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.
What makes TVB unique?
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.
As a dealer, have you ever pursued any misguided trends?
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.