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An interview with Jennifer Woolford, about the Fall Antiques Fair

Jennifer Woolford, Senior VP Consumer Shows MMPI
Jennifer Woolford, Senior VP Consumer Shows MMPI
courtesy of MMPI

Over 55 dealers of fine antiques will be represented at the Fall Fair. The Fair will include styles such as Americana, architectural artifacts, Asian antiques, books, ceramics, decorative accessories, folk art, furniture, garden antiques, maps, Mid-Century Modern antiques, posters, pottery, prints, sculpture, tribal antiques, vintage clothing, vintage and estate jewelry.

This author had the opportunity to interview Senior Vice President of Consumer Shows for MMPI, Jennifer Woolford about the upcoming Fair and the newest innovation, Emporium. Lauren Finch, the Public Relations Manager of MMPI, assisted with gathering detailed information on vendors and special events.

Jessica Kronika: Which of the offerings are unique for this season as compared to previous shows?

Jennifer Woolford: Highlights of what will be premiered in Emporium include architectural artifacts, decorative accessories, folk art, maps, posters, vintage clothing, vintage and estate jewelry.

JK: Who are some examples of exhibitors slated for the Emporium pavilion in these styles?

JW (& Lauren Finch): Some of the bigger names of dealers who will be participating in Emporium include Uber Modern, owned by Brandon McCleskey, and located in Chicago, Illinois; Broadway Antique Market, owned by Jeff Nelson, also located in Chicago, Illinois; Moss Studios, Incorporated, owned by Breck Armstrong of Fowlerville, Michigan; and R. Ege Antiques, owned by Rick Ege, of Saint Louis, Missouri.

JK: How were exhibitors or dealers selected for this pavilion?JW: There were endless options, so we tried to find dealers who appreciate displaying at the Mart. These dealers respond to our design savvy audience and invite top customers to the show. Many of these dealers are experienced at converting antiques to new design elements or furnishings.

JK: In the press release for the Emporium you are quoted as saying: "Shopping the Emporium pavilion is an incredible opportunity for novice collectors to entree into a lifetime of acquiring unique and unexpected finds that speak to them." (Jennifer Woolford, senior vice president, MMPI consumer shows.)

JK: Do you have any advice to novice collectors regarding beginning to collect in general and specifically if they start with a trip to the October fair?

JW: I have four main recommendations. As a novice collector myself, now decorating my house with the assistance of a designer, I recommend bringing your designer with you to the show. My designer helps bolster my confidence and helps me to select the right pieces for my design scheme.

JW: It is important to begin your knowledge as you explore the history and options for your home or collection. Be sure to ask the dealers questions. They can help you to understand the value of the piece, explain its life and provenance… The story is half the fun of the purchase.

JW: You can always find a place for something you love. Buy something you love, even if you don’t know where to put it now.

JK: Pieces you love often become pivotal inspiration points for the home you are designing.

JW: That is true!

JK: The Antiques fair press release describes this new aspect as: “hip, affordable and un-intimidating.” I understand that the pricing will range from $50 to $5000.

JK: How else is this offering different from other aspects of the fair and in what ways does the format of the display create an “unintimidating” entrée into the realm of collecting?

JW: As opposed to the traditional antiques fair context, this aspect of the show is not designed for the collector who already has a houseful of antiques, but for someone with an interest in the value of antiques [and their visual appeal]… for the novice enthusiast versus a seasoned collector… by appealing to that consumer, across the show, all people who attend can find a great piece for a room, especially in an eclectic design style.

JW: Displays are defined on the floor as Emporium and grouped in pavilion, versus general antique fair. The selection in the Emporium appears less traditional [primarily] due to the choices of merchandise.

JK: I understand that WTTW 11 and Traditional Home Magazine are sponsoring partners of this new offering. Traditional Home is presenting an Antiques Fair keynote address by editors-at-large, Leigh and Leslie Keno, at 10 a.m. on October 1st.

JK: Are there any specific programs planned for the Fair that involve WTTW 11 or will be presented on WTTW 11?

JW: WTTW 11 will be broadcasting at the Merchandise Mart, on October 1st, at the fair, and covering the show. This is a complimentary partnership that benefits both audiences. It is a new relationship, although MMPI and WTTW have done [public relations collaborations] previously on the network.

JW: Look for new elements coming from this partnership. [During this years pledge drive], our MMPI team of staff, charity representatives and dealers took pledges on a Saturday night between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. It was a great social event and fund raising opportunity, and an example of cultural spirit visible in action.

JK: The Antiques Fair press release quotes one of the dealers: Jeff Nelson of Broadway Antique Market, Chicago, IL (which specializes in Art Deco pieces from the 1930's to Mid-Century pieces from the 1970's) as describing the current trend in collecting thus: "People are mixing everything... going toward a certain look instead of the name of a designer."

JK: How does the Emporium pavilion respond to this trend specifically, and how is the Antiques Fair adapting to the new trends in collecting and decorating?

JW: The Emporium at this years fall fair is a classic mix of urban antiques, folk art, antique clothing, and jewelry. It responds to the fact that people want to get comfortable with antiques and are seeking less traditional and more unique groupings, [as well as] antique elements on cool items.

JK: The Emporium is described in the press releases as “An eclectic mix of urban antiques.” Are there any special Designer Vignettes planned for within the Emporium?

JW (& LF): There will be a wall of vignettes grouped in a collection ranging from traditional, vintage, and highlighting the upstairs showroom views.

JW (& LF): Three leading Chicago designers will create beautiful vignettes on The Antique Fair’s show floor to demonstrate how to blend contemporary furnishings with antiques. All collectors are encouraged to tour these spaces for inspiration throughout the show. [The participating] designers are Nora Schneider of Nora Schneider Interior Design, Susan Holley of Susan Holley Interiors, and Colleen Kinder of Platinum Coast Designs Incorporated.

JW: There will also be consultations with designers who offer a range of design styles, preferences, personalities, levels of client involvement, timeline, encouragement and respond to differing sizes of project.

JW (& LF): The complimentary designer consultations [will occur on the] show floor [with] members of the Design Center’s new designer on-call program. [They will be available] from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., on October [1st, 2nd, and 3rd]. To sign-up for a complimentary consultation visit the Merchandise Mart website and click on Fair Information, then Special Features.

JK: Lauren Finch mentioned that you were particularly involved in the development of this new Emporium aspect. How was the idea for Emporium generated and who has contributed to bringing this new showcase to the Fair?

JW: This aspect allows us to differentiate between the Fall and Spring Antique Shows. [The] Spring show [was presented] in Conjunction with Art Chicago, [whereas the] Fall [Show] partners with LuxeHome and the home furnishing show rooms, such as Dream Home. This creates [a unique] designer experience, and expands promotion making it a bigger weekend. [The] development [of Emporium] involved a round-table collaboration with coordinators on our tremendous advisory council which meets formally twice a year. The Fall Show reflects audience responses to past shows and responds to the new trend by fostering novice enthusiast