With a thirty-five-year legacy as one of the nation’s top destinations for globally sourced design and architectural statement pieces, Architectural Artifacts has made quite the comeback this summer. But this iteration is about more than the thrill of the hunt. Art, design objects, furniture, antiques and all sorts of artifacts meet at a former mid-century-style school building to bring design aficionados, locals and tourists together to shop, build memories and form a community—all while sipping an expertly mixed cocktail. Extending to multiple spaces including bars, restaurants and galleries, Architectural Artifacts is a magical place at the intersection of wander and wonder, as founder Stuart Grannen says. Known for his extensive collection of one-of-a-kind salvaged architectural pieces, relics, art and furniture, he hopes that a visitor will be transported to other parts of the world one piece of design at a time. “If people buy stuff, great,” he says. “But if they leave happy, content, and inspired by the design and inventory, even better.”
Tell us about the building, a former River North school, its history and the concept behind it: why is this the perfect space to house Architectural Artifacts?
The building was a 35,000-square-foot mid-century-style school that was operational up until about six years ago when they moved the school to a nearby neighborhood. We loved the idea of honoring the original bones of the structure while introducing new-yet-old architectural elements and antique finds.
We are also mimicking the education component in our products and the stories they tell—the class is still in session, so to speak. There is really nothing truly modern about this concept design-wise, as each space has a unique narrative and history, but the concept itself is meant to serve as an entirely new experiential design, f&b, events and entertainment space unlike anything in Chicago—or better yet, the world. This is an ideal central location—in the Near North Side neighborhood—that aims to bring locals and tourists from all walks of life together to build memories and form a community. People are not going to want to leave once they step foot into this space.
Can you talk about the connection between design and hospitality?
How much time do we have? Design is hospitality in that people are unable to access the full experience unless they are in a thoughtfully curated and designed space. Our goal is to evoke emotions, spark one’s creative spirit, inspire togetherness and hear the question every time someone enters the door, “I didn’t notice this here last time, is this new?” The coolest part about AAI is that since our design is also our inventory, whether you’re in the café, antique showroom, ballroom or outfitted classroom, all products are for sale, so the spaces will constantly evolve. This offers guests the opportunity to have a new experience with every visit. We also really considered a “day in the life” for this hub—we want someone to feel like they could spend their whole day at AAI, from grabbing a coffee at the cafe and sipping it on the patio, to picking up a pickleball game, to pursuing the antique showroom with our famous Detroit-inspired pizza in-hand, to attending a wedding in the ballroom that evening or hitting up our late-night speakeasy, which will be coming in the lower level this fall.
What was the most fascinating part about working amid a unique collection of art, design objects, furniture, antiques and all sorts of artifacts?
This has been my life and career for so long, I really don’t know anything else. For me, it is more about the joy of the hunt. At the end of the day, this is all just stuff, but stuff that can bring great joy to someone’s home, restaurant, office, etc. My hope is people are able to feel like they’re transported to other parts of the world when they venture through and can use the QR codes linked to each product to get into the origin and makeup of every item.
Do you have a personal favorite?
That is a tough one. Of course I love all the spaces, but the ballroom really has this incredible vibe to it—especially with the “MAGIC” lettering alongside the pickleball courts, with each letter standing over six feet tall. That installation took me over five times to convince the dealer in Italy, but I knew I had to have it. It also describes AAI in one word—it is a magic space. We kept the original green gymnasium ceilings intact and retrofitted padded walls to give an updated feel to the design. We envision many weddings, sporting leagues and unique events happening here. It’s a space you naturally gravitate to.
What are you most excited about moving forward?
I honestly can’t wait to see how people interpret this concept and we’re excited to offer a cool place for people to hang out, get some work done, host an event, experience a first date—there’s endless possibilities. If people buy stuff, great, but if they leave happy, content, and inspired by the design and inventory, even better.
Contact: email@example.com Website: www.rigouvasia.com