Thanks to the Vintage Bazaar, a pop-up market started by locals Katherine Raz and Libby Alexander, the Windy City is brimming with prime design finds.
In an age when finding the George Nelson Pretzel chair you’ve been pining after requires little more than a few directed clicks online, the art of antiquing-pawing through estate sales, garage sales, and thrift stores for that perfect diamond in the rough-has lost some of its luster. Chicagoans Katherine Raz and Libby Alexander established the Vintage Bazaar (TVB) in late 2009, and the pop-up flea market is a place where like-minded design aficionados can go to find chic and affordable decor in the flesh. The pair, who share a passion for well-preserved classics, have hosted TVB events in theaters, ballrooms, and storefronts around Chicago. They recently set up shop in a warehouse in the Pilsen neighborhood, where over 50 vendors came together to delight in the social thrill of the chase.
How did you meet?
Katherine Raz: I put a call out on my blog [backgarage.com] asking people to pony up their places for online home tours that highlighted decorating on the cheap. Libby got in touch with me, so I went over to her apartment and we immediately hit it off.
Why curate a live event?
KR: We had both just been to the [nationwide DIY marketplace] Renegade Craft Fair and thought there should be a flea market in Chicago with that same young, hip spirit but with vintage goods.
Libby Alexander: The live events are a way to create camaraderie and build community, because they’re not just for shopping — we have a DJ, great food, and beer. People get together, buy things, and make friends.
KR: We’re trying to redefine the antique market for a new audience, and because of that we like to keep prices affordable, though generally there’s a mix of high- and low-end items. People don’t come to examine items with a monocle and buy rare pieces. It’s not untouchable design.
Who is your ideal vendor?
KR: We’re looking for people who have a strong eye and their own aesthetic. When vendors do a good job at curating, their personality really comes across in what they show.
What kinds of products are offered at TVB?
KR: We’ve got everything from mid-century pieces to retro clothing with a modern vibe to kitschy oil paintings.
LA: Our more old-school vendors all have their own collectibles, and typically they’re small and a little more niche: Pyrex pieces, glass items, books.
You both have experience buying and selling. Is it ever tough to part with a great find?
LA: I went to an estate sale in my neighborhood once and found four Eames shell chairs that I bought for a dollar a piece. I loved them for about a year, then sold them on Craigslist for $85 each. And I’ve had that moment a million different times, but eventually you get over it.
KR: For a while, I was trying to bring back that whole curved corners, mauve, dusty rose, and teal motif. People are wearing clothes from the 1980s and ’90s now and I thought I was going to jump in front of that decor wave. In the end, I had to sell everything at a garage sale.
What’s your own home like?
KR: My place, like a lot of dealers’, is in constant chaos. There’s always an influx and outflux of great furniture. Everyone thinks you live in a dream house but it basically looks like you live in someone’s garage.
What’s next for TVB?
LA: Our plan is to do four shows a year in Chicago, and expand the TVB website to be more of a resource with vendor home pages, a Luxe on a Budget section, shopper profiles, home and office tours, and video tutorials teaching the basics about different products, from Cathrineholm to Knoll Tulip tables.
KR: Right now, we like creating opportunities for vendors to make money, for people to furnish their homes without spending a lot, and for different areas of the city to have an economic burst where maybe there wasn’t one before. We don’t really have a plot for world domination.
Go Find It!
The Vintage Bazaar
Next event: Storefront pop-ups planned for the holidays (check website for latest event news)
Specialty: Vintage oddments, wearables, decor, and furniture
Top Sellers: Danish modern serving trays; statement jewelry; chairs
Best Deals: Vintage bar cart for $40; sheepskin throws for $55
Coolest Find: Albini ottoman; windup “tweeting” taxidermy bird in a cage; vintage belt massager
Read up on more Vintage Bazaar picks from Libby and Katherine in our extended article.