The Antiques, Garden & Design Show is a dream for designers, who prize the annual event for its knowledgeable vendors and highly curated antiques. It’s a great place to bring clients searching for one-of-a-kind pieces and recommended for anyone trying to create a space that expresses his or her personality, values, and interests.
“The event is like a to-the-trade-only show with civilian access,” said Cindy Galvin, of Bardes Interiors and Maze Home Store in Winnetka.
A classical stone torso, a collection of fantastic black cast iron urns, a big gold peer mirror, a funky ′60s tabouret, a brown alligator handbag, and the perfect French farmhouse table and chairs are among the memorable pieces designers have found for clients—and themselves—in the past.
“Any collector, designer knows there’s always more out there, something you have never seen, and that’s the thrill that brings us back to a show like this year after year,” says Myla Frohman, owner of Glencoe-based Myla Frohman Designs.
Now in its 15th season, the reinvented event has developed a reputation for the consistent high quality of its offerings. In social circles, the kickoff Preview Night is called the ribbon cutting for the spring season. Exhibitors, many of them designers themselves, present antiques, midcentury modern pieces, and outdoor furnishings in sophisticated displays that inspire and educate. Often arranged around a theme, booths can transport guests to a different time and place. The Golden Triangle, a Chicago-based exhibitor, plans to make an enchanting booth this year, drawing inspiration from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The designers will mix ancient and modern garden furnishings to create an imaginative scene. Lee Thinnes, owner of Lee’s Antiques in Winnetka, will feature bold modern paintings and a molded Lucite coffee table by Karl Springer.
“The exhibitors are incredibly knowledgeable and truly enjoy sharing the provenance of their wares,” said Galvin. Listen as you look, she advises, because much of the fun of owning antiques is knowing the story behind the piece.
With its strong emphasis on garden antiques, the Show provides clients one of the best venues for realizing the potential of an often overlooked space—the garden room. “Chicago has a secret—our beautiful garden summers. One can imagine outside rooms that make a garden another important room in any home,” said Suzanne Lovell, of Suzanne Lovell Inc., in Chicago. “The outdoor garden room is just as important as the living room!”
Designers typically come prepared with a punch list of their clients’ needs and a planned route. (The Show map can help with navigation). Many make a beeline for favorite exhibitors, then methodically visit the rest. Whatever strategy you choose, be prepared to deviate from your plan if you spot something you love and can’t live without. The good stuff goes fast!
“One year I found a set of Gracie panels, instantly adored them, and bought them on the spot,” Galvin said. “When I went back later to pick them up, the vendor said he could have sold them six times over!”
While acknowledging trends, designers tend to look for pieces that express the individuality of their clients. “You need unique and singular things to make your home feel personal. Vintage works as well as bona fide antiques,” said Jessica Lagrange, of Jessica Lagrange Interiors, LLL in Chicago.
Younger clients may not be keen on antiques, but they are sophisticated shoppers who learn from blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram. “Millennials are striving to make their homes one-of-a-kind, unique to their families’ personalities. They know design and value it. They want to design their homes with intent,” Galvin said.
The Show’s lectures offer guests an expanded vision of what’s possible for the home and garden. Designers appreciate meeting the likes of this year’s keynote speaker, the legendary Mario Buatta, known as the “Prince of Chintz,” and other nationally and internationally recognized experts.
Can’t wait? Guests attending the Preview Evening enjoy early shopping privileges, a boon for serious buyers. “The Preview Evening is great fun, and it gives you first crack at the goods,” Lagrange said, “which is really important because of the caliber of the stock.”
When you dream of saving plants for a living, you don’t expect to wait for tribal elders to rule on whether you can get started…or to sleep in the sage-scented high desert on your first camping trip ever…or to walk through the woods to spray your hand-raised seedlings with a deer repellent that smells likes rotten eggs and garlic.
Students take courses at both the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University and work with researchers and faculty from both institutions. Alumni of the graduate program—which includes a doctoral track—are working for nonprofits and agencies including the Field Museum, the Morton Arboretum, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and participating in research projects in places including India, China, and Malaysia.
Here are the stories of these three graduates from the master’s program:
Tracy Misiewicz’s research project was on hold, while the village elders poured fermented rice wine into the ground. During the ceremony, in the western mountains of Cameroon, the elders chanted in Bakossi, a Bantu language, asking their ancestors if Misiewicz—a native of Maryland who decided to become a scientist in the seventh grade—could enter the rainforest. Then the elders threw down a handful of cacao nuts to see if they would land in a certain order. They did; the ancestor had granted permission.
