Friday, May 23, 2008

Stylemaker Q&A

I first wrote about Heidi Anderson’s unearthed, an “architectural and vintage finds” business, when it was housed in the top floor of Hue Gallery. When Hue’s owners decided to change it over Ma-Cha Teahouse, Anderson found herself looking for her own space and she found it: on University Avenue across from Lombardino’s. “I like the location I’m at because it’s within a neighborhood,” says Anderson. “It’s a little offbeat where I am so the rent is low, so I can also afford to be out looking for pieces. I also have this wonderful stoplight that I have a captive audience because there’s a high density of drive by traffic.” (photo, left: red and white metal gas station numbers)

A lot of storeowners I’ve talked to were doing something totally different before they decided to pursue their retail passion full-time. That sounds like the case with you.
I used to do marketing at the [Wisconsin] Union writing membership newsletters and promotional pieces. I’ve found it to be extremely valuable as I update my website and send out marketing pieces to my customers. There were a lot of business skills that collided with my passion for found objects as art for the home.
My interest [in unearthed] is just personal and it’s always been there in my own decorating but I started pursuing seriously five years ago. I took baby steps with the typical route; renting a booth at a mall to see how it feels. Then you see the reaction you get from the public and move forward with that.
I started noticing businesses like Scout in Chicago doing something similar. I wondered if Madison wasn’t right for this. I was always conscious of keeping the overhead low and then I could price accordingly and build my business over time, realizing that Madison didn’t offer anything like this. It seemed urban enough to support it.
I was at Hue [Gallery] for two years. Prior to that I had my own warehouse and prior to that, I was in antique malls. I also sell on websites like That helps me reach the coasts. It’s helped me sell to a New York architectural firm that’s renovating a Manhattan hotel.

Where do you go to find the items you sell?
I tend to concentrate on Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. I go to the small towns and look in the antique shops. What I look for is more edgy and urban than what some stores have.
There’s a great salvage shop in Dubuque, Iowa called Restoration Warehouse. I go to the Elkhorn fair in Elkhorn. I’m always looking.
I do have some people bring things to me now that they know what I’m looking for. (photo, left: industrial stool)

What businesses around town have your pieces?
Pasqual’s in Verona has several stained glass windows that they’ve used as dividers between customer areas and the kitchen. They also bought some decorative urns.
Ken [Monteleone] from Fromagination purchased quite a bit. He was looking for unique character pieces. He bought blue stools, maps, clocks that came from the state Capitol and seed sacks that represented farms in Wisconsin.
Another recent customer was Café Four in Mineral Point. They opened April 1; they make pizzas in a woodburning oven. The owner purchased quite a few things to decorate the space as well, such as tractor and farm implements like harrows and seed wheels. He also bought wooden foundry patterns, dental cabinets to use as serving stations and seed sacks to decorate the space. You know, they just become conversation pieces.

What are some of your most popular pieces?
People have reacted very well to some of the ceiling tins as wall hangings. They have a beautiful orange patina and they’re from an old schoolhouse. The color makes people feel good and there’s that history that can be shared.
People are fascinated by the stories behind everything that has an industrial nature or a utilitarian past, like the vases I have that are made out of vintage wallpaper rollers.
Right now I have a series of posters taken from the old Dick and Jane books and they’re full size. Everyone recognizes those. One person purchased them for a baby’s bedroom; one gentleman purchased it for his office.
When people come in and they recognize something they always want to share a story; like about the lab stools I have from a high school.

What are some unique items you’re carrying right now?
Seven old jewelers’ worktables (left). Each one has the original markings on it from when two jewelers worked side by side on the solid maple station. They have four drawers where the jewelers stored their jewels and tools overnight and they’ve got burn marks from the welding torches. They all have so much quality and character.
I tend to try and find things that I can display in multiples even though they’re unique. You create a sense of design rhythm when you have multiples.
I also have some wasp’s nests that are used as decorative art and hung from the ceiling. It’s a perfect example of art coming from nature that you can use in the home.

What is your artistic process when you refurbish something?
I’m attracted to things thing that have sculptural integrity; things that have character. I do tend to favor things that have an industrial past: farms, factories, schools, even. It’s not like I got out looking a specific item; the item usually presents itself.
Then it becomes a matter of, say, adding a piece of glass to make it a table or adding a mirror to an old Gothic window.

Do you work with interior designers at all?
Occasionally I work with interior designers. I would love for more of them to discover us as a viable option for design.

Obviously the “green” movement is hot. Using found objects for art sounds pretty green.
There was a woman in today that deals specifically in green design and we talked quite a I am crossing paths with other groups locally that have the same interest as recycled, reused, refurbished things.
Right now I’m showcasing the tiles from the Rennebohm’s on University and Randall. The Madison trust for Historic Preservation salvaged all of the prisms and are selling them as a benefit. People can buy them as a little piece of history.

I assume your home contains a lot of your pieces.
It does. It seems to be an incubator for pieces and they sit there a while, and then they move over to the shop. My kids always grew up with strange things in the living room.

How much time do you spend scouting for items?
It’s something of a seasonal issue because spring, summer and fall are much more active. It’s usually ten to fifteen hours a week; half the time I’m scouting, half the time I’m in the shop. That time might include finding a welder to make a stand so that those old floor grates can become pedestal tables. It’s a part of the business I do enjoy.

Do you work with a lot of local craftspeople?
I use a welder, upholsterer, carpenter/woodworker, and someone for metal refurbishing.
Recently I had to go to an auto body shop to find someone to help me restore a brass cabinet (below) from the state Capitol. They’re old fire hose cabinets and they’re gorgeous.

Any exciting future plans for the shop?
I'm teaming up with a talented local jeweler, Mary Jane Armstrong, to display her jewelry in the shop. She often uses recycled material in her work (

2501 U
niversity Ave. (across from Lombardino’s) 441-1993
Hours: Thurs, Fri, Sat 12–6; anytime by appointment

No comments: