Shannon Bowers, MILIEU’s Editor-at-Large, who has long loved antiques and works with them regularly in her own interior design projects, wanted to hear from one of the best sources in America, Old Plank Antiques, about the business. She spoke with Richard Buxbaum who owns this noted Chicago establishment along with his wife, Robin.
Running an antiques business is also about being interested in collecting. Tell us about the origins of Old Plank Antiques and your collecting passions.
Old Plank opened in the fall of 1992 on Ogden Avenue in suburban Westmont, Illinois. The inventory was pretty much whatever excess we had at home and what we could gather from friends and family. We actually began allowing antiques dealers to share our space, and as they would leave, we began to expand the inventory, by adding English and Irish scrubbed pine furnishings and accessories. As for my collecting habits, I started antiquing with my mother in the late 1950’s in upstate New York and I never lost interest.
Describe your Chicago locale and how you managed to acquire such a huge inventory.
Old Plank purchased the 34,000 square-foot former Emerson Electric factory on Springfield Avenue in Chicago about twelve-years ago. We divided the space into various departments—showroom, custom furniture fabrication, restoration, sanding, finishing, electrical (mostly for chandeliers), upholstery, and photography, We generally stock about two thousand items. Somehow, I seem to personally lean towards items from the 1600s and 1700s that have been completely untouched.
Tell us about the role of your team.
Our goal is to hire the very best artisans for each task, whether it means being able to duplicate eighteenth-century silver-leaf techniques or build a large country French dining table. Everything here is done “old school”. For instance, we still use horsehair and shredded coco in the upholstery department, and virtually all our new tables are crafted from reclaimed lumber. Several of the department heads have been here over twenty years.
What is trending now, both in your store and in the industry?
In our store, it has been our full-size sheep sculptures for which we are well known, our hand-made Louis XVI dining chairs, the antique French ebonized furniture, and French country dining tables, all of which all holding their own. Beyond our store, English oak is making a return. We’re happy, too, to see that magazines are now showing more antique furniture.
Let’s talk about operating your business during Covid. How are you adapting to these circumstances and what opportunities have you seized upon?
On March 21, we closed our doors and placed everyone on furlough. Sadly, within just two weeks, we lost one of our best to the virus. Gradually, we brought back one person at a time. Our upholstery department started fabricating “super-masks” that prevent water or any moisture from passing through. Fortunately, the antiques business has held steady and our having a website for over twenty-years has helped immensely.
Advice you might have for seasoned collectors? Young collectors?
Just buy what you really love and you’ll always find a place for it in your home.
For more information, please visit oldplank.com.
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INTERVIEW BY SHANNON BOWERS
Images courtesy of Old Plank Antiques