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Lords of the Flea Markets

LAUREN AMBROSE actor When I was young, my uncle ran a market in Connecticut. We went there all the time and I would run around and meet the vendors. Now that I live in L.A., I love the Rose Bowl and Eclectibles on Melrose, but my favorite is Portobello Road, in London. I was completely broke when I went there last but envision returning someday to buy my silver. Object of affection: I recently found a beautiful linen tablecloth—it's hand-embroidered and certainly worth much more than the dollar I paid for it. I put it on our 150-year-old wooden table when my husband and I entertain, and it dresses up our tiny apartment.

BRUCE MAU designer For me, it started with the Salvation Army because I was fascinated by the idea of things being jettisoned. I don't like antiques but I'm intrigued by the collecting impulse. Sadly, I've also spent way too many hours on eBay. A friend turned me on to the flea market at Togo Shrine, in Tokyo's Harajuku. It has old ceramics, incredibly beautiful glassware, textiles, and proto-modern Japanese stuff. I found a gorgeous 19th-century cast-iron teakettle there. Objects of affection: I collect photo albums from estate sales—like of someone's trip to Florida in 1974. I love their melancholy quality and the way they offer strange, mysterious narratives.

DONNA KARAN fashion designer For textiles and accessories, I like the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show in New York. I also love the Southampton Classic at the Elks Lodge and Mulford Farm Antiques Show & Sale in East Hampton and the one at the Community Center in Bridgehampton. Plan of attack: Come up with a fair price and bargain the dealer down—sometimes haggling can be just as much fun as finding. For a small fee, you can often preview early or even the night before. Always wear comfortable shoes and a backpack so your hands are free. And bring lots of bottled water!

CALVIN TSAO architect and designer Fleas are a state of mind that's less about finding an overlooked de Stijl chair than about training the eye. I never have an agenda except to see and learn. When I do buy something, it's usually for its inspirational quality, like a patent for an invention. I gravitate toward weirdo things that you see and say, "What the hell is that?" They're evidence of our exuberance, our notions of beauty, or our neuroses. Objects of affection: At the Panjiayuan Folk Culture Market in Beijing, I found piles of austere silver objects with great flat, cutout patterns that looked like Christmas tree ornaments. I later found out they were tongue scrapers, but I still hung them on my tree.

CYNTHIA NIXON actor I grew up on the Upper West Side, so the Green Flea Market at 77th and Columbus is my favorite. Objects of affection: I collect antique earrings—since I don't have pierced ears, I have to search for the clip-ons. Green Flea Market is great for earrings, clothes, and plants.

ROBIN RENZI co-owner and jewelry designer, Me & Ro Brimfield in Massachusetts is probably the best U.S. flea market because it's where the great antiques dealers from the entire country go. I also love 26th Street in New York; it has everything from Tibetan rugs to Korean lanterns, at a good range of prices. Objects of affection: Last time I was at 26th Street, I got a beautiful fantasy Ginger Rogers-style dress from the twenties or thirties. It's pale orange, peach, yellow, and green silk chiffon. It's really fitted and looks like something a ballerina would wear.

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