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Brimfield 101 for Antiques Lovers, Vintage Buffs, and Talented Hagglers

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From May 9 to 14, we're heading to the Northeast's sprawling antiques fair in Brimfield, Massachusetts, with Pottery Barn. Won't you come visit us? And for all you newcomers, we put together a what, why, and how on the whole thing—read on for all the details.

So you’re going to Brimfield, hm? It is a magic, crazy, dusty, wonderful place, and you are going to have a blast—and return home with all kinds of bizarre and beautiful treasures, everything from elaborate Deco-style mirrors and vintage mason jars to woven rugs and Danish cookware.

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A Better Map of the Brimfield Flea (See You There!)
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A Better Map of the Brimfield Flea (See You There!)

Brimfield is a massive event, the largest antiques fair in the Northeast, and that’s what makes it so fun. But it’s a good idea to go in with an idea of what it’s like—and a plan. Here are a few tips to make the trip a fun one:

Where it is and how to get there
Where to stay, and when and how to book a room
What to pack
What to expect
If you’re doing a whirlwind day trip...


WHERE IT IS AND HOW TO GET THERE

Driving is the best option to get to Brimfield—how else will you get your new finds home?

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For driving and accommodations-finding purposes, here are timing details from the surrounding areas. Brimfield is about:

15 minutes from Sturbridge, MA
20 minutes from Wilbraham, MA
20 to 25 minutes from Brookfield, MA (and North, East, and West Brookfields)
35 minutes from Springfield, MA
35 minutes from Worcester, MA
45 minutes from Hartford, CT
50 minutes from Northampton, MA
70 minutes from Boston

If you have even the faintest idea that you might come home with a dresser or some old doors or a large and elegant and dramatic chaise lounge, consider renting a van or a small truck to haul big finds back home.

6 of Our Best Brimfield Finds From Over the Years
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6 of Our Best Brimfield Finds From Over the Years

WHERE TO STAY

If you’re planning on staying overnight, book a room as soon as you know for sure you’re going. While this is usually done, ideally, at least a month in advance, there are still plenty of nearby options left on AirBnb and Hotel Tonight. And don’t discount staying a bit of a drive (30 to 45 minutes, maybe) out—the options will be less expensive and more plentiful, and you were planning on getting up early, anyway. There are lots of pretty towns along the Connecticut-Massachusetts border, too, so poke around for rentals or hotels there, too.

WHAT TO PACK

It’s spring in New England! That is, pack as lightly as you can while anticipating nearly any kind of weather—it could be cold, grey, and windy; it could feel like mid-July; it might rain the whole time. An umbrella, a warm sweater, a light jacket, a brimmed hat, and sunglasses are all good ideas. So are your most comfortable walking shoes. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking! Pack extra socks, too.

You’re going to to be outside nearly the whole time you’re at Brimfield, so keep in mind anything else you might like—sunscreen, copious snacks, a reusable water bottle, and hand sanitizer are all game here.

Now that you’ve got your basic human needs covered, it’s time to think about what you’re shopping for. No matter what these three things will come in handy: a reusable tote bag (or three) and/or a wire cart (for toting treasures), a tape measure (for making sure that bookcase you’re eyeing will fit between your windows), and a newspaper—which you can read during lulls or use to wrap up anything small and delicate (most vendors will have their own newspaper stash, but it’s a good idea to have some extra just in case). Having a sense of how much space you’re looking to fill at home—measurements of blank stretches of wall or empty corners—will come in handy, too. So will a notebook to write everything down in. The Brimfield Flea Finder app is also very helpful.

If you buy anything really big, you’ll find that shipping companies like UPS and FedEx have their own tents set up so you can mail your finds home.

Bring cash—more than you think you need. ATMs can be a little few and far between at Brimfield, and sometimes they run out of money! (But go with a budget in mind, too.)

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20 Tips for Smart Antiquing (Or: How to Find Deals & Stay Sane at Brimfield)

WHAT TO EXPECT AND WHAT YOU’LL SEE

First things first

Brimfield is really big. Even if you come for the whole time—this spring, May 9 through May 14—you won’t see every table. That’s okay! You can come back. You can even come back this year! The fair happens in both July and in September.

Plan to veer off your plans. That is: There are thousands (thousands) of vendors. There are many fields, with many grassy aisles for wandering down. There are barns full of vendors to peek into, and tents; the tables are often piled with linens, or teaspoons, or vintage prints. If you’re looking for something specific, ask around—but the most fun part of the market is simply wandering where the spirit moves you. You never know what’s going to inspire, overwhelm, and/or completely sidetrack you. (A clawfoot tub full of unusual light bulbs! An arresting oil painting of a Basset hound! Highly specialized and enormous antique farming equipment!) And that’s okay.

