Small-town Wisconsin is rife with antique emporiums hawking everything from ancient tractors to faux Tiffany fixtures, from authentic heirlooms to funky kitsch. The state has a regional reputation as a collectors’ paradise.
Columbus Antique Mall, located between Beaver Dam and Madison, is the state’s largest, with roughly 222 dealers occupying 82,000 square feet. But antique malls and shops of all sizes are tucked away in unexpected places throughout the Badger State.
Two stores in Appleton stand out both for the vastness of their selections and the restoration skills of their staff. In the hands of experts, something old really can become new.
Urban Evolutions, which recently moved from Menasha to 2401 W. College Ave., Appleton, traces it roots back to a personal tragedy suffered by owners Jeff and Robin Janson. After fire nearly destroyed the couple’s 1890s Wisconsin farmhouse some 20 years ago, they began looking for materials to restore the property in a way that would maintain its historical integrity. They eventually found themselves with enough leftover doors, moldings and tin ceilings to help area business owners rehab their properties to accurately reflect their historic origins.
The architectural salvage continued as the couple and a growing staff mined the countryside for seasoned wood from tumbledown barns, salvaged materials from abandoned factories and other historic architectural flotsam. The quality and variety of their materials became well known nationally as well as locally, and the business flourished.
Over time, the Jansons turned to craftspeople to repurpose their scavenged materials into useful household objects and décor. Urban Evolutions began selling its materials and wares through upscale merchandisers such as Anthropologie, L.L. Bean, Urban Outfitters and others, marketing their repurposed products under the tagline, “Made in America. Again.”
“Isn’t that beautiful?” asks Joseph Amann, general manager for Urban Evolutions’ Appleton outlet store, located in a recently acquired former lumberyard.
A portion of the store’s flooring is made of Kentucky oak horse fencing that’s been laid in a chevron pattern. Other recovered woods are used as flooring in the 8,000-square-foot showroom, which is part of a 35,000-square-foot retail and manufacturing facility. The showroom features numerous décor novelties, including popular wall units and media centers crafted from repurposed barn wood. Also on display are colorful wall treatments made of reclaimed gymnasium flooring, large bedroom sets made of barn wood and wall hangings composed of replaned tin ceiling medallions.
As an outlet, the store offers many products at considerable discounts. A four-part shelving unit, any two units of which can be covered by a sliding “barn door” made of repurposed barn wood, sells for $3,750 – significantly less than the $4,495 retail price.
“Customers often bring U-hauls from Chicago, Minneapolis and points in between to cart their purchases away, because the savings make the effort worthwhile,” Amann says. “But they should call ahead to make sure we have what they want before making the trip.”
For collectors who like furniture and accessories restored to their original luster, a trip to Harp Gallery, 2495 Northern Road, is in order. Founded in 1985 by Ken and Rebecca Melchert, the 20,000-square-foot showroom stocks meticulously restored furniture and household accessories from a variety of periods.
Harp Gallery adds many new items to its inventory each day, according to the store’s website. An estimated 75–80 percent of the gallery’s business is conducted over the Internet.
The store arranges for delivery across the United States and makes direct deliveries to customers in the state, as well as to Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Louis.
The gallery’s crowded aisles wind through a veritable treasure trove of antiques, including a recently acquired collection of classic opera glasses inlaid with mother-of-pearl and a rotating-drum butter churn.
The store’s current collection features more than 40 Art Deco pieces. A black-and-white marble Art Deco bar, created in 1925 by Pierre Vignal and Raymond Bodver ($4,850) stands near a 1930 Art Deco oak-and-maple medicine cabinet ($295).
Among the store’s grandest items is a 1915 mahogany bedroom set with bas-relief bronze cherub accents. The queen-size bed, with an ornately carved headboard and footboard, is priced at $12,750. Also included in the set are a 10-foot triple armoire ($4,975) and a black marble-topped dresser ($3,995). Twin frosted-globe light fixtures illuminate the three pieces.
Harp Gallery illustrates each piece on www.harpgallery.com with up to 30 images shot from different angles by the store’s in-house photographer.
Although both Urban Evolutions and Harp Gallery have reasonably priced items, the stores are not for the faint-of-wallet. If you’re on a budget, head over to the Fox River Antique Mall, 1074 S. Van Dyke Road.
With more than 165 dealers and 30,000 square feet, the mall offers selections from World War II relics to old beer cans. Books, long-playing records, old toys, cast-off clothes and logoed glassware abound. Hankering for the Flintstone jelly jar drinking glasses of your youth? If you could find them anywhere, it would be at Fox River Valley Antique Mall.
This season’s specialty seems to be old fashioned gas cans — the rustier the better — with jack-o-lantern faces cut into their sides. Call it seasonal repurposing.