What to Know About Shopping Parma’s Legendary Antiques Market

Discover expert tips for navigating the Mercanteinfiera, the twice-yearly Italian fair of antiques and collectible design, which returns in March

Vendor booths at Mercanteinfiera in Parma, Italy.
Photo: Corutesy of Mercanteinfiera

Art and antiques up for sale at the massive Mercanteinfiera in Parma, Italy. Photo: Courtesy of Mercanteinfiera

One-of-a-kind objects make the perfect finishing details to any interior and experts looking to cultivate distinguished—and distinct—spaces know that sourcing treasures from auction houses, antiques stores, flea markets, and more are the ideal way to find that special piece to make a room sing.

Most designers know about shopping the Clignancourt in Paris and London’s Portobello Road and King’s Road, but one event being whispered as a must-visit is the Mercanteinfiera in Parma, Italy. This twice-yearly gathering of antiques dealers big and small next takes place March 2 through 10 (with VIP days happening February 29 and March 1 for those who apply early). Here, visitors can peruse massive warehouses of furniture, lighting, and decorative objets, as well as luxury handbags, watches, and jewelry. Plus, many sellers have additional merchandise still on their trucks parked outside and some buyers may be lucky enough for a private look.

Vendors at the Mercanteinfiera in Parma, Italy display a wide selection of furniture, lighting, case goods, and decorative accents. Photo: Corutesy of Mercanteinfiera

Don't overlook the outdoor lots where many vendors have pieces not-yet moved into their Mercanteinfiera booths. Photo: Courtesy of Bella Mancini

The expansive fair can be at times overwhelming to navigate and bringing back large-scale pieces takes advance planning. “Ideally we would need a month’s notice for us to reserve space on one of our vehicles and to organize the logistics necessary to ensure the smooth running of the fair,” says Stuart Mardon of Hedley’s Group, a global transport organization specializing in art and antiques. “If buyers have specific projects they are shopping for, a heads-up of the type of goods being sourced is always apprecaited so that we are prepared in terms of special packing requirements.”

While the actual location is several miles from any hotel, the Grand Hotel De La Ville is a cozy spot where many designers will run into plenty of familiar faces. It’s also within walking distance of some of Parma’s most alluring attractions, like the Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi and Parma Duomo or decadent restaurants, such as the Michelin-starred Meltemi and Osteria del 36. Additionally, those who’ve had their daily fill of antiques should make a special trip to the Fidenza Village outlets just a short car ride away for Loro Piana, Valentino, Frette, and more.

Here, industry experts who have previously attended share their best advice for navigating the shopping extravaganza. 

Elizabeth Neel’s Feelers for Friends (2020) sets the stage in the dining room Josh Greene designed for art adviser Margot Bram. Photo: Tim Lenz

Josh Greene. Photo: Weston Wells

Josh Greene

There were treasures in every category: mirrors, lighting, seating, upholstery, case goods, and smalls. I didn’t buy anything on the first day, I was just letting my eye adjust, but then I also lost a few things I went back to buy on the second day because I waited.

What I bought: My big score was an oversized plaster rococo mirror in a bright green finish with gold sunflower accents. My client and I had been looking for a mirror to go above fireplace in the living room and he had a hunch that I’d find it while shopping in Parma. He was right! I FaceTimed him from the fair and while this was nothing like we had imagine for that location, we pulled the trigger. The mirror made the trip. I also found other small and unique things like these art deco wall hooks and ceramics.

I wish I had known: You really need to have a shipper organized before the event. You walk around with stickers that have your name and the name of the shipper you’re working with and you leave them on items that you purchase. These can be printed ahead of time so you don’t have to fill them out every time you want to purchase something. Also, I think the fair is really useful if you’re at the beginning of the project or have flexibility in what you’re looking for. I went with a pretty concise shopping list for an upcoming installation and I kept seeing things I loved but didn’t need.

Best advice: Reach out to designer friends to see if they are going because if you use the same shipper, you can share container costs. Also, set some parameters with your client that allows you flexibility to purchase without approval on items under a certain amount. If you want to just purchase to keep in inventory, even better. The interesting things sell fairly quickly so there isn’t a ton of time to discuss.

