Antiquing in Southeast Michigan
By Jeanine Matlow
Technology may bring convenience to our homes, but pieces from the past add character. For those looking to do some antique shopping in Southeast Michigan, here are a handful of local sources to get you started on your quest.
Mixing it up
Though Judy Frankel attracts a steady stream of interior designers to her shop, she wants everyone to enjoy perusing her wares at Judy Frankel Antiques in Troy, MI. “It’s very important to me that people come in and have a fun and interesting experience,” she says.
The shop’s well-curated selection is evident, with decorative antiques from the 18th century through mid-century modern, primarily from France, Belgium, Holland and Italy. Mirrors and lighting are the most popular categories, Frankel says.
Skeptics might be surprised by what they find.
“Some people think of antiques as old-time grandma stuff, but a lot of pieces are modern looking, like a Josef Hoffmann settee from the early 1900s,” says Frankel, who keeps an eye out for customer inquiries on her buying trips to Europe.
“I always go on shopping trips with a wish list. I can find anything eventually.”
Part of the appeal for the end-user is repurposing purchases in unique ways, like mounting architectural pieces on a wall and blending various eras. Frankel’s vignettes give visitors a feel for how well pieces from different periods can work together.
“I wish people who think they don’t like antiques would take a look. It’s much more fun to mix old with new.”
She also has some words of wisdom for beginners: “You simply need to look. Go and shop. See what appeals to you and go for it.” 248-649-4399, judyfrankelantiques.com
Upscale and unique
Not everyone falls into the do-it-yourself category. Luckily, Materials Unlimited in Ypsilanti, MI, offers a large selection of restored and rewired antique lighting that’s ready to install. “That sets us apart from most salvage places,” says Scotty James, general manager.
The store, which has been around since 1974, is an impressive 15,000-square-foot destination with a reputation for upscale antique furniture, stained glass windows and salvaged mantels, trim, doors and more. Most of the inventory is from the late 1800s to the 1930s.
A knowledgeable staff often consults with customers who are working on large-scale projects in one of two scenarios; those wanting to restore an old home to its original state or those who are attempting to age a new-build for more warmth and character. Either way, inquiries are encouraged.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” says James.
Each item is marked with a detailed card that lists its circa, or approximate date, origin and price.
“It’s easy to comparison shop online to see that we’re competitively priced,” James says.
Lighting is Materials Unlimited’s largest category, primarily made up of ceiling fixtures from the Colonial Revival period and Tudor pieces. Furniture includes sizable dining room sets that can accommodate larger families. Individual items prove that your entire home doesn’t have to pay homage to another era to make a statement. Sometimes a few conversation pieces are all you need to resonate in a room, like bridge lamps from the 1920s, a current top-seller, according to James.
As he explains, recent advances in technology have an impact on the need for specific historic pieces, like the increasing demand for roll-top desks due to laptops. On the flip side, sturdy wardrobes that once concealed bulky TVs are no longer popular. The same can be said for tall mantels with built-in mirrors. Instead, James says, customers now prefer a half-mantel with a shelf and legs, leaving enough room to install a TV on the wall above.
Smartphones have become a visual aid for those in search of that precise antique or vintage piece.
“Someone might say, ‘I’ve got something I need to have fixed. Here is the picture.’ or ‘I need to replace my doorknobs, let me show you what they look like,’” James says.
Materials Unlimited is considered a high-tech business model for an antiques store because its online gallery serves as a catalog for current inventory. Whether viewing photos on the website or browsing in person, “Enjoy yourself, have fun, take your time and take it all in,” James says.
A little bit of everything
Many fans are already aware that Fred’s Unique Furniture and Antiques in Warren, MI, and Fred’s Unique Furniture in Detroit have a little bit of everything when it comes to antiques, contemporary, retro and modern pieces.
“We specialize in unique and interesting furniture items and accent pieces that are difficult to find anywhere else,” says the owner, Fred Beghdadi. “My advice to everyone is to never buy anything new except your toothbrush and other personal items. Use your imagination and be open-minded and you’ll find beautiful furniture pieces of the highest quality for a fraction of the price of new.”
Because Fred’s Unique Furniture has become the largest furniture liquidator in the Midwest, on any given day you can find a broad range of residential furniture, accent pieces, hotel liquidation furniture and office furniture. Vintage, retro and Art Deco styles are experiencing a real comeback, Beghdadi says. Though affordable prices may be one of the draws, he believes the reason he’s been in business for nearly 35 years is the ever-changing inventory of unique pieces and the friendly service.
In addition to residential customers in search of something special, Beghdadi says the stores attract interior designers, set directors and production people from film and theater. Real-time inventory is available online. Up next: a 20,000-square-foot showroom warehouse next to the Warren location that is near completion. 586-776-7100, fredsfurniture.com
Continuing the tradition
In a historic building in Ann Arbor, MI, you’ll find Treasure Mart, a consignment store that lives up to its name. The shop specializes in antique and vintage pieces. Owner Elaine Johns says mid-century is the hot ticket right now along with teak furniture and anything with clean lines. The shop also sells a lot of vintage jewelry Johns believes that amassing antiques seems to be losing its luster among the younger set.
“Young kids are not collecting. They don’t care about antiques. They like new furniture because it looks good,” says Johns.
She likes to point out the fine craftsmanship found in antique and vintage furniture, encouraging shoppers to open a drawer to experience the quality construction firsthand.
Though Treasure Mart has had a huge following for more than 50 years, Johns wants the next generation to join in.
“We’re losing this whole generation of kids collecting. I hope that will turn around at some point,” she says, citing fine china as one of the less desirable categories. “They want things they can put in the dishwasher. Big dinner parties and fancy entertaining just don’t happen anymore.” Perhaps a visit to Treasure Mart can fix that. 734-662-9887, treasuremart.com
Another popular destination is Village Antiques in Dearborn, MI, a 5,000-square-foot space that houses antique and vintage pieces. Furniture remains a steady seller, encompassing everything from outdoor accessories like urns to side tables and smaller dressers and chests. Travelers often stop by for a look-see.
“We get a lot of out-of-towners here because of Greenfield Village,” says owner Shirley Molinari.
The shop’s vast selection includes jewelry, architectural pieces, framed prints, mirrors and military memorabilia. That’s the beauty of shopping for antiques: there is truly something for everyone. Village Antiques: 313-563-1230
Tips for Treasure Hunting
Antique shopping can be educational and full of surprises as you unearth the unexpected. Here is some advice for anyone who needs a little guidance before heading out to scour the area for secondhand finds.
• Research online to scope out sources or take a day trip to a new-to-you area. Look for locations that are close to each other and plan to stop for lunch in between destinations.
• Ask if prices are negotiable and do your homework with online comparison shopping. Don’t get too caught up on origin. Instead, look for pieces that speak to you. If you really love something, you’ll find a use for it.
• Start a dialogue with shop owners and employees for information about the history and possibilities for pieces that catch your eye. Many items can be made into tables and lamps for that one-of-a-kind look that makes your home décor truly yours.