And that, recalled Misiewicz with a delighted laugh, is how she began her fieldwork in Cameroon. With her sister as a research assistant and their Ngomboku neighbor—a basket weaver—as a guide, Misiewicz trudged through the forest to look for Dorstenia, the second largest genus in the moraceae (mulberry) family. Dorstenia species—some of which are considered threatened or are already extinct—are used by indigenous people for medicinal purposes and show promise in their use in modern medicine. As part of her master’s thesis, Misiewicz looked at the family tree and evolutionary history of some species within the genus.
In Cameroon, Misiewicz and her sister learned how to cook local dishes and dance to local music. “You really get to know the people and the culture,” said Misiewicz. “When we left, we were crying, and the ladies in the village were crying.”
For her master’s research at the Garden, Misiewicz worked with adviser and Garden scientist Nyree Zerega, Ph.D., and Garden conservation scientist Jeremie Fant, Ph.D. “They are two of the smartest and nicest and most supportive mentors I could have had,” said Misiewicz, who went on to get her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. “They made science fun. They made me understand that when your experiment didn’t work out or things are going wrong, it’s OK. I learned to overcome and move forward and still love science…at Berkeley, my experience was wonderful, but there were times where I was like, ‘What am I doing? I’m not having fun. Nothing is working.’ Always, I would think back to my experience at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and think, ‘I love science.’”
Misiewicz now works as a science project specialist for the Organic Center, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that focuses on research and education projects related to organic food and farming. The job is a good fit—she loves policy, science, and thinking through problems. “I think science is sort of like cooking in that you can follow a ‘recipe’ and learn to extract DNA,” Misiewicz said. “That’s not the hard part. It’s the thinking critically and creatively and problem solving, and understanding what’s going on. That’s what I really took away from the Garden…I learned how to think.”
Alicia Foxx hit the ground running when she started her master’s degree program, under the supervision of Andrea Kramer, Ph.D., a conservation scientist at the Garden. “The second time I met her,” recalled Foxx, “we were getting on a plane” to work on a research project in the Southwest.
The two of them drove and camped in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau, which covers parts of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, including the Grand Canyon. Foxx, a native of Chicago, had never slept outside or seen mountains before. And she had never seen the way that invasive species could choke out native plants, including bunch grasses and wildflowers.
“On paper, it was a very interesting subject,” Foxx said. “You’ve got invasive plants that are taking over the West. But I think seeing how there were pretty much one or two [native plants left] in a very large landscape and how we’re losing the plant diversity that we really need to gain back was very different than just learning about it. It made me think, ‘This work is really important.’”
Originally, as an undergraduate at Elmhurst College, Foxx had planned to become a veterinarian—until she worked with her advisor, a botanist, on an invasive species project. “I just loved it,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is really interesting, and plants are really cool.’” One day, while looking up a list of invasive plants on the Garden’s website, something else caught her eye. “I thought, ‘Oh, there’s a graduate program there?’ So I clicked on the link.”
Foxx was accepted into the Garden’s master’s program and, in June 2012, made the weeklong trip with Dr. Kramer to the Colorado Plateau. With a team of researchers, they gathered the seeds of promising native plants—those tough enough to thrive in harsh conditions—as part of the national Seeds of Success collection program.
For her master’s thesis, Foxx studied native species that may be able to compete with cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), an invasive species in the Plateau. Now, she is a doctoral candidate in the plant biology and conservation program. “I am so excited about working at the Garden for another five or six years,” she said. On some days, especially in the summer, she gets to the Garden an hour early to visit favorite spots, including the English Walled Garden.
Someday, Foxx hopes to have a role similar to Kramer’s, as both a researcher and an advisor. “Andrea is a very intelligent researcher who thinks of rather elegant research questions,” Foxx said. “On the advising side, she is very kind, understanding, and patient, and this has helped me to grow as a scientist.”
As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, Byron Tsang—now a project manager and ecologist with the Chicago Park District—was a chemistry and biology major. Tsang, who grew up in Atlanta, thought he might go into some sort of disease research, specializing in immunology and diagnostics. But something else tugged at him.
With a passing interest in ecology, Tsang took some field ecology classes and volunteered to work on the North Branch Restoration Project. (The organization helps protect and restore native Illinois ecosystems along the North Branch of the Chicago River.) And on vacation in New Zealand, he happened to learn about a challenging ecological problem—a common weed was taking over pastureland needed for sheep. When he finished his undergraduate studies and decided to pursue a master’s degree, Tsang had settled on a new field: plant biology. “I thought, ‘Hey, I could actually do this for a living,’” Tsang recalled.
