Stuart Grannen has spent more than 30 years salvaging and buying collectibles and antiques from all around the world—think mantelpieces from French châteaux, vintage theater marquees, Prairie School stained-glass windows, and hand molds from a rubber glove factory. Locals and out-of-towners were known to wander his sprawling Chicago shop, Architectural Artifacts, for hours, so when Grannen closed the business in 2018, fans of design, history, and aimless afternoons lost their favorite diversion.
Now Grannen is back with a second iteration, Architectural Artifacts, Inc., located in a 35,000-square-foot former Catholic grade school in the Near North Side neighborhood. The updated concept is much more than an antiques store; it’s one of the city’s most stimulating spaces. Yes, purchasable found furnishings adorn the former classrooms and offices, but there’s also a café (helmed by chef Andrew Holladay of the beloved Lula Café) where remote workers can nosh on grain bowls while typing away on their laptops. Cocktail service is set to debut soon as well, so meanderers can enjoy date-night drinks while admiring vintage amphora s and wooden propellers (or while tucked away in a downstairs speakeasy bar). The school’s former gym even functions as an event center, hosting everything from pickle-ball leagues to weddings. Collectively, the multitasking attraction reinvents retail as an entertainment and dining experience in which everything—the avocado toast on your plate, the martini in your hand, the mid-century chair you’re sitting on, the 1970s Florentine plaster nude centerpiece on the table in front of you—is for sale. “
With the new AAI, we’re catering to both buyers and those who want a place to spend their day,” says Grannen. “Whether you just need a spot to drink coffee and work, play some pickleball with a friend, or you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind piece for your home, we have it all.”
QR codes next to some of the stand-out pieces link to stories about how and where Grannen acquired them. Curious about that mint-condition 1966 Fiat? Turns out Grannen bought it in Italy, intending to drive it on buying trips there, but ended up shipping it back to Chicago with only 10,000 miles on the odometer.
“We are mimicking the education component in our products and the stories they tell,” says Robert Baum, who, with his wife Debra, runs Bedderman Hospitality, a partner in the project. “The class is still in session, so to speak.”
For his part, Grannen is just happy to share all these marvels with the masses after four years of being closed. “If people buy stuff, great,” he says, “but if they leave happy, content, and inspired by the design and inventory, even better.”