By:  Kim Kovel

You never know what you will learn when you explore flea markets, sales and shows. We went to the Salon Art + Design fair in New York City. It’s an annual fair held each fall with top design galleries from around the U.S. and Europe, exhibiting historical, modern and contemporary furniture, groundbreaking design and late 19th through 21st century art.

These fairs may seem unreachable because of the expensive price tags on the objects, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to see great design, visit the N.Y.C. design galleries – that set up shows to complement the fair – and of course see some of the many museums in N.Y.C. We had the chance to speak to several dealers and found a common theme. Many of them started with a fascination for collecting when they were young. Their first experience as dealers was setting up tables in flea markets. As their knowledge grew, they chose an area they appreciated the most and spent hours learning everything they could about it. Twenty years later, many are top dealers in their field. Most like to talk about what they are selling and to educate anyone interested.

Two gallery exhibitions stand out. R & Company, dealers in high-end design, had a show “Modern in Your Life: The Good Design Phenomenon 1934-1959.” On display and also for sale was “good design” from ordinary objects to more iconic pieces with prices from $20 to $1,000’s. You can still find many of the items today in your grandmothers’ kitchen, flea markets or garage sales. Showing good design doesn’t need to be expensive.

Salon 94, located on the first floor of the owner’s house, had a Gaetano Pesce exhibit. We always enjoy his colorful and inventive utilitarian objects. A Pesce planter is pictured.

We also visited the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum. They had a small exhibit on the work of Marguerita Mergentime (1894-1941), an influential textile designer who wanted bold dashing colors and inventive patterns on her table, so, self-taught, she designed the linens herself. Her designs were manufactured by more than 15 companies and sold at major department stores including Macy’s, Gimbels and Lord & Taylor. She also designed the Grand Lounge carpet and ladies room wall covering fabric at Radio City Music Hall.

Everything we visited referred to the objects on display as “design.” As the word “design” becomes more common, don’t be intimidated. It now covers “decorative arts” and “antiques” and isn’t always thousands of dollars.