Edited by: Jade Sayson
Photo by: Guadalupe Valenzuela
Damaris Aquino-Sanchez sees trashed furniture and pictures something better.
“I know a lot of people will go [shopping] with me and I get really excited and they don’t see why I want it,” says Aquino.
This was the case when she found a hutch TV stand and wanted to convert it into a wine bar. Her husband and business co-owner, Fernando “Fern” Sanchez, couldn’t picture what she was imagining until after he started the upcycling process, boosting the value of the unwanted product.
The stand sits in the back work room. Sanchez replaced the inside of the hutch and the shelves with mirrors and added a glass hanger rack. He moves his hands along the frame as a guide when he explains what’s missing. They still need to fix the chipped corners, add shelves that look like X’s to the bottom of the stand, for the bottles, and include an ice bucket set to make it complete. Aquino and Sanchez are turning a $100 project into one worth $1,000.
“It’s all oriental all the way around. From TV stand to bar, it came out amazing,” Sanchez says.
Logan Square’s Antique to Chic caters products to customers with a personal and organic touch while still keeping a mindful relationship with the environment.
“We don’t have to be a throw-away society all the time,” says Aquino from behind the white counter, overseeing the whole store.
Aquino’s preferred style, modern French provincial, is displayed throughout the shop, which is located on the corner of Diversey Parkway and Albany Avenue. Her space planning gives you something to see everywhere you turn. Shelve units line up against the walls with glassware sets, jewelry, lamps and handmade soy candles. The white chaise, a reclining lounge chair, is set at the front of the store. At the back sits a 1950s white dresser that could perfectly be placed in a little girl’s room. The treasures are endless. The shop is sure to have a different arrangement the next time customers visit. It’s changed every two to three weeks.
Back in the work room, Aquino leans up against a dresser by the entrance as we discuss the TV stand. She adds, “And this is recycled glass.”
Sanchez finds glass and mirrors in alleys and has it recut into sizes he needs. It saves money and keeps the streets clean.
“If I see hardware on dressers or anything that’s been thrown away, if the wood part is no good, I just take all the hardware off,” he says. “So, I have boxes and boxes of all antique hardware. Anywhere I see stuff, I’d hate to let it go to waste. We can spiffy it up.”
“He’s kind of a hoarder,” Aquino jokes.
When starting new projects, Aquino selects classic lines made from real wood–“no particle wood,” Sanchez adds quickly. It can’t be worked and can contain harmful chemicals.
Aquino studied interior design at Harrington College before it went out of business and students were then transferred to Columbia College Chicago. She worked on projects from home, buying pieces that were inexpensive and “pretty.” She’d fix and paint them right from her porch before selling them online or keeping some for herself. Now, in addition to managing the antique shop, she runs a daycare from her home.
Various sold items and unfinished projects stand up against the left side of the workroom. The right side has a fridge, stove and cabinets. Sanchez points at each piece, stating what’s sold and what isn’t before settling on a beat-up mahogany secretary desk. It’s been through three generations. The plan is to sand it down, repair all the screws, “make it flush” and stain it in the same medium mahogany color.
“[The owner] loves it and she trusted me to go ahead and [refurbish] it,” says Sanchez.
The owner had visited other refurbishing shops and told Sanchez that none met her expectations. She had heard good things about Antique to Chic and had seen the shop’s website. Sanchez says she told her, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” It helps that he is a perfectionist. Sometimes when the customers are satisfied with the final product, he still finds details to fix. He recalls reworking on a coffee table four times. Aquino nods repeatedly, remembering.
“There were brushstrokes,” says Sanchez. “I had to redo it. I see blemishes and I see this and that. It has to be perfect.”
There are bigger companies like Hoffman Furniture Restoration or Rework by Roe that do similar work without the personal touch. Then there are companies like Target, IKEA, and Wayfair where people choose to buy brand new.
