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Searching for Signs

Peace, love, and Flea-Market Flips



Denise and Fred Evanko enjoyed their time filming with host Lara Spencer and the crew of HGTV’s “Flea Market Flip.”

Photo by Courtesy of HGTV

When you step inside the Evankos’ 1940s colonial-style home, you quickly get a sense that you have entered a special space. The interior is painted in soothing pastel colors and the décor is a cross between a shabby-chic tearoom and a calming beach retreat. “Very masculine house, isn’t it?” says Fred Evanko. “Good for watching football.” Fred may think that the home is a little too feminine, but the overall effect is a comfortable home where he and his wife Denise live with their teenage son Riley and their havanese pup Bentley. 

Meaningful pictures adorn the walls. An oyster shell collage, created by Denise, updates a traditional fireplace mantelpiece. Every inch, corner, and cornice of the Evanko family home feels cohesive. This isn’t such an easy feat when you realize that Denise has repurposed much of her décor from an eclectic mix of flea-market finds and tag-sale treasures. Fred and Denise’s skill at finding opportunity in objects that others might easily overlook along with their easy-going and gracious personalities are most likely a few of the reasons why they were chosen last spring as contestants for the HGTV program “Flea Market Flip.”

How’d this all come about? Fred does some acting on the side (in fact, he was cast as actor Scott Adsit’s attorney in Hollywood’s St. Vincent). In May 2014, Fred was with the family exploring the aisles at the Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market in New Milford when a casting call came through on his phone. “Denise was nervous to audition,” Fred says. “But we did anyway. I figured, why not?” Fred explains. “After a Skype audition, we were chosen for the show.”

The concept of the show is relatively simple: two teams are given $500 to purchase flea-market items and transform them into furniture or works of art for resale. Fred and Denise and the other team were given about an hour to scour through the bins, boxes, and odd collections of stalls at the Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market. They were tasked to take their finds and imaginatively repurpose them to create stylish décor. “We were laughing and joking with the crew and just had a lot of fun,” Denise says.

With the help of a few skilled HGTV handymen and women, the contestants worked in a warehouse to restore and repurpose items so they could sell them at the GreenFlea Market at 100 West 77 St. in Manhattan. The winners were the team that was able to make the most profit from resale. The prize was $5,000. The show first aired in June and will again in September. Check local listings for times. 

When seeking out treasures, Fred and Denise always look for ways to integrate a peace sign into the design because this symbol, as Denise explains, “has a special meaning to our family.” 

That ubiquitous sign from the 1970s is dear to the Evanko Family, and many members of the Fairfield community, because it became a symbol of Fred and Denise’s daughter, Grace Marie Evanko, also known as “Amazing Grace.” The ten-year-old died in 2013 from an inoperable brain tumor. 

If you have lived in Fairfield during the past few years, you may have recognized Grace’s peace signs worn on T-shirts by Girl Scout groups who march in the Memorial Day parade. The Fairfield University women’s lacrosse team also had a close relationship with Grace and now wear a purple peace sign patch with Grace’s initials on it as a part of their uniform. “Peace signs were just something that Grace always loved,” Denise says. “She was so strong, always smiling, skipping in the hospital. She knew all of the nurses. Fairfield has been so supportive. We love this town.”

Leslie Shannehan’s daughter Quinlyn was one of Grace’s best friends since preschool and at Osborn Hill Elementary School. “Even when she was little, all Grace would wear is peace signs. If you ask my daughter, What do you think of when you think of Grace? she says ‘peace signs’.”

With her creative eye, Denise was able to find an old wagon wheel and pay homage to Grace by crafting it into a charming peace sign lighted wall piece with a contemporary flair. The couple also purchased two 1950s rattan chairs and converted a dull, old dresser into a shabby-chic bench. 

In a dramatic ending, the Evankos won the competition by a mere $30 difference over the other team. They plan to use the money toward a family vacation. 


Fairfield County’s Lara Spencer is the popular host of HGTV’s “Flea Market Flip” as well as part of the regular gaggle on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The affable Spencer is also author of Flea Market Fabulous: Designing Gorgeous Rooms With Vintage Treausures.


AMAZING GRACE  Grateful for the support they received, the family continues to work with the Make-A-Wish foundation on local fundraising activities and  is holding the Grace Evanko Golf Classic at the Redding Country Club on 9/28. 

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