Utah Bound

Originally published in 

At his shop in Salt Lake City, collector Ron Green supplies locals with a welcome, and well-priced, dose of modern design.

Green Ant storeowner Ron Green
Ron Green’s affable personality (and that of his store guard, bulldog Hana), along with his immense knowledge of furniture, keeps the regulars coming back to his 2,800-square-foot shop, the Green Ant. Image courtesy of 2012 Brent J Rowland.

Despite its geographical separation from mid-century hotbeds such as Chicago and Southern California, Salt Lake City has long been connected to modernism in the United States. After working closely with Frank Lloyd Wright as a draftsman, architect Taylor Woolley brought the Prairie style back to his native Utah in 1917. In 1952, John Sugden, who studied under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Ludwig Hilberseimer at the Illinois Institute of Technology, started his firm in Salt Lake City—bringing with him a modern new aesthetic that influenced local architects and homeowners for years to come.

Green Ant Store in Salt Lake City, Utah
Green used to have to hunt for furniture, but now the deals come to him. People are constantly dropping in to see if he is interested in buying a piece that they discovered in their grandparents’ basement or at a garage sale. Image courtesy of 2012 Brent J Rowland.
As the movement gained a foothold in Utah, residents busily filled their homes with furniture to match. Years later, as the furniture faded in popularity, Ron Green frantically bought up as much of it as he could, reselling it to locals who shared his appreciation for mid-century design. That was nearly 15 years ago. Today at his shop, the Green Ant, Green continues to “try to keep stuff circulating in Salt Lake as much as possible. I’ve had the exact same piece come through my door four times, sold and bought and resold. It’s all about spending locally, keeping our little economy going.” That also means Green sells his finds for far less than do shops in bigger cities. “I try to match furniture prices to the cost of living here. I look at prices in L.A. and I just laugh.”

You founded the Green Ant shop 14 years ago, long before modern made a comeback. Why?

When I was in college, I bought and sold used furniture to supplement my little income. After I completed my degree in film, I spent five months without work. I thought to myself, What do I love more than anything in life? I had $500 in my pocket and spent the next couple months buying vintage furniture and filling up a small retail space. I didn’t even know the term “mid-century modern” back then, but I loved the lines and the look. It was only later that I learned about the designers.

Mid-century furniture at the Green Ant store
His recent scores include a reissued George Nelson Swag Leg Chair and a coffee table designed by John Keal for Brown Saltman. Image courtesy of 2012 Brent J Rowland.
What’s great about used furniture?

I love when furniture has a story to tell. My favorite question to ask people selling me furniture is “How did this get to Utah?” One of the LCWs I have in my house came from a woman who bought it in a small Utah town called Parowan in the ’50s. She knew nothing about Eames or modern furniture, but she was short and small and liked the way it fit her. She paid $56 for it, which she said was more than she had ever spent on a chair.

What is your favorite piece in the shop right now?

The coolest is probably the Warren Platner coffee table with four matching chairs [$5,000], mostly because I don’t see a full set very often. I have the table at home, and if I had room, I’d keep the chairs. I think they are phenomenal, especially the evenness of the spacing on the wires. They are so intricate, they look like a CAD drawing.

Can you share some furniture-shopping advice?

First, don’t be in a hurry—wait for the right piece. Second, when you see the right piece, buy it. If you hem and haw, it will be gone. Third, buy what you love, not what’s popular. Get what speaks to you.

Ox Chair by Hans Wegner at the Green Ant store
He’s also found rosewood Milo Baughman tables and an Ox Chair designed by Hans Wegner. Image courtesy of 2012 Brent J Rowland.
Do you have a favorite designer?

There are two who are equal in my mind: Jean Prouvé and Poul Kjærholm. I couldn’t say who I like better; they both trigger my brain differently. Prouvé was a very industrial designer, a workingman’s designer, and his pieces are about function. The way that Kjærholm blends metal and leather is brilliant. On his PK22 chair, he makes metal look so elegant and thin, it nearly disappears. The proportions and scale are so right on.

Where do you see the Green Ant in 10 years?

Honestly, not much will change. People are always asking when I’m going to open another store. I’m not. The simpler I can keep the business, the better it is for me. I like my lifestyle, and I don’t want to make it more complicated than it is now. I’m not business oriented, I’m happiness oriented.

Go Find It

179 E. Broadway
Salt Lake City, UT 84111

WHO Ron Green
SPECIALTY Vintage furniture from the ’50s through ’70s, but “no kitsch,” says Green. Top Sellers Rosewood Eames Lounge Chairs ($3,500–$4,000) and LCW Chairs ($700–$900).
BEST DEAL Newly restored leather-covered Florence Knoll Parallel Bar chairs ($2,900 for two: “Ridiculously cheap,” says Green).
COOLEST FIND A Milo Baughman sectional with matching rosewood coffee table, scored from the Salvation Army for $150 (it’s at Green’s house, and not for sale).

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