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It's Not Your Mother's Antique Store: One Woman Repurposes Home Decor For Less

How one Glen Ellyn entrepreneur looks at “used stuff” a little differently than most of us.

Beckie Nilles looks at used home decor pieces and sees potential, something most others can't envision.

Nilles is the owner of Urban Chic Home, a store chock full of eclectic, antique items that she and others have brought back to life. 

"As a child, I just tagged along on a lot of estate sales.”  

These excursions with her mother inspired her, and over time her “recycle and repurpose” theory of style just evolved.

She learned, for example, that an old, useless sewing machine cabinet — if reinvented properly — could become a table just perfect for the end of a hallway.

“Over time, as I looked more at objects, I saw cute elements — a spindle, a leg, some construction method, or interesting material. It was fascinating, and I couldn’t find a furniture store with the kind of stuff that I liked. I guess I was just given a gift for putting stuff together.”

In the process of reinventing old pieces, she taught herself how to paint, strip, upholster and stain — she became a jack-of-all-trades. 

When she opened Urban Chic, 491 Pennsylvania Ave., about a year ago, Nilles' wanted to offer these pieces at a fraction of what they would cost new.

“Why commit $400 to a furniture piece that you might get tired of? For many of us, styles, trends, and the desire for decor change, come in five-year time spans.”

Asking how she distinguishes herself from other “antique” or “second hand” shops, she explains that she carries old things which become new again, repurposing them to give a real and timeless style. With sites like Pinterest more are catching onto the idea of doing more with less.

Often, when someone walks in, Nilles just says “OK, tell me what your project is”. Rather than feeling put off, most people happily reveal what they are searching for, even if it is vague. She enjoys helping by offering small suggestions to inspire a new idea.

It's about thinking outside of the box and her store reflects that ideal. Her store’s back room walls are painted four different colors so she can demonstrate how a certain piece will look against different coats of paint. She spends a lot of time freely giving ideas and advice—something that rewards her with many repeat customers.

“It’s seriously cool”, she observes. “Very important … it adds creativity to our lives.”

The store is quaint, cozy and swollen with home decor items. It has multiple small rooms with museum-like displays, and a tiny staircase leading to another set of room collections. The displays are all geared toward slow browsing. 

Right now, business has expanded for Nilles. She has eleven other “extremely creative women” who are either vendors in the store, or are what she calls “constant consigners,” bringing in a few things on a regular basis. Nilles store has even caught the attention of photo stylists and home staging consultants.

What’s next? “I think I need a bigger space”, Nilles says, looking around her comfortably crowded store. "People keep asking me for larger but still eclectic pieces, like a farm table and six chairs. It’s seriously cool!”

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