion for the Boston chatter...

Try Country Curtains ( They have very nice products with a variety of patterns and fabrics. Free swatches. I'm currently drooling over the sheers with dragonflies on them. And I apologize for reopening the fake flowers vs real flowers debate again. Mea culpa.

Another Country Curtains fan.

Why is outdoor furniture so expensive? I want to buy a dining set and a small seating set, but it will cost thousands of dollars, it seems. Has anyone found a reasonable place to buy outdoor furniture that has quality options? My last set from Target was beautiful, but faded and rusted. Any unique sources that I would have not yet considered? I feel like I've looked everywhere and to get all of the furniture I want for $1800 or less is impossible. Thanks for any insights that you have to offer!

Retail furniture can be expensive! Trying vintage! Look for sound wicker and metal furniture. Make sure to give it a good scrub! Don't skip this step! Use Rust-o-leum (love it) indoor/outdoor spray paint. At least 2 coats!

Great seating at a great price!

Then there'd be no need for a Home column in the paper, lol!

You can always learn new tricks!

Just wanted to share a few vintage shopping points!


Remember to always look a piece over thoroughly BEFORE you buy it. Sit it in, wiggle it, wobble it! Don't buy it if it's not sound! You will always find more treasures at the nest venue!


Give the cat a ball of yarn. Have a ball.

That is really a good idea! My cat is bored. Anyone got some yarn I could borrow?

We're out of time. Thanks to Robin for joining us (and for soldiering on despite of technical difficulties).

Enjoy your weekend and chat with you next Thursday. 

Good morning! I'm interested in replacing my patterned dishware with just plain white dishes that I can then dress up with patterned serving pieces and such. Is there a restaurant supply company or another good source for inexpensive plates and bowls? I live in Arlington but would be willing to drive a little bit if the prices were good enough. Thanks! is a good place to start -or how about the Crate & Barrel outlet in Alexandria?

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius uses her years of experience as a home expert and her network of well-placed sources to help you choose everything from paint type and colors to how to de-shed sofas from pet hair to where to find the best designer fabrics at a discount.

Home Q&A archive
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post.
Robin Spires
Robin Spires is an expert on finding and repurposing and revamping flea market and vintage homegoods and furnishings. Her businesses include the Flea Market Chicks and the Robin's Nest, and she is a member of Chartreuse & Co., a once-a-month tag sale in Buckeystown, Md.
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