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House call | Vintage dealers decorate their home

Two vintage dealers find beauty in scaling back on their personal home furnishings.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

This Danish modern hutch, sourced from an estate sale in Downers Grove, stores their Bauer dishware.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Polito and Colclough replaced the standard lighting with bermodern light fixtures for a better atmosphere.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Colclough lowered the headboard of this Brutalist-style bedroom set for a more contemporary look and to open up sight lines into the bedroom from the living room.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Polito and Colclough work from adjacent computers in their bedroom office and decorated the space around them with their personal collections. "She chose religion and I chose debauchery," Colclough says of the unintentional themes facing off over their workspace.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Polito and Colclough work from adjacent computers in their bedroom office and decorated the space around them with their personal collections. "She chose religion and I chose debauchery," Colclough says of the unintentional themes facing off over their workspace.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

When the couple took some rugs in to be professionally cleaned, they asked the business owner if he had any unclaimed rugs to sell. He just happened to have this one-of-a-kind floor covering designed by Salvador Dali that the couple quickly scooped up.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

The couple's television set is flanked by groupings of Murano art glass and studio pottery, acquired over many years of dealing in modern furniture and collectibles. "When you're doing this [business]," Polito says, "you see so much that it's the unusual pieces that stand out."

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

This massive midcentury wooden sculpture came from an estate Polito and Colclough helped liquidate in Marengo, Illinois.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Polito owns a collection of oil paintings by unknown artists and several by Oak Park-based painter Irma Braun. When the couple downsized, she grouped the collection into an art wall that lines the entryway hall.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

The three barstools were designed by Milo Baughman. Polito and Colclough picked them up at the Kane County Flea Market.

 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Lisa and Don Polito

“We downsized early,” 55-year-old Lisa Polito says, sitting in the living room of the condo she shares with her partner, Don Colclough. Two years ago the two vintage dealers, who travel the country American Pickers–style in search of cast-aside relics, moved from their 3,400-square-foot house in Oak Park to this modern two-bedroom condo overlooking Humboldt Park.

But it’s not a step toward retirement. Polito describes the move as “just another chapter” in their adventurous lives. “If you don’t move along, you don’t open any other doors,” she says.

Some of their younger friends initially warned the couple off Humboldt Park, thinking it dangerous, but Polito and Colclough love the neighborhood, especially the park. “I have a 206-acre front yard that I don’t have to mow,” Colclough says.

Polito and Colclough struck up a friendship decades ago at an antique market and kept in touch as Colclough developed a vintage business, Cadillac Jack, in Los Angeles. The shop specialized in midcentury cowboy furniture, and Colclough kept it stocked by placing want ads in Midwestern newspapers, amassing semi loads of unwanted ranch furnishings out in the Plains, then driving back to California where kitsch nostalgia inflated the price enough to maintain a healthy profit margin.

But as taste in vintage furnishings and decor changed, so did Colclough’s business. He eventually shuttered in Los Angeles and moved to Chicago. He and Polito now specialize in modern design and 20th-century furnishings, selling online and at vintage markets throughout the Midwest.

“When Don moved to Chicago,” Polito says, “he was so psyched to discover its treasures that he literally introduced me to the city I was living in.”

The couple lived in Oak Park for 13 years before moving to the city. They furnished the new place in less than a year, selling off some old possessions—including the contents of a tiki-themed party room that occupied their entire basement—and storing other pieces in a 5,000-square-foot Garfield Park warehouse that serves as showroom and workspace for their vintage business, Mr. Modern. They filled in the gaps by adding new pieces sourced from a variety of secondhand outlets, including private owners and auction houses. What resulted is an eclectic mix of classic Danish and midcentury-modern furniture, art, sculpture, floor coverings and collections of one-of-a-kind objects from a lifetime of antiques dealing.

Neighbors have commented on the unit’s “homey” vibe, which Polito attributes to their lighting. “Most of the people in this building don’t have lamps,” she says. Adding your own lighting—and a few personal items—to a room, she says, is what makes a place a home.

Polito also worked with the building’s developer to add features to the place: a Silgranit kitchen sink, custom light fixtures in the master bath and Italian wood grain tile that gives the guest bathroom a warm, spa-like feel. The couple have even added their personal vintage touch to the building’s common areas, hanging art on the blank hallway walls and placing a Danish modern credenza in the front foyer where tenants receive their mail.

In spite of the work they’ve put in, Polito and Colclough say they plan to stay only another six to eight years before moving again. “This is by far the best place in America to pick,” Colclough adds. “And I’ve picked every major city over the past 20 years. I call it ‘the land of plenty.’ ” 

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