Inside 'Found, Free & Flea' by Tereasa Surratt

When it comes to design and decorating, most of us rely on a haphazard sense of budget and taste. Tereasa Surratt relies instead on a philosophy she calls “found, free, and flea”—the art of using objects that have been left behind. It’s a principle she adopted before she met her husband, David; before he dragged her up to a beloved, but forgotten, Wisconsin camp he had attended as a child; before he announced he wanted to buy that rugged property, a onetime speakeasy known as Wandawega Lake Resort. “The camp brought back memories of the movie Grey Gardens,” says Surratt, a creative director and partner in the Chicago office of Ogilvy. “It was crazy.”

'Found, Free & Flea' by Tereasa Surratt

But impossible? No. “I wasn’t scared,” Surratt says of the decision to resurrect 25 acres of buildings and bedrooms. Using $150 or less per room and her well-honed scavenger’s philosophy, she hunted for items and ideas in the camp’s basements and crawlspaces. She saved anything handmade—oven mitts, hot pads, aprons—and jettisoned the idea of finding one proverbial diamond in the rough, choosing instead to focus on ordinary items that existed in multiples. The real value was in “curating collections out of pieces that had a history,” Surratt says. A 1950s photo of a birthday party sent her hunting for the camp’s old pie stands. A well-worn pocketknife seemed unremarkable until she put it in a dish with several others. She assembled eye-popping vignettes out of wooden oars, mismatched teacups, canvas life jackets, vintage raincoats, wellies, hurricane lanterns, fruit jars—anything that put her into an entirely different mindset from the current day.

Initially a labor of marital love, Surratt’s efforts have ultimately yielded a popular Chicago artists’ retreat and budding vacation spot (to book a stay, visit but read the no-frills manifesto first). The transformation has also inspired a new book, appropriately named Found, Free & Flea (Clarkson Potter, $32.50), that will in particular delight fans of cottage style. In it, Surratt shares photos from Wandawega’s history, divulges tips and tricks for stylish thriftiness, suggests ways to handsomely display whimsical collections of found objects, and lists her favorite flea markets across the United States. She shows readers how to approach a grandparent’s attic or a condemned country barn with a collector’s eye and proves that seemingly ordinary items can be repurposed for full effect. “An old oar can become a coat rack. A chicken feeder can turn into a display for a vintage coffee mugs,” she offers. “It’s not about the object itself. It’s about how you pull it off and how you put things together.” Her sagest advice? “Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Rough it a little bit.”


1. Wolff’s Flea Market Sundays at 6920 N. Mannheim Rd., Rosemont;

2. Salvation Army 506 N. Desplaines St.; 312-738-4360

3. An occasional pop-up market of multiple vendors

4. Stop! Look! Oddments 1305 N. Western Ave.;


Photography: Anna Knott