"Many of the things here have been around for centuries," says Alessandra Branca, gazing out over the antiques in the new Atelier Branca, a suite of gracious, high-ceilinged rooms attached to her design office at 1325 N. State Pkwy. (open weekdays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 312-787-6123). "We take them out of their environment and make you see them in a different way." Indeed, where else might you find 19th-century boot forms mounted as lamps? Glassware made by a Belgian artist based on 16th-century methods? An antique camera stand turned into a lamp, with a shade fashioned out of strips of old film? Branca’s atelier serves as a lab for her experiments and creations; the Italian-born decorator enjoys taking an object such as a chunk of antique mantel and mounting it on a stand so that it becomes sculpture. She logged 150,000 miles last year looking for treasures in Europe and working on some of the most distinguished homes in this country. "Most of our things you would find in the finest galleries in Paris," Branca says. "These are all objects that you don’t just find around the corner."

Photography: Katrina Wittkamp
Treasure Hunt
The designer in her element (top left); French hourglasses mounted in antique wooden frames, pieces from Branca’s upholstered furniture collection (top right); 1780 Swedish bowfront armoire, Louis XVI side chair, 19th-century Italian photographs in antiqued mirror frames (bottom left); nautilus shell, faux coral sculpture, Samuel Mazy hand-painted porcelain orchid, carved-wood architectural fragment (bottom right).