07/09/2010 10:14 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Make It Work! Flea Market Finds Done Right

A gorgeous, one-of-a-kind piece is the holy grail of home decorating, but it isn't as easy as popping to your local car boot sale and dragging home the first decent dusty knick-knack your spot. Even if an item is in perfect condition, making a flea market find really shine can feel like a DIY project all on its own.

We chatted to the experts to help you learn how to live with your collectibles and quickly discovered the key isn't knowing what to add - it's knowing when to subtract.

Michelle Long of Bohiemenne bedroom and tie back.
Left: Michelle Long's bedroom is a haven of white with pops of colour. Right: A curtain tie-back that has seen earlier days reclaims its place on the wall. Photos: Michelle Long, Karyn Millet courtesy of The Well-Dressed Home.

Can you shop at your favourite flea markets and antique shops on a regular basis and not end up living in a car boot sale gone bad? It's easy, according to Michelle Long of Bohemiennes, an interiors shop offering "vintage style for modern living." Long, who collects and sells antique and vintage home accessories and clothing, has been living with her found treasures for years by using a simple system. She invited us into her home, which is a lesson in flea market finds gone fabulous, and offered the following tips.

1. Be Realistic
Like Rocky, get into the right mindset before heading into the ring. "Vintage items are rare and often one of a kind. So, when you see something you like, grab it," she says. But be realistic about the amount of time or money you want to put into whatever it is you're buying. "It doesn't take long before you'll have a house or a closet full of projects that you'll never get around to," advises Michelle. Furniture restoring is especially labor intensive and time consuming. You are usually better off buying a restored piece or one with imperfections that you can live with - or even love.

Michelle Long of Bohemienne collection of white
Left: A grouping of Michelle's favourite ironstone plates and silverware are hung together for simple visual interest. Right: The living room has a vintage woven trunk functioning as a coffee table and storage space. Photos: Karyn Millet courtesy of The Well-Dressed Home.

2. Group Stuff
When decorating your home, groupings of objects related by shape, colour or even theme make a statement. "It sounds counter-intuitive, but to avoid clutter, buy a lot of whatever it is you like. Displaying in groups helps keep your house from looking itty-bitty." In other words, it's okay to collect random items, as long as you have an end purpose for them.

Michelle Long of Bohemienne kitchen and flatware.
A functional vintage free-standing unit (left) and glass containers (right) add a bit of character without trying too hard. Photos: Michelle Long

3. Use Your Stuff
Another tip to remember is that your home lives around you, you don't live around your home. A house full of unused objects feels stuffy. "Don't save your vintage things for special occasions. When you use your old things you don't feel weighed down by them. That goes for vintage clothes too. Wear them," says Michelle. Old things may require a little special care and handling but that shouldn't stop you from enjoying them.

Use an old bookcase as a shabby chic display unit (above), or pack vintage glass containers with silverware (above). Pick up an old basket at the local flea market recently? Give it a ubiquitous use, like holding a few similar-sized plants (below).

Michelle Long of Bohemienne vintage basket.
Michelle Long

4. Don't Be Afraid of White
The modern feel of Michelle's home also comes from her theories on the colour white. "I love living with white," she says. "A white backdrop makes the oldest, dustiest and most rustic of objects feel fresh and modern. It's also so much easier to clean white fabric." When she has to clean her white fabrics, she uses Oxi-Clean and then lays the fabric on the grass. "I don't know why but there's something in grass that helps get out stains," she says.

Michelle Long of Bohemienne living room.
Everything has its place in the living room with simple textiles and decoration. Photo: Karyn Millet
courtesy of The Well-Dressed Home.

5. One Piece Can Make a Room
Michelle's favourite room in her house is her kitchen. "I love our kitchen for one reason - the old wicker couch. It's a gathering spot where everyone who comes to our house - dogs included - seems to gravitate towards, especially when the big French casement windows are wide open so the breeze comes in." Check out Michelle's antique and flea market finds at her Etsy shop.