Finding the Gems : Hidden in Resale Furniture ShopsMar 26, 2015 ● By Megy Karydes
Photo Courtesy of Scott Thompson Photography
It’s nice to have unique things that have a story to tell and are special to us,” says Chicago homeowner Kate Meints, who was tasked with the responsibility of sourcing period lighting, doors, hardware, mantels and furniture to create a cohesive look in her 1870s home in Chicago. Instead of hitting up furniture and accessory stores, Meints and her husband went hunting at Chicago’s Salvage One (SalvageOne.com), Architectural Artifacts (ArchitecturalArtifacts.com) and the Sunday at Sandwich Antique Shows (SundayAtSandwichAntiques.com). For specific items they couldn’t locate easily, they checked out websites like Craigslist and eBay.
Meints loved the experience of frequenting shops and markets to find things that she knew they needed to complete their home, as well as to discover unexpected finds that fit into the scheme of the house. “We have both always been antique buffs, which is probably why we have a vintage home, and love having things that have a history.”
“If you are a person who enjoys discovery and looking at items with a storied past, we are your spot,” says Dorothy Coyle, co-owner of Coyle & Herr (CoyleAndHerr.com), in Chicago, a furniture and home accessory consignment warehouse. Fittingly, even the warehouse has a story: it’s an adaptive reuse of former automotive shop. During the day, the spacious and industrial studio, painted white for showcasing their eclectic inventory, doubles as a photo studio for the purposes of posting to their e-commerce space (ShopCoyleAndHerr.com). At night, it’s used as an event space.
“Our space is lively and dynamic—it will look different each time you visit,” adds Coyle.
Customers come to Coyle & Herr primarily for dining tables and sofas, but after they visit, they’ll notice a wide range of art, lighting and accessories. Another specialty is consigned items with good bones and/or frames. “To refinish or reupholster a piece, be it a sofa, armchair, dresser or dining table, is to triple the satisfaction quotient of buying furniture,” says Herr. “The piece can sing to you three times—at discovery, through the process of material and finish selection and throughout its use.”
Couture Versus Retail Helps the Environment
Among Meints’ finds were chandeliers from Chicago’s Morton (Salt) family home, which she says is an honor to have and use, rather than let them end up in a landfill. “It’s so satisfying to have things that are recycled as opposed to something you would see in a catalog,” she adds. “Couture versus retail, so to speak.”
While some people appreciate the history and story behind a product, many are also interested in saving money and diverting a piece of furniture or wooden cabinetry that would end up in a landfill. To meet the growing demand of this consumer, shops like Coyle & Herr and recently opened ReStore (WindyCityHabitat.org/restore.html), a nonprofit storefront that sells new and gently used home improvement and building materials that benefit Windy City Habitat for Humanity, joining the ranks of Rebuilding Exchange (RebuildingExchange.org), Architectural Artifacts, Salvage One and Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse (EvanstonRebuildingWarehouse.org), among others throughout the city and suburbs.
By shopping ReStore’s 29,000-square-foot retail space, one accomplishes three things, says Deanna Davies, ReStore Chicago’s director: provide funds for Habitat’s local home construction program; find quality and affordable materials to fix up their homes; and shop sustainably, because home improvement materials donated to ReStore are diverted from landfills.
In the few months since ReStore has been open, Davies estimates the shop has helped keep 50 tons of materials from landfills. Another ReStore shop in Elgin has diverted more than 5,500 tons of material since it opened in April 2006.
ReBuilding Exchange, another retail space that offers the public and contractors access to reclaimed building materials, estimates it has diverted 9,200 tons of building materials from the landfill since its inception in 2009.
Uncovering the Unique
While helping the environment is a key motivator for many people that shop at retail storefronts that sell used furniture and building materials, the thrill of discovering something unique is just as powerful a draw. It’s not impossible to finding something very specific, but sometimes it’s hard to find an exact match, like a stuffed beaver a customer recently asked for at Coyle and Herr. “Unfortunately, we only had deer and caribou taxidermy at the time of that request,” says Mary Beth Herr, co-owner of Coyle & Herr.
Coming with an open mind and being flexible offers its own rewards, adds Coyle. “You may have one thing in mind, however, you may find another iteration of good quality and uniqueness or you might find a piece to fill another spot in your home or business.” Recently, Coyle had in stock a six-foot tall silver bird—a crane, “an absolute must for any home!”
Davies reminds customers that while many items are used and unique, like a faux fur-covered desk lamp she had in the shop recently, many things arrive new, like a steam shower. Among the most unusual requests a customer had was for two matching dishwashers. “She wanted have one for clean dishes and one for dirty, and use the dishes out of the clean one and load the dirty one; then switch and repeat and never have to put away dishes again,” explains Davies.
Regardless of the reason—eco-friendly option, cost savings or finding something unique—Coyle and Davies believe that it’s entirely possible to outfit an entire house using items found at their locations. In fact, television set decorators for shows such as Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Empire find the breadth of their inventory so vast and unique that they and consider it one-stop shopping that satisfies both their schedule and budget, says Coyle.
Davies reminds customers that while they have everything a big box retailer would have, because everything is donated, the inventory does change regularly. It may take a little longer to complete a project if someone is using only materials from ReStore, but, she adds, for many people, that is what makes it fun.
When shopping one-of-a-kind items, there is an urgency for many people to buy something that they find works for a project on the day of their visit. “One key piece of advice is to shop with a copy of room dimensions and the wish list, as items can sell quickly,” advises Davies. “Since all the items are donated, they are one-of-a-kind and they move through ReStore quickly. There are many stories of people who hesitated and who regretted that decision.”
The Bottom Line
Meints recommends that people seriously consider visiting used furniture and accessory shops whenever possible, not only because of the stories behind the products and the fact that they’re helping to divert garbage from the landfills, but for the cost savings, as well. “For us, it was completely less expensive to get used items versus reproductions,” she shares. “I would estimate at least half price, if not better.”
Megy Karydes has been on a mission to organize her children’s rooms for 10 years. This is the year it’ll happen, and she’s planning to use all used building materials. Find her on Twitter @megy and let her know if you have any tips!