The Retrophile Files: Fanning the Flames of a Junk Revolution

Ki Nassauer’s in her natural habitat; the junk yard. No wonder she’s been called the “Martha Stewart of junk.”

Here is the dirty truth; Ki Nassauer has made a career out of junk. Her talent for reinventing curbside castoffs and flea market finds into stylish and clever decorative items has resulted in Ki being dubbed the “Martha Stewart of junk.”

Nassauer first established herself as a tastemaker with JunkMarket. a monthly sale she stocked and merchandised that featured vintage and repurposed items. The event attracted thousands of shoppers. Soon after she co-authored two books—“Decorating JunkMarket Style” and “Junk Beautiful” —which resulted in guest appearances on HGTV’s “Country Style” series and the “TODAY” show. Now, Nassauer is the editor and chief of Flea Market Style magazine, a glossy quarterly that is brimming with vintage and antique shopping tips, repurposing projects, and home decor ideas.

But wait, there’s more. Ki’s additional projects include her partnership with Etsy, the world’s most vibrant handmade and vintage marketplace. Together, they power Junk Bonanza, a juried, three-day vintage market event known as the best junk roundup in the Midwest. And, if that was not enough, Nassauer also created Junk Revolution, the only online community for junk enthusiasts who believe in the power of rescuing, reusing and re-imaging stuff that has been kicked to the curb. Recently, Ki took a little time out of her schedule to tell us more about her junk empire.

DeDe Sullivan: How did you get the junk bug?

Ki Nassauer: For as long as I can remember, I was always attracted to neighbor’s garages, hardware stores and free stuff along the side the road but had no idea that was a sign of a career in the making. It wasn’t until I had my own garage sale did I realize how much fun it could be and the income potential sealed the deal.

Sullivan: Tell me more about the garage sale that changed your career path.

Nassauer: I had a garage sale. We were moving and downsizing so we had lots of junk to get rid of. I spent weeks getting ready for it, which included merchandising the stuff. After the three-day sale we sold almost $11,000 dollars of stuff. A light bulb went off.

Sullivan: So, based on your first garage sale, you had the big idea for JunkMarket, a monthly vintage sale you put together. Can you tell us more about how this got started?

Nassauer: I heard about Rose, a woman in a town nearby having vintage furniture sales once a month in her shop called Second Hand Rose. What a great idea! I could spend the month buying, fixing and merchandising and open for three days just like my garage sale. I rented a warehouse one mile from my home, bought a small trailer and sent out a postcard to 50 friends and family.

Sullivan: What were you doing before you became the “Martha Stewart of Junk?”

Nassauer: I owned a women’s clothing store for 25 years. When I closed my store, I freelanced as a designer for several large retailers, which proved to be difficult since I was used to being my own boss.

Sullivan: Did your previous career help prep you for what you are doing now?

Nassauer: Absolutely! Working in retail helps you develop and refine your skills in communication, merchandising and design. I draw on that experience every day.

Sullivan: Tell us about Junk Revolution.

Nassauer: I wanted to offer a free place for like-minded junkers and vintage enthusiasts to share their stories, ideas and tricks of the trade. Junk Revolution community members are knowledgeable, friendly and supportive. They constantly remind me of why I love junkers so much!

Sullivan: You also have another project called Junk Bonanza.

Nassauer: Junk Bonanza is a juried vintage, antique and junk sale in its seventh year. The Bonanza has more than 140 vendors and is held at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota, ever September. [Click here for a great video]

Ki’s living room. Note the shelves she created using discarded vintage suitcases. Brilliant!

Ki Nassauer’s in her natural habitat; the junk yard. No wonder she’s been called the “Martha Stewart of junk.”

Sullivan: What are the criteria for being a vendor?

Nassauer: It is important to offer our attendees a balanced selection of styles, products, categories and inspiration. All items must be 40 years old or older, which eliminates reproductions and new flea market merchandise. We are fortunate to have a long vendor wait list and are able to maintain superb quality from year to year.

Sullivan: Are you going to take Junk Bonanza to other cities?

Nassauer: We are actually considering expanding Junk Bonanza to other cities. We are just in the initial research phase, so it will take some time to determine, where, when and how.

Sullivan: Do you have an overall retail and pricing philosophy for Junk Bonanza?

Nassauer: Since I don’t have control over vendor pricing, I try to make sure we have vendors that sell merchandise in all price point categories. You can find something for 50 cents or something for $1,000 at the Bonanza. We are known for having good prices, as proven by the number of stores and dealers attending from across the country buying and shipping product back to resell.

Sullivan: Let’s talk about Flea Market Magazine. Home décor magazines have taken a beating over the last several years. Many magazines, including Domino and Country Home, have folded. What is your recipe for continued success?

Nassauer: If you stop and think about it, magazine content is just a vehicle to deliver ads. Sad but true. When businesses cut back on advertising, magazines, even the good ones couldn’t sustain the financial loss. Flea Market Style does not depend on advertising dollars to maintain profitability. It just needs to sell on the newsstands, so keep buying! Every issue we put together must have original ideas, tons of useful content and inspiration on every page.

Sullivan: When will the next issue be available and how can people pre-order?

Nassauer: Our spring issue should be on newsstands the end of February and preorders will be available on our blog sometime in January.

Sullivan: Do you sense any upcoming junk trends brewing?

Nassauer: Industrial is selling strong right now, but I predict a cleaner, more modern and simplistic style will be the next big thing.

Sullivan: OK, if you had to pick another career, what would it be?

Nassauer: Florist.

Sullivan: Before we wrap this interview, drop a few words of wisdom on us!

Nassauer: Here is one from my Dad: “Don’t just sit there, do something, even if it turns out to be wrong!”

To purchase back issues of Flea Market Style, click here.

DeDe Sullivan is a retrophile with a particular fondness for junktiques; discarded vintage treasures whose aesthetic worth far exceeds its monetary value. Her blog,, documents her junking and antiquing adventures. This includes sharing her favorite places to score unique items, the history behind unusually finds, along with display and upcycling ideas. Have a question or story to tell? Shoot her an e-mail at!


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