Even before you enter the building the distressed nature of the screen door starts telling you a story. And although I’ve been to this place dozens of times, the wink of that door, like that of a favorite Aunt, never loses its charm. As you enter the vestibule, a feature I would love to see make a major comeback in residential construction, for me there was a palpable sense of anticipation. And like a sense of grace, these days seems to be in short supply. But that’s a blog for a different day. I think we’re realizing again that environments have the power to romance the inhabitant, and it seems from all of my feeds, digital or not, that design enthusiasts seem to be searching for equal doses of style and substance in their homes. And that my friends is exactly why I’ve come here.
Places like this seem to satisfy two things in me. First, an artistic yearning to connect with textures, shapes and colors, beyond an increasingly dominant digital universe. A chance to dive into something a bit more real, beyond the packaged places and experiences we’ve become all too accustomed to patronizing. And second, a personal mission to seek out elements that give interiors personal themes, a sense of historical context, and an unmistakable authenticity. As I’ve gotten older, I seem to thank God with increasing sincerity for the places, and especially the people, who fuel in me the purpose behind those creative callings. One of those special people is Susan, from Abundance Antiques in Hebron, IL.
As I entered, she was holding quiet court, talking patiently with a customer…mostly about things unrelated to anything in her shop. I loved that. From the first squeak of the floor board in this historic building I felt like time had immediately slowed. I guess I didn’t really understand how much I needed that this weekend. I shop in these treasure troves like the hawks that fly over my acres. I do a lot of high altitude, wide-angle fly-bys, before I decide to swoop down and snatch. I’m decisive, as the best professional shoppers usually are, yet always open to new possibilities, of course…I LOVE the surprise of something I haven’t seen before. I really appreciate that Susan seems to understand that the items in her shop have voice that needs to be louder than the proprietor, or any branding. There’s a confident solitude to the experience she’s worked hard to create for customers. From her displays to overall variety of items…if you can’t find something there, you aren’t really searching. You are just killing time. Which is a nice thought, and pleasant enough, but as she and I both agreed didn’t always make for the best business plan. You see, people run shops like these, not corporate entities. People with extraordinary passion and perseverance. That’s Susan.
An open cancer survivor, having successfully battled the illness on and off for three years, she shared with me that day, her take on why she was only open on Saturday’s. She said, “I came to the realization that I also wanted to have a life.” As a former retailer, I completely understood her perspective. I think I even laughed out loud when she told me she was actually doing better now, than when she was open more often. Been there. And when asked by complaining customers, “Why are you only open on Saturdays?” she often replies…”Well, I had cancer.” Yeah, that’s right, she throws out the “C” word. I absolutely love and applaud that kind of honesty. It so perfectly recalibrates the individual business owner and contemporary customer relationship to something incredibly human. Boils it all down with one candid exchange that shows she is as authentic as the objects she saves from extinction. And make no mistake, there is no play for pity in her statement. She’s just looking for the simple acknowledgement that there’s a person behind her product. And that she has something to offer, that is so special, that it might just take six other days out of her week to deliver it to you. Amen Susan. In my opinion, we don’t need more jobs in this country, we need more Susan’s. We need fearless fighters, who use plain speak and an outward sense of purpose applied to a genuine passion. But that also, is a blog for different day.
Man, if you all thought I loved her shop before…can you imagine how over the moon I am now? In my eyes, beating back that horrible illness is part of her personal patina…and you know what…the victory scars make her even more beautiful than she already is..and everything she touches that much more interesting. Your stock is up Susan, but a bit more buy-in from others never hurts. So, if you’re ever in Northeastern Illinois, just south of Lake Geneva, WI, please take the drive to see her…if you’re of the right mind it will be worth your time. If you can’t, below is my digital homage to her eye and her strength. Oh yeah, and if she’s not open when you get there, just remember one thing. She’s probably out putting the life back into the very merchandise that transforms her customers houses into homes. Something this part time blogger thinks needs to be celebrated a bit more often…even by me. As always, thank you for your curious click…and be brave in your design.
In memory of Annie G. Your passion most certainly lives on in designing disciples like me…forever.
–Philip Sassano, The Design Coach
10002 Main St Suite A, Hebron, IL 60034