History For Sale – One Plank, Railing, and Newel Post at a Time

Newel posts

Let’s say you’re in the market for a circa 1880 door for renovation project. Oh, you say it needs to be a pocket door? And preferably in green?

No problem. Jan has it.

I’m referring to Jan Seymour, the owner of Jan’s Antiques in West Town. The 25,000-square-foot facility is a Disneyland for designers and builders looking for vintage elements.

Jan's Antiques ExteriorJan’s has been operating at her 225 North Racine facility since 1997, after 30 years in a smaller location on West Madison.

The main level holds hundreds — perhaps thousands — of antiques, along with rows of doors, window frames, wood trim and tile. On a lower level there’s an equal amount of antique ironwork.

“If someone is trying to rehab an old building with architecturally significant materials, this is the place to find them,” Seymour said. “What I have spans a 100-year period from 1850 to 1950.”

A good deal of Jan’s clientele consists of architects and designers whose clients want the warmth and charm of century-old material.

“The new owners of a graystone will come in and look for a piece they just can’t find anywhere else,” she said. “Restaurants are also a big part of my business. They’re trying to capture an old look or an eclectic look.”

Jan led me through the endless narrow openings between row and rows of the remnants of old homes and businesses. She pointed to a long row of newel posts (she has more than 400 of them) and explained the importance of finding a matched pair or trio when renovating an old home.

Jan Seymour“They’ll buy a house and half of the balusters and newel posts are missing, so they try to match what’s there,” she said. “I also have stairway railings, including the ones that curve.

“Often I get someone looking for a door. I have about 300 pocket doors, and a lot of unusual double doors from the late 1800s.”

Most of the doors and wood trim at Jan’s comes from recently demolished old homes.

“Or, someone buys an old home, and ironically, they don’t like what’s inside.”

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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