By Design by Elaine Markoutsas

The Modern Bazaars at Your Fingertips

Weaving personality into home decor while making it relevant regardless of style requires a honed eye, spot-on instincts, the expertise of a trusted designer and imaginative resources. Color, a deft mix of beautiful fabrics, and well-chosen art and accessories, layering and texture add punctuation. And vintage, one-of-a-kind or handcrafted pieces really bring generic sofas, tables and chests to life.

The thrill of the hunt is everything for some shoppers, especially when you land that special piece. So is a good sale. Whether you're shopping Portobello Road in London, a Marrakech souk or a dazzling bazaar in Mumbai, part of the fun is exploring global marketplaces. When you find a bargain among precious items that are barely affordable, it's a real treat. And sometimes you don't even have to worry about having enough cash: Vendors in the flea markets of Florence and Paris make it easier by taking credit cards.

In the last 15 years, "e-tail" sites have been game-changers, changing the landscape of furniture buying. They allow you to scroll through thousands of "curated" antiques and unique pieces, in addition to well-known furnishings and designer brands, 24/7. Some of the products are part of "flash" sales, where the added allure is the savings off a suggested retail price for a short window of time. Like retailers and catalogs trying to set themselves apart, the websites now offer engaging features on a variety of design topics.

For luxe goods, there's nothing quite like 1stdibs (www.1stdibs.com), which covers furniture, lighting, fine art, jewelry, fashion and vintage haute couture from top dealers around the world -- "the most beautiful things on earth." It's like a tour through art history and design museums. Where else are you likely to find a 17th-century polychromatic horn lice comb ($9,500), an English Civil War Parliamentary helmet ($4,500), a rare 17th-century Dutch rosewood, ebony and tortoiseshell cabinet ($390,485), or a specially priced Tiffany Russian table lamp?

It's as valuable an asset for interior designers as it is consumers browsing over coffee on a Saturday morning. "For one-of-a-kind items for the high end, it saves scouring antique malls or searching around the country," says Tobi Fairley (www.tobifairley.com), a Little Rock, Arkansas-based interior designer who also designs products for CR Laine and Woodbridge Furniture. "It could take days or years to find what's all in one place."

Launched 15 years ago by Michael Bruno, a luxury real estate dealer, his focus on Marche aux Puces was brilliant, bringing the famous Paris flea market online, starting out with 100 new items per week. Now, 1stdibs embraces an entire global marketplace. In addition, there's an online luxe magazine, Introspective, as well as a style blog. And 1stdibs operates a 33,000-square-foot gallery on the 10th floor of the New York Design Center at 200 Lexington in New York City.

It's no wonder that other e-tailers have kept pace.

One of the newer sites, Dering Hall (www.deringhall.com), filled a niche for connecting the interior design trade and consumers looking for high-end design. Besides the 500-plus curated products it sells, Dennis Sarlo, Dering Hall's editorial director, recognizes the need for value-added with features such as Lookbook.

"Basically the edit is what draws a lot of people," says Sarlo. "We might cover a particular architect or designer's project. There's a mix of content, ideas. If we do a feature on ottomans, we shop the site like consumers and choose the most striking to talk about. The goal with all is to keep (the look on the page) crisp, focused pretty much on the product -- not overwhelming with a lot of stuff everywhere."

An uncluttered visual presentation clearly is a draw. When One Kings Lane (www.onekingslane.com) came on the scene in 2009, designers flocked to the site largely because they liked the fresh presentation: crisp photos often cued up according to color, with lots of air in between. Another instant winner: vintage and flea market pages and tag sales from designers and style visionaries like Paige Rense, former editor for Architectural Digest magazine. Her sale featured her own furniture, art, books, jewelry and several Hermes Birkin bags.

Tobi Fairley says that tag sales are a welcome vehicle for designers.

"I keep a very limited inventory," says Fairley. "It's a great way to recoup expenses."

Jason Oliver Nixon and John Loecke at the High Point, North Carolina-based Madcap Cottage (www.madcapcottage.com) have had many successful tag sales with One Kings Lane as well. Nixon believes the most obvious appeal of e-tail sites is accessibility.

"It's more democratized," he says. "A playing field some people never would have had access to. It's the idea of surprise and delight, like the slogan from (grand dame Chicago retailer) Marshall Field's: 'Give the lady what she wants.'"

That said, you need to do your homework when you're buying high-ticket items without professional advice. Studying the websites themselves is a good start.

Blogs, of course, have become such an integral part of retailer and manufacturer websites; consider Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn or a lifestyle brand such as Aerin Lauder. Beautiful, inspirational images and storytelling are compelling; readers crave the insider tips.

Content on e-tail sites covers an enormous range, from how-tos (organize your closet, dress your bed), 10 best (pendant lights, bar carts, etc.), entertaining (mouthwatering food shots and recipes), personal tips from designers, even travel destinations like one in the Italian Dolomites on The Study, 1stdibs' blog. Wayfair (www.wayfair.com) recently called out four ways to entertain on game day, including images for building your own panini station; and, of course, for sale access to all the components.

A One Kings Lane feature on how to organize your jewelry may reach out to the person to whom boxes likely resonate ("amazing at tiptoeing the line between form and function"), and assigns a style icon (here, Audrey Hepburn). And you can add appropriate product to a cart with the click of a mouse, of course.

Shop the Look on Dering Hall may focus on a particular style, like "a charming chalet with modern edge." Cool enough, but one example features Nicky Dobree, billed as one of the leading luxury chalet designers in the world. Following a gorgeous room shot depicting elements of the style, are products to buy: twiggy pendant lights, a hide cube, antelope wall art, tartan fabric, kelim ... you get the idea.

In addition, you can browse Dering Hall's Look Book, which is kind of like Pinterest or Instagram. If you click on a particular shot you like, you'll see an attribution, as well as a way to contact the designer. There's also a tab for locating design pros.

Still another website, Viyet (www.viyet.com), operates as an online high-end furnishings consignment shop, where you might score a Christian Liaigre chair. The company's mission is to inspire interior redesign -- at 50 to 80 percent below retail prices.

One of the more recent entries to the e-commerce world is Bezar, now AHAlife (www.ahalife.com), founded by Bradford Shellhammer. This marketplace for modern design covers art, house and jewelry, and has digital pop-up shops from handpicked designers who sell products in three-day "bursts." Simple premise: "where people who design special things connect with people who desire special things ... authentic and (with) a story ... a little bit bizarre ... things with heart."

Such connectivity seems to resonate -- even when buying a hip, well designed portable grill.

Sources

-- Bezar, now AHAlife, 855-848-3778, www.ahalife.com

-- Dering Hall, 917-512-6900, www.deringhall.com

-- 1stdibs, www.1stdibs.com

-- Madcap Cottage, 917-318-0006, www.madcapcottage.com

-- One Kings Lane, www.onekingslane.com

-- Tobi Fairley & Associates, 501-868-9882, www.tobifairley.com

-- Viyet, 844-924-8717, www.viyet.com

-- Wayfair, www.wayfair.com

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QUICK SCROLL

-- Bezar, now AHAlife. Originally launched in 2015 by Bradford Shellhammer, an online design marketplace with hip, curated products. Recent cool picks: blue atomic ottoman from The Modern Historic, $300, with black iron X base and authentic 1950s barkcloth upholstery; city plates by notNeutral, Los Angeles-based design house, including New Orleans, Dubai, L.A., Amsterdam and Mumbai at $45 (10 percent off).

-- Dering Hall, launched 2011 by Peter Sallick, CEO of high-end bathwares line, Waterworks, and New York interior designer Steven Gambrel. Combines top-secret intel with luxury home good marketplace, with access to design pros. Create an account, personal or trade. Recently for sale: Dorset coffee table mauve by Maxine Snyder, $2,325 (list $6,975); Radiata handblown glass pendant $1,155 (list $2,310).

-- 1stdibs, launched in 2001 by Michael Bruno. A global online marketplace for furniture, art, jewelry -- "the most beautiful things on earth," where "the finest antique shops are always open." Must register. Recent posts include an "exceptionally rare George I silvered gesso pier table," circa 1715, for $68,000; and an Art Deco plywood and chromium-plated metal wastepaper basket by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, $2,500

-- One Kings Lane, launched 2009 by co-founders Susan Feldman and Alison Pincus. New sales daily; most last 72 hours; top brands, vintage and designer. Tastemaker tag sales (personal collections) plus clearance. Recent finds: overdyed green vintage handwoven Tabriz rug, $2,199 (69 percent off list $6,999); Kemp accent chair, Cerulean, by Kim Salmela, $899 (23 percent off $1,169). Nice style touch: "Why We Love This" commentary.

-- Viyet, launched in 2013 by Rachel Rodin and Louise Youngson-Klasfeld. Pronounced "VEE-yet," a play on the design term vignette; mission to inspire interior re-design. Online consignment shop features pre-owned designer furnishings with strong brand recognition. Average resale is $1,800, marked down from of an average retail price of $4,600. Join now offer of 10 percent off first order. Recent posts: Holly Hunt modern chaise lounge, retail $5,850, selling for $2,925; French 4-by-5-foot vintage 1950s wine poster, retail $4,000, selling for $1,200.

-- Wayfair, launched in 2002 by Niraj Shah and Steve Conine. An online destination for "a zillion things home." Family of merchants includes AllModern, Birch Lane, DwellStudio and Joss & Main. Free shipping on orders over $49 from furniture to flatware. Recent buys: Langford 92-inch sofa by Dwell Studio, $1,660, 20 percent off of suggested retail of $2,089; Renaissance gold five-piece place setting by Wedgewood, $93.99, 59 percent off $230 retail.

(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at chooker@amuniversal.com.)