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For nearly a century, the Merchandise Mart’s showrooms have been the epicenter of Chicago’s interior design community. However, access to the upper floors has traditionally been limited to the licensed trade. Last year, the Mart—where decorator fabrics, finishes, and fine furnishings are sold—tweaked its policy and opened up its Design Center showrooms to the public. Now the new Designer-on-Call program wants to welcome you in—with a few caveats, of course. Here’s a crash course on how to navigate the maze, complete with a list of insider shopping secrets and floor-by-floor favorites.
Come On In
Grouped under the name LuxeHome, the tile, lighting, kitchen, and bath showrooms on the first floor have always been open to the public and will continue to be. The new program Designer-on-Call allows public access to floors 6 and 15 to 18. Follow these steps to obtain a pass.
1. Visitors must have a pass to access the trade floors. To get one, stop by the concierge desk in the building’s north lobby just off Kinzie Street. There, a Designer-on-Call—a showroom-vetted designer—will meet you and give you a pass to the upper floors.
2. No appointment is necessary, and passes can be obtained Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, if you have a special project in mind, call ahead to schedule a free one-hour appointment to ensure that you can meet with a designer who specializes in your specific needs, style, or budget.
3. If you go it alone—without the DOC in tow—get your pass and head to the middle elevator banks and follow signs for the Design Center showroom floors. Start at the top and work your way around and down.
4. Licensed designers must facilitate and finalize all purchases on the upper floors. This service is free—but the public pays list price plus 20 percent on all showroom items.
5. The DOC program also offers free consultations, so bring along your floor plan, color scheme, wish list, measurements, or design dilemma. You can go online to preview individual designers’ work for past clients to see if your tastes match.
6. Proceed with caution: Even the most savvy shopper might want to hire a decorator when making a major purchase or starting a renovation.