Antique freaks: a worldwide affair

By HermineBloom

London native Mano Vayis primarily sells textiles, small decorative furniture, engravings and mirrors. But this year, when the Merchandise Mart’s International Antiques Fair returns to Chicago,  he has a 19th century Wedgwood vase,  modeled after a Roman vase, in tow.  Naturally, the more rare the antique, the more interest it will garner, which is why prominent antique dealers from around the world have traveled to the Merchandise Mart every spring for the past 13 years.

From April 30 to May 3, 125 antique dealers will set up their booths, showcasing everything from maps and jewelry to tribal art and 19th century furniture at 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza. The show will be held in conjunction with Artropolis, a large-scale modern and contemporary art fair and NEXT, an invitational exhibition of emerging art.  An estimated 50,000 people visited the art and antiques fairs last year.  Both the vendors and the organizers are expecting a similar turnout due to the quality and prestige of the vendors and their returning customers.

Merchandise Mart Marketing Director Ann Fruland said the fair ultimately allows Chicagoans to travel the world without ever leaving the city.

According to Fruland, on April 30 keynote speaker Thomas O’Brien, founder of design company Aero Studios and author of design book, “American Modern,” will host a discussion. Some of the upcoming attractions unique to the Antiques Fair include a series of design consultations held by the American Society of Interior Designers to teach antique buyers how to incorporate antiques into their existing homes, along with a lecture with Chicago Home and Garden.

Those who attend this year’s fair in particular will probably be looking for different items than they would have been even a few years ago, according to Fruland.

“People are loving urban looking, hip antiques that are not causing harm to the environment by any manufacturing processes or salvaging new materials,” Fruland said.  “Whereas a few years [ago],  I don’t think people really cared about that.”

Vayis, who founded his London-based antiques business in 1986, has sold his work at the International Antiques Fair for the past 11 years.

“The fair has improved tremendously,” Vayis said. “It was on the second floor of the Merchandise Mart and it looked like a commercial fair of not much interest but a few years later an in-house team took over the organization of the fair and the quality and types of vendors improved. The eighth floor is a much nicer floor because it’s more intimate and more welcoming for clients.”

Though he’s attended other grand-scale, international antiques fairs in other major cities around the United States, Vayis said he finds that Chicago antique enthusiasts are especially faithful customers, which is why he has decided to sell his work year after year at the Merchandise Mart.

Items in his inventory range from woven textiles to classic greek-style dining room chairs and his price points range from $130 to $30,000. Such variety is common for most of the vendors at these types of events, he said.

Rita Boucheit, founder of Boucheit Ltd., 449 N. Wells St., has been attending the International Antiques Fair for several years now as well, though she hardly has to travel to do so.

In her showroom, she sells museum-quality pieces, such as Biedermeier and Empire furniture from 1799 to 1818 and 1815 to 1848, as well as pieces from the Vienna Succession in 1900 and antique Art Deco furniture from the ’20s and ’30s.

Boucheit said the contemporary art fairs during the weekend help the antique fair flourish because she can reach out to people with a wide range of interests.  She said the only reason to do a fair is to reach out to new people.

Despite the recession, she said her antique furniture has been selling because her pieces are classic, they have clean lines and they appear more modern.

The Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair will take place April 30 – May 3. Tickets are $15 – $25 and provide admission to Artropolis, Art Chicago and NEXT. For all other information visit,