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Turning the world onto urban archeology

Stuart Grannen’s love affair with antiques and artifacts began at the age of seven and has evolved into his life’s passion, prompting him to pioneer the “urban archaeology” movement — which is celebrated and displayed daily at Grannen’s business Architectural Artifacts, and will take center stage May 2-4 during the company’s 2nd Annual Auction in its Chicago-based showroom.

Editor's Note: This is a Knowing Your Business profile. If you know of an antiques-related business you think would make a great profile please submit your suggestion to: Antoinette (Toni) Rahn at

Stuart Grannen, founder and owner of Architectural Artifacts, Inc., really digs antiques and industrial artifacts. Literally and figuratively.

An archaeologist by trade, Grannen’s passion for “digging for treasures” began as a boy,

Jewelry store room

Here, Architectural Artifacts, Inc. founder and owner, Stuart Grannen, stands within the most talked-about lot of the 2nd Annual auction: a paneled room from a 1913 Nashville jewelry store. (Photo courtesy Architectural Artifacts, Inc.)

when at the age of 7 he found and purchased his first treasure – a stained glass window. This ultimately led to a formal education in archeology and prompted his development and evolution of urban archeology. This has served him and the recipients of his efforts well for the better part of three decades.

With Architectural Artifacts’ 2nd Annual Auction coming up May 2-4 at the company’s Chicago showroom, Antique Trader spent some time talking about the treasures presently in his store, the upcoming auction, inquiries he receives from treasure hunters – like a recent request for help acquiring a purple elephant – which he fulfilled, and the historic people he’d most like to lunch with if he had the chance.

Antique Trader:It’s been said that you’re an urban archeologist and ‘treasureologist.’ Are those accurate titles?

Stuart Grannen: Yes, I’m an archeologist. That was my formal education. The treasures I find are very good quality and useful items.

A.T.:How do you explain what Architectural Artifact is and does, to people who are unfamiliar with it?

S.G.: We buy and sell high quality antiques from around the world. What separates us from the rest is that we focus on large and unusual items.

Terra cotta

A richly detailed and captivating terra cotta piece. (Photo courtesy Architectural Artifacts, Inc.)

A.T.:If we were to walk into your showroom today, what types of items would we find?

S.G.: You would walk in the door and immediately see a large bronze table with winged, naked women on it from the old Continental Bank in Chicago. You would see a revolving, old barber pole that used to be on the streets. You would also see a 10-foot hanging Spanish chandelier that came from one of the McCormick estates. You would see a FISK life-size iron deer. You would see a set of interesting, wooden lockers from the Bank of France in Paris.

A.T.:How has the industrial antiques and furnishings business changed since you opened Architectural Artifacts in 1987?

S.G.: Truthfully, I invented it 30 years ago. It’s what I like, it’s what my eye always went to. It’s what I could afford to buy at the time. When I stopped buying industrial antiques 10 years ago, the industry kind of took off.

There are lots of items that are industrial but not all of them are made with a good design in mind. I buy French industrial lights and other great Italian design items such as swing seat tables – interesting pieces and not just industrial items.

A.T.: What can you tell us about the plans and development of your Museum of Historic Chicago Architecture?


S.G.: I’m not really doing that anymore. I’ve sold a lot of it. There are plans in the works for new galleries at the store and a new outdoor showroom.

A.T.:Which of the 2,000-plus items set to cross the auction block during your annual auction May 2-4 do you think may attract the most interest, and why?

S.G.: Great question. We have a paneled room from a 1913 jewelry store in Nashville, Tenn. It’s spectacular! We completely rebuilt and set it up. It’s as world class as it gets – complete set with original lighting. It could have been in a French palace.

Upcoming Auction Action
Architectural Artifacts 2nd Annual Auction is coming up, and an impressive selection of industrial artifacts, large-scale antiques and decor pieces will be a plenty. Mark your calendars and make plans to attend:

  • When: May 2-4, 2014
  • Where:4325 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, Ill.
  • Time: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. each day
  • For more information: Visit,, email or call (773) 348-0622

A.T.:If you were able to have lunch with a group of five architects/designers, who would select and why?

S.G.: Thomas Jefferson, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Chicago architect Jeanne Gang. The great Egyptian architect Pharaoh Ramses because he built what nobody else could build, and no one knows how he did it.

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