Marie Lydon was on a treasure hunt.
Dressed in black layers to protect her from the early morning chilly breeze, the New Milford resident scanned through a corner lot at Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market in her hometown, searching for rustic relics to recreate.
“I bought a cottage over by the lake and I’ve been redoing it and taking out all the new and putting in the old,” Lydon said a moment after buying an old watering can from a vendor at what Elephant’s Trunk manager Gregory Baecker touts as the “largest flea market in New England.”
The water can was a straightforward find in her morning mission. But she was also on the prowl for items that require her to be inventive.
“There are a few pieces I’ve found that require a bit more creativity, a little reimagination,” she said. “I’m redoing a bathroom right now and I found an old vintage sconce and I put a glass doorknob in where the light bulb went and I’m using that as a towel hook. It’s really pretty.”
Places such as the flea market in New Milford serve as an ideal location to sift through an island of misfit toys in search for forgotten gems that can be repurposed, recycled and reimagined into new, functional finds, she said. She’s not the only one who hunts through the hordes of discarded and forgotten items in search of prize pieces.
A new show that premiered on HGTV last month, “Flea Market Flip,” hosted by Greenwich resident Lara Spencer, takes design contestants to flea markets around the country — including several episodes shot in New Milford — and challenges them to turn old everyday objects into trendy treasures.
“You get a show like that in here and all of a sudden everyone starts thinking about, ‘Hmm, what can I make with this stuff?’ ” said Todd Shamock of Meriden, who sells furniture and funky finds at the market every Sunday.
“People are always buying my stuff to fix up,” he said, as he squatted down and picked up an old window frame he priced at $40. The chipped paint on the frame didn’t detract from its value, he said, noting that it could be turned into a mirror, picture frame, headboard, coffee table — anything anyone could imagine.
“Things like this, they have character. This has history, and it makes it more fun than buying something at Target. You have to fix it up and think outside the box, but that’s the fun,” he said.
Interest in seeking out possibilities such as that frame has increased in recent years, as shows such as “Flea Market Flip” have brought the idea of upcycling from the creative margins into the living rooms of average Americans.
“All this stuff is getting really popular right now. It’s like spider webbing,” Morgan Roberts of Wilton said this week, as she discussed her design business, King Soleil, where she sells products made with upcycled materials.
“Websites like Pinterest, which so many people all over America use, those kinds of websites allow everyone to see projects and how-tos and see that you don’t have to be an artist to do these kinds of things. With Pinterest and Facebook and etsy, it makes all this creative stuff a lot more accessible,” she said.
Pinterest — a photo-sharing website that allows users to “pin” images they like — has become a hub for more than 45 million users to bookmark everything from recipes and birthday party invitations to step-by-step guides to turn an old bathtub into a couch.
“Someone pins something, and then it can turn around and inspire someone else,” said Roberts, who regularly posts her products on the online pin board.
In her company, Roberts combs garage sales and thrift stores in a quest for old bed sheets or moth-eaten sweaters, which she deconstructs and upcycles into luxury rugs and children’s clothes.
“I find that people like the idea not only of it being eco-friendly, but also they like it aesthetically, and they know that it’s giving something new life, rather than just going into a landfill or being used as rags,” she said.
After she’s created her new products, she lists them for sale on the online store etsy.com, shares them on social media and waits for them to sell.
For the most part, people know what to expect with Roberts’ projects. But sometimes the most exciting moment of being involved in the upcycling process can be the surprise of seeing the finished product, said Phil Lodato, who runs United House Wrecking, a warehouse-sized home décor store in Stamford, along with his father Mario.
He’s seen people create chairs from old wine barrels and currently has a bed frame cobbled from an antique iron archway on display in the store’s second level.
“It’s not every person who does this kind of stuff. It takes some inspiration and a lot of imagination to come up with these ideas. But when it happens, and when it comes together with something like this,” he said, pointing to a coffee table created from salvaged iron, “it’s just great to see that new life begin.”