If you find a stall you may want to come back to, write down the name of the field it’s in and the number of the lot! It’s the easiest way to find your way back through the maze.

If you see something you really, truly love, the only way to be totally certain you’ll take it home with you is to grab it now. (That said, many vendors will hold your larger purchases for you so you can come back later to pick them up.)

Parking

Parking at Brimfield is a choreographed dance. From the Brimfield website itself: “PLEASE do NOT park in any unmarked areas. If you park anywhere not specifically designated as parking along Route 20 or Route 19—your car will definitely be towed. If you are picking up an item you've purchased and have parked on Rt. 20, do not leave your car unattended.” They’re exactly right, of course. And there are lots of fields (and church parking lots, and even people’s side yards) roped off specifically for parking at about $10 a day, which is a lot less expensive than getting towed. Make sure you have cash for parking attendants.

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How to Get Started Collecting Vintage & Antiques

Field openings

The Brimfield website does have a list of when field openings are—that is, when you can get in to start the hunt. Sometimes it’s sunrise, sometimes 9 a.m., usually somewhere in between. If you’re going for the first time, try and get there fairly early, like 8:30 or 9 a.m. Not only will you get first pick of the goods, but you’ll also have more parking options (and you’ll be out and about before the sun’s beating down on you). And if you’re not sure where to start, take a peek at Food52’s handy-dandy map of some favorite fields!

A couple of the fancier fields have a small entry fee—usually $5 or so.

"I’m hungry/thirsty/tired!"

You’re in luck! There are lots of great food vendors—everything from lobster rolls and sugared donuts to West Indian rotis and falafel—inside the market, located centrally. (B.T.’s Smokehouse is a local favorite.) There are also abundant Port-A-Potties, usually located towards the backs of fields. Just ask the closest vendor at any time and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

You can put your feet up (well, not literally) at the picnic tables near the food vendors, but you can also swing by Food52’s pop-up, located at the same place as last year. Our lots are right in the middle of town in Central Park Field, Lots 12 to 14, just off the main drag. There will be chairs, shade, and fun surprises galore for the entire duration of the fair.

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3 Ways to Use Thrift-Store Frames to Make Your Art Feel New by Amanda Sims

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Help Me Fix Up My Chair! by Amanda Sims

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Some things to keep in mind

Don’t underestimate what a good sanding, a new coat of paint or stain, fresh cushions, or shiny knobs can do for a rough-around-the-edges piece with great bones. But think practically about how much work you’re actually willing to do (and how much it will cost).

Weekends are bonkers. That’s not such a bad thing! The energy is fun and people are excited to be there. But if you’re looking for a somewhat quieter experience, try to visit on a weekday.

There are benefits to being there early: You get first dibs. But there are also benefits to coming at the end: There will be fewer people, and vendors who are hoping to clear out some of their stock may reduce prices (or be more willing to haggle with you.)

Speaking of haggling: Yes, it’s allowed, and you should try it (especially if you’re buying more than one thing from a vendor). But do it nicely. Here’s a handy guide.

Take traffic into account. This is especially true if you’re staying a half hour or more outside of town (lots of other people had the same idea as you and are en route to Brimfield!), but even if you’re staying right in town. Brimfield is oriented along both sides of a long stretch of Route 20—there are two ways into the fair, two ways out, and that’s about it. The traffic will bottleneck a little, but things move along pretty quickly. A good way to avoid it: Get to the fair early and leave late.

Another thing to note is that phone reception can be a bit spotty. It’s a good idea to have a meeting place and time if you’re exploring the fair with buds.

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The Art of Haggling (or, How to Negotiate Price Without Being a Jerk)

DAY TRIPPIN’?

It can be done. And all of the above applies, but especially: Get there early and spend the whole day so you have as much time to explore as possible.

A few more day-trip tips:

Bring friends! They’ll keep things fun and you can enlist them to help carry things.
Pack lunch that you can eat on the go.
Start in the middle of the fair and walk outwards.
Be impulsive if you see something you can’t live without—but do a recon lap to get a sense of what’s available.
Treat yourself to some Del’s frozen lemonade while you’re there.

From May 9 to 14, we're heading to the Northeast's sprawling antiques fair in Brimfield, Massachusetts, with Pottery Barn. Won't you come visit us? We'll be hanging out all week on their outdoor furniture, and we'll save a seat for you, too (and maybe some snacks).

Tags: pottery barn, brimfield