Renowned Chicago collector and antique dealer Stuart Grannen emerges from retirement to revive his former Ravenswood antiques emporium, Architectural Artifacts Inc., starting a new chapter in a 35,000-square-foot, midcentury-style former school in River North. Here, Grannen fills us in on the new AAI, reveals the niche architectural finds Chicagoans can discover this season and explains how he decided AAI’s legacy was nowhere near complete. 1065 N. Orleans St.
The new AAI space in River North is a treasure trove of eclectic selects from near and far.
WHY IS NOW THE PERFECT TIME TO REINVENT ARCHITECTURAL ARTIFACTS?
The building became available after I had felt reinvigorated following my two and a half years of retirement, so it felt like the right time. I was itching to do something new, but I didn’t know what, and I felt the wisdom I had gained paired with my positive attitude would bring a newfound energy to the concept. COVID-19 had also put a hold on many consumer goods, but our wares are more readily available, so it helps support the supply chain and enables people to reinvent their homes and commercial spaces. Consumers have really gone beyond walking into a place and doing business; they are now looking for an experience. AAI offers an experience and an adventure.
HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THE LOCATION?
I sold the old Ravenswood building and was not really looking for another location, but [the school] came up. It just felt perfect in every way: the centralized location, the midcentury architecture, the quality of the building. There weren’t any other stores like this around the area. We truly hope to be a pioneer in the neighborhood. It gives us an opportunity, similar to in Ravenswood, to introduce a place that unites those from different walks of life and brings people together.
WHAT HAS THE RESPONSE BEEN SINCE OPENING THE NEW LOCATION?
The response has been absolutely crazy—in a good way. We’ve received a tremendous reply from old clients, friends and fans of AAI. It’s been amazing—we’ve seen new customers, younger customers and lots of positive responses from the neighborhood. From all the stories I’ve recently heard about how we’ve conducted business, it’s unlike anything else in Chicago. We even had a past client from California fly in recently just to see the new store.
WHAT ARE THE MOST UNIQUE ITEMS YOU’RE LOVING NOW?
We just got a big container in from Argentina; I was there all winter shopping for new pieces. We have seltzer bottles from the 1920s from various towns in Argentina, which are multicolor and priced for all to enjoy. We also received midcentury furniture from the 1970s from the famous Argentinian architect Federico Churba. There are also exceptional ancient maps from Europe and South America. We have quite a bit of Italian midcentury lighting, as well as upholstered couches and sofas. Additionally, something that just came out of the local warehouse after 20 years of sitting pretty are drawings from the Drehobl Art Glass Co., a Chicago stained glass company that originated in the 1800s and 1900s.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR ARCHITECTURAL ARTIFACTS?
The most exciting thing is that I’ve upped my level of buying. I feel like I’m coming into my own as a buyer who focuses on more design-driven, historically relevant artifacts. We’re also really considering the homebuyer by including a nice mix of architectural pieces with household furnishings, especially in the midcentury category. And we’re doing a lot more in the way of art, sculptures, furniture and accessories. I’m also looking forward to working with our talented new staff , many of whom have been in the antique business for years and have worked in auction houses throughout Chicago.
Along with the AAI store, guests can explore the indoor-outdoor, European-inspired all-day cafe; the speakeasy accessible via secret back alley entrance; the vintage gymnasium-turnedballroom; and the private spaces dubbed classrooms, which are outfi tted for private events and pop-ups.
Having been in the business for so long, my perspective has really shifted. I was away from it— the customers, stores and craziness of it all—for a while when I was off traveling and buying. Now, I’m excited to immerse myself back into the consumer world and foster that sense of community.