Tsang wasn’t sure what his master’s thesis would be about, but he knew that he wanted to focus on a local problem. “I ended up falling in love with midwestern ecology,” he said. His adviser, associate conservation scientist Daniel Larkin, Ph.D., steered him to the Garden’s Jim Steffen, a senior ecologist. Steffen, who is leading restoration efforts in the Garden’s McDonald Woods, mentioned an intriguing question: why had two native wildflowers—pointed-leaf tick trefoil and violet lespedeza—failed to take off in the Woods? (The two legume species had been able to grow in other area oak woodlands; both are indicator species that appear in healthy woodlands.) Tsang took on the question as his master’s thesis; as part of his research, he sprayed young seedlings in the woods with a smelly deer repellent.
“My experience studying at the Garden really set the stage for my career as an ecologist,” Tsang said. “I learned a great deal about the intricate and often delicate ecological relationships that tie Chicago’s natural areas together, but equally important, I built invaluable personal relationships with academics, scientists, and restoration specialists in the Chicago area, all of whom I consider my colleagues and co-conspirators in my ongoing work at the Park District.”
The New York Times described Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon as an amateur collector with a sure eye, great taste, and upper-class refinement. Architectural Digest called her self-assured in the way that often comes with enormous wealth. Labeled a connoisseur, philanthropist, gardener, and horticulturist by flower magazine, Bunny Mellon was crowned the true queen of green, and the high priestess of pruning and pleaching by Vanity Fair.
Such is the mystique surrounding Bunny Mellon, an heiress who considered privacy her greatest luxury; an influential American landscape designer who rarely showcased her work; and a collector who could afford anything, but was known for acquiring only the things she loved.
Historian and garden writer Mac Griswold will share her unique perspective on the carefully guarded world of Bunny Mellon during the upcoming Antiques, Garden & Design Show. Griswold forged a bond with Mellon, the mother of her close friend, Eliza, through their mutual love of gardening. Griswold’s lecture, “Green Grandeur: The Rarefied Simplicity of Bunny Mellon’s Garden Style,” will document the contributions the influential tastemaker made to home and garden design. Mellon is perhaps best known for designing the White House Rose Garden during the Kennedy administration, as well as the White House East Garden, and landscape features at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Renowned architect I.M. Pei called her the most gifted landscape architect of her time.
Mellon applied the same sense of scale and balance to her own properties, but these glories were rarely seen by outsiders. “Her gardens were like private kingdoms,” Griswold said. Griswold’s talk will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 18, in Alsdorf Auditorium. Following the lecture, Griswold will sign copies of her latest book, The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island, a saga about slavery, emancipation, and racism in New England told through the history of a single piece of land and a grand old house. She is currently working on Nothing Should Be Noticed: The Life and Gardens of Bunny Mellon 1910–2014. The book’s title refers to one of the Mellon’s maxims. “She was all about ensemble,” Griswold said. “She believed everything should work together. She didn’t want anything to be a gob smacker, indoors or out.”
Griswold was fortunate to see the simple and harmonious execution of this vision during visits to the houses and gardens Mellon maintained in New York, Cape Cod, Antigua, and the 4,000-acre Oak Spring Farm in Virginia. The estate is home to Mellon’s life work, the Oak Spring Garden Library, which contains one of the world’s largest private collections of works on horticulture, botany, natural history, and travel. The 12,000-volume facility will now serve as headquarters for a library and learning center supported by the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, named by Mellon after her father, a pharmaceutical baron.
Known for her statement, “Nothing should be noticed,” Bunny Mellon “had a highly developed sense of imperfect perfection.”
Mellon developed her love of gardening early. She started her first garden plot at the age of 7 and acquired her first gardening book at age 12. In 1948 she married Paul Mellon, the son of financier Andrew Mellon, and the two lived a life of art collecting, philanthropy, horse breeding and racing, and entertaining. According to press reports, dinner guests included such luminaries as Queen Elizabeth and Truman Capote.
Griswold’s window into Mellon’s world looks out onto her gardens, which she designed according to three overarching rules: always use a horizon line, always make sure there is a formal feature, and always make sure there is a place to sit down.
Learn more about a fascinating, accomplished, and understated figure in American gardening and society, at Griswold’s April 18 lecture during the Antiques, Garden & Design Show, April 17–19, 2015.
Love spring, but hate all that heavy lifting in the garden?
Tell us about it! That’s why we developed the PlantDropter™, our new remote control planting assistant.
We tell it which plant we want to move, program the coordinates for a particular garden, and it does the carrying for us!
Staff is raving about the ability to travel “as the crow flies.” With 250,000 plants to put in this year, you can imagine the efficiency of the PlantDropter™! The only issue so far: it drops just one plant at a time.
That’s one down and 249,999 to go. We’ll keep you posted.