Treasure Hunt


A local designer shows how to shop the Sacramento Antique Faire.

Interior designer Karen Calija is an inveterate shopper and a determined bargain hunter. Which is why we asked if we could tag along recently when she visited the Sacramento Antique Faire.

Our goal: to learn the best strategies for shopping the fair, an outdoor antiques and collectibles marketplace held, rain or shine, on the second Sunday of the month in midtown Sacramento.

The market sprawls over two city blocks from 21st to 23rd streets, sheltered from the elements by the W-X freeway overhead. About 300 dealers from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oregon, Washington state, Utah and Arizona—even some from as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia—come to the fair to sell their wares.    

They offer everything from Jadite pitchers and French saltboxes to ’50s chrome dinette sets and vintage garden implements. While there is a smattering of large furniture, the merchandise tends toward smaller pieces and collectibles—things you can tuck under your arm and bring home with you.

Calija was enchanted with the bustling market.

“I love it—it’s very quaint,” she said. “It’s full of creative, artistic people selling collectible things.”
She arrived bright and early and got right to work, strolling from booth to booth and row to row in search of treasures. As she walked, she offered these shopping tips:

Arrive early. The fair opens at 6:30 a.m., and early birds get the pick of the merchandise, Calija said. She recommends wearing casual clothes and comfortable shoes—you’ll do a lot of walking. 
Bring cash. While many dealers accept credit cards and checks, cash is the gold standard—sellers are more likely to bargain if you’re willing to pay with cash. And speaking of bargaining, it’s definitely OK to ask a dealer if there’s any wiggle room in a price. But don’t be insulting: If the price is $300, don’t offer $30.

Buy what you like. “Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder,” she said. “There’s really no right or wrong. Buy what’s pleasing to your eye.” For instance, she found a charming little desk that the seller had decoupaged with pink roses, and a chair painted pink to match. The pair: $350. Clearly, said Calija, they weren’t fine antiques. “But they would be cute for a little girl’s room,” she said, kneeling to examine the desk more closely. “They’re funky and fun.”

If you’re unsure you want an item, ask the dealer to hold it for you. Not every seller will agree, said Calija. But if you don’t ask, you risk losing the item. “If you wait until later,” she cautioned, “it might be gone.”

Ask questions. “A dealer can tell you a lot about a piece,” said Calija. She came upon a table crowded with rustic earthenware jugs. One, in particular, caught her eye: A watery green, the shapely cistern had a slender spout and a nice, hefty handle—and a $39 price tag. From talking to the dealer, she learned that the pottery came from Hungary and was more than 100 years old. “It’s an actual antique,” she said with surprise.

Use your imagination. At one booth, Calija came upon a dusty crystal chandelier, lying seemingly forgotten on the ground. “Some people can’t see beyond the dust,” she said. “Clean it up and you’ve got something special.”

Be willing to engage in “adaptive reuse.” Calija was attracted to architectural salvage such as garden gates and garden implements including old wooden rakes and pitchforks—all things, she said, that would make great decorative items. “You could hang the pitchfork in your house as a piece of art,” she explained. A vintage wall-mounted sink could become an outdoor fountain, and a painted kitchen hutch would work just as well in the garden as a potting bench. Another idea: Fill an old ceramic baby tub with ice and you’ve got a nifty way to serve wine and beer at a party.
The Sacramento Antique Faire takes place the second Sunday of the month from 6:30 a.m. to
3 p.m. on 21st Street between W and X streets.

Admission is $3. For more information, call (916) 600-9770 or visit