Dining room designed by Kim Scodro. Photo: Courtesy of Kim Scodro

Kim Scodro. Photo: Courtesy of Kim Scodro

Kim Scodro

The fair was amazing, with so many gorgeous things and as a bonus the food was delicious. The antique frames were endless and of such high quality. I also enjoyed seeing the vintage textiles and gorgeous art. The lighting selection is much more unique than what you would find at Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen in Paris.

What I bought: I did purchase an 18th-century frame that I used on a piece of Francine Turk’s artwork. The juxtaposition of the antique frame and modern art is beautiful.

I wish I had known: It would have been nice to know how large this fair is. It’s enormous, with everything from vintage fabrics to fine watches, so one day was not enough.

Best advice: It’s best to have a game plan and a shopping list before you head to the fair. Having a freight company set up ahead of time would be helpful if you are shipping large items. Also, plan on having lunch there—they have great Parma ham sandwiches.

Dining room by Ellen Hamilton. Photo: Courtesy of Ellen Hamilton

Ellen Hamilton. Photo: Courtesy of Ellen Hamilton

Ellen Hamilton

Above all I liked the wide range of things to buy—from vintage Parma ham meat slicers to gazebos ready to be shipped and installed—as well as the remarkable fact that they span hundreds of years, from Florentine 16th-century painted cabinets to 1970s glass furniture in every imaginable color.

What I bought: I bought a French garden table with amazing patina (yes, I went to Parma to buy French). I also bought a pair of rush and oak petite fireplace chairs… for a fireplace I have yet to build.

I wish I had known: For me, the volume and the variety of items to see was at first very overwhelming. I really needed one full day of just orienting myself and having an overview before establishing what was the priority for me to shop for. I think it is important to do this fair more than once to take full advantage of what Parma has to offer.

Best advice: Be prepared to see so much from so many different periods that it’s best to have an idea of what you are looking for. For example, focus on lighting, painted furniture, or outdoor furniture, otherwise the choice is so enormous that you may not feel you are as productive as you are used to being in other markets.

Living room of an Upper East Side apartment designed by Bella Mancini. Photo: Peter Murdock

Sheila Bridges, Ellen Hamilton, and Bella Mancini in Parma. Photo: Courtesy of Bella Mancini

Bella Mancini

The volume of goods alone was absolutely mind blowing. I loved everything from furniture to clothes and the jewelry was to die for.

What I bought: We bought, quite literally, a “lot” of lamps—42 midcentury Scandinavian pottery lamps, to be exact.  We also bought a set of beautiful dining chairs, a pair of Henning Kjaernulf Razor Blade lounge chairs, more lamps, candle holders, and other great pottery and finishing-touch accessories too.

I wish I had known: I wish I had come with a better understanding of how the shipping worked and had set it up prior.  There was a bit of a learning curve to it, but nothing too crazy.

Best advice: Set up your shipping partner before you arrive, have cash, and wear sneakers!

Style  +  Design

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Interior by Thomas Preston Interiors. Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Preston Interiors

Thomas Preston Interiors

My favorite thing about Parma was just the sheer quantity of very high-quality pieces from antiques to post modernism. There was such a large concentrated array of goods from Europe’s best dealers all in these large hanger building and it was all so well organized with certain buildings for specific categories. I was able to peruse copious choices of pieces for both my interior design clients, as well as stock for resale in my shop. My groaning suitcases attested to this on my return flight!

What I bought: I purchased lots of small tabletop pieces, some small furniture items which I was able to break down and fit in suitcases, and some vintage lighting which I brought on the plane as carry-on.

I wish I had known: Next time I will allocate more funds for purchases.  Additionally, I would like to buy more furniture that will need to be shipped back in containers.

Best advice: Allocate a budget, wear comfortable shoes, and start doing research on navigating how to work with freight companies to ship furniture back. I’m still trying to get a handle on this myself, but found people to be extremely helpful at the fair.

Cover: Vendor booths at Mercanteinfiera in Parma, Italy.
Photo: Corutesy of Mercanteinfiera


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