Praha, a collectibles shop located on Belmont Avenue and Leavitt Street, has been in business for 15 years. Co-owner Todd Nyenhuis says there is some brand-new quality furniture but not much.
“Most of the mainstream stuff is really intended to have a really short life span,” Nyenhuis says. “Where an antique piece might already be 80 years old, taking care can last another 80 years. Antique pieces have a certain history that goes along with them. I mean, to me when you have a piece of antique furniture, touching it, and knowing the quality, knowing that it’s old, just gives you the sense of a feeling of history. It’s going to last a while and not fill up the landfills.”
While many mainstream companies have space, Aquino and Sanchez don’t. They make use of what they have. The store’s basement, the back entryway, the tent in the back lot, their home across the street and their basement are all full. They’re mostly custom orders, so they haven’t had the chance to work on their own projects.
Returning to the center of the store, Aquino is back behind the white counter. Sanchez brings along a container filled with orange liquid. The label reads CitriStrip Paint and Varnish Stripping Gel, another example of the duo’s dedication to taking the customer and the environment into consideration. The gel is organic and non-irritating, while other more corrosive stripping gels can ruin wood and harm skin, and can’t be poured down the drain. Sanchez returns the strip gel to his work room.
“We taught each other a lot of stuff,” Aquino says. “He’s more mechanical and I’m, ‘This needs to look pretty,’” she adds with a laugh.
Sanchez returns, sweeping the path around the store and Aquino eyes him. He can’t stay still.
Aquino calls out, “Fern, she has questions for you, too!” He stops sweeping, grabs a donut from the white counter and finally sits.
The store began as a hobby in 2015. While Aquino ran the daycare, it wasn’t enough for Sanchez. After the storefront went from bar to hair salon to dojo, he pointed out to Aquino that she had an eye for picking out furniture and he was handy. He was raised to keep busy and had previous experience in remodeling homes in Florida.
“We started with half a store,” Sanchez says.
He points at a pipe in the ceiling that runs from one wall to the other where a curtain used to hang to separate his work area and the front half of the store. He and Aquino actually lived in the back work room, which explains the kitchen appliances. The hobby became “work work work,” Sanchez says. Through the growth of their business, they brought down the curtain, expanded the store, added a fresh coat of paint and more furniture.
Other services they provide are upholstery and hand-made candles. Aquino recalls a customer actually declining their offer to do the upholstery on a chair she had bought. She was set on doing it with the help of YouTube. She returned not that long after with all the cloth torn up. While other upholstered pieces cost $400-500, Antique to Chic sells theirs for around $115.
Sanchez gestures to the chair I’m sitting on, “And that’s actually a shower curtain. So, it’s waterproof, mildew proof.”
Frequent shopper Charisi Herrera says Antique to Chic strives to keep high-quality furniture and treasures to be accessible to everyone.
“They’re very customer-oriented,” she says. “If there is something too expensive, they are flexible with prices. They also give people payment plans, lay-aways, things like that. You know, they want you to buy from them; they want you to have these pieces.”
Aquino mentions a little girl who frequently stops by the shop.
“I think she’s nine or 10,” she says. “She holds her allowance and buys something every month. We even give her things she likes and we know she can’t afford. She’s my best customer and she’s young.”
Aquino recalls another customer stepping into the shop, ready to make an offer.
The woman pointed at a lavish chandelier, not for sale, hanging from the ceiling: “I’ll give you $200.”
For a moment, Aquino was stunned. “It was connected,” she says, laughing at the memory.
However, she had Sanchez climb up a ladder, disconnect the chandelier and hand it over to the customer, who happily carried it out of the store, hopped into an Uber and drove away.
“It’s not even about making tons of money,” Aquino says.
“She’s picking out all these great things and she wants to share with everybody,” he says. “When she sees things sell, she’s super-happy. ‘That’s something I picked out. That’s something I thought of. Now somebody else saw that vision or saw the worth in it.’”
Originally published at ECO-CHI: REBUILDING A GREENER CHICAGO in Spring of 2019.