Denise Odell has all the girlish charm you’d expect from a globetrotting antiques dealer. At any given show-she participates in 22 a year, including the Chicago Antique Market-she can be seen at her booth wearing funky vintage garb purchased at a Paris flea market and rattling off the possible uses of, say, an old French bottle-drying rack ("a shedless Christmas tree, a tower of wine glasses for a party, something to hang pots on . . ."). Among the offerings at her storefront shop, Bleeker Street, are French and English provincial furniture and organic-feeling lighting fixtures from Argentina, but perhaps the best description of Odell’s selection is her own: "out of the box." Just in time for her shop’s move from Bucktown to River West (847 W. Grand Ave., 773-419-2862), we asked Odell some questions about her areas of expertise. 

Denise Odell

Denise Odell and her pooch, Owen, with a French armchair, an American screw-base table, and other vintage finds

What items in your store are you loving right now? Some large cypress stumps that have amazing texture and form, and some great metal drawers with a wonderful patina. These offer the best of both my current interests: natural materials and industrial items.

What does your home look like? I mix provincial pieces with industrial pieces. An example is a French wine-tasting table surrounded by four steel chairs-I find the contrast incredibly interesting. Also, I recently tired of color and decided to go monochromatic, so I slipcovered all of my upholstered pieces in monogrammed white linen sheets made by French nuns. The monograms are not centered-I appreciate asymmetrical arrangements.

Shopping for antiques is all about mixing and matching-what’s the secret to making it work? Being mindful of scale. A chunky table with delicate chairs is fine if the chairs are comparable in scale but have finer, elegant lines. As for mid-century modern, it can work with almost any century that emphasizes line and quality of workmanship. I appreciate collections but disdain clutter. Choosing pieces that can stand alone is a great way to ensure that the combination will be successful.

What are interior designers looking for these days? A very prominent movement right now is bringing the outside in and the inside out. As far as interior items go, I am seeing a lot of interest in clean, large-scale European items with a great patina.

What are you favorite dealers in the city and the Midwest? Urban Remains (410 N. Paulina St.), Scout (5221 N. Clark St.), The Painted Lady (2128 N. Damen Ave.), and Just Lamps (707 W. Armitage Ave.) in Chicago. Red Arrow Highway in southwest Michigan has a bevy of shops with a wide variety of merchandise. Chesterton, Indiana, and Richmond, Illinois, are both cute towns with a few shops definitely worth the stop.

What’s your mode of shopping at a flea market? I get there early and purchase as I go. I look for large items first and then go back around to look at the smaller items.

What insight about antique fairs can you offer as a dealer? Most dealers will restock their booth if the sale lasts more than one day, so if time and enthusiasm permit, I suggest going every day of the show. On the last day, many dealers are more willing to negotiate on prices, especially for the very heavy items.

How does one get a good deal at an antique shop? Be an interested and considerate shopper. Being interested will enable you to know how long a piece has been in a shop, what price reductions have already occurred, and the enthusiasm the owner has for the piece. Many times the best deals are at the back of the store. The best way to negotiate price is with respect-and cash or a check.

Is there anything in your shop that you will never sell? My dog, Owen, who is the store greeter, and the portrait of him that my mother commissioned.


Photograph: Katrina Wittkamp