Rosalie Darden has always liked making something out of nothing.

"I always say I got into the business because my middle name was 'Make-do,'" said Darden, whose resale business has been a staple in Buffalo, Minn., for 13 years. "My mother was always telling us 'make do.' I always loved this kind of thing, but it was kind of looked down on in the '60s."

Things hadn't improved in the '70s, when Darden's pastor in Clinton, S.C., grimaced to find a chicken coop in Darden's front parlor, displaying her collectibles.

But her love of "the interesting" continues to pay dividends. Armed with a miter saw and a hand drill, she's renovating a 1953 rambler that overlooks Buffalo Lake, "the perfect house for one."

Darden hasn't spent a lot to pull together her look, opting instead for inexpensive decor that she's fashioned herself. It's a trove of functional pieces, from the free coffee table she rescued after it sat outside all winter to the fixture that hangs over her dining room table ("my heart stopped -- it was $13!").

Here, Darden shares her tips for decorating with flea market finds:

ºDetermine what you need

If you know what you're looking for, you can keep an eye out for possibilities whenever you attend a sale, an auction or a junkyard. "I wanted something over my kitchen window but not the traditional, boring curtain. One day I found a very wide heat-vent cover. I bought it for $6, brought it home and it fit exactly over my kitchen window."


Try to find an unusual item to fill a need. For example, a vintage silver fork works well as a curtain tieback. Secure it to the wall by putting a screw through the tines of the fork; then gently bend the handle back to form a "U." Trying something different makes a house interesting, Darden said. Among her other accessories: An old mailbox stores plastic bags in the kitchen, the wooden lid to an old sewing machine holds plants, a bicycle basket stores paperwork, a floor grate becomes a fireplace screen.


Darden collects fountain pens, leather coin purses, silver napkin rings, old tools, pocket watches, silver dollars and interesting spoons -- and displays the small objects in clear glass jars. "I like to collect things, but I like them in jars, so they're not spread out all over the house," she said. Old collectible apothecary jars are very expensive, Darden noted, but "discount stores sell new ones for about $12 and you can use them for all kinds of things." She also collects lids to chafing dishes, explaining, "I don't lead a silver life, but I like silver, especially old pieces."

º Follow your inspiration

If something inspires you, think about how you could apply that idea to your own decor. "Take something you see every day and use it to hide imperfections," Darden said. "I once saw a ceiling covered in egg cartons. It was beautiful, and it really inspired me." The result of this inspiration: To disguise the living room's stained and disintegrating plaster ceiling, carpenter Ted Thompson coffered the ceiling for her, using plywood and a lattice of 1-inch-deep, 3-inch-wide planks.


"I like to combine formal, such as old silver and Victorian black and white prints, with primitive, contemporary or even traditional furniture," Darden said. "I add in odd, unidentifiable objects. I love religious art, the statues, medals and pictures. The colors in the old religious prints are so deep and rich. Put things together so your house will reflect your personality."


Don't let an eclectic look overwhelm. Darden advises to keep some surfaces, such as countertops, a coffee table or your bedroom dresser, clear and clean. "It is restful to the eye. I always tell my dealers in my shop to think about texture, color and height when setting up their booths in the shop. The texture is to add some softness, the color to add some 'zip' and the height to add interest."


Be influenced by what is current and popular but take it to another level to personalize your home, Darden suggests. "Make your own path. That takes some courage," she said. Educate yourself by keeping a scrapbook of magazine pictures that you find appealing, she said, and eventually you'll see what it is that speaks to you.


They will work together despite their diversity, Darden said. "When I was young, everyone's house had a couch on one wall with a table on each side with matching lamps and an ugly Robert Wood painting over it," she said. "A landscape or an ocean scene with the waves rolling. Everyone had one. Who loved that?"

º Lemonade, always

"My reasoning in life is, really, if you get lemons, make lemonade. Yes, thermostats stick out from the wall and are ugly. What do you do with this? Make it look better!" Old drape brackets she couldn't remove from the living room wall became braces for a shelf.


If something appeals to you but you're not quite sure what to do with it now, hang onto it. "If I find an interesting piece of metal or wood I usually buy it, knowing that I will eventually find a use for it," Darden said. "It always works that way."

Kim Yeager • 612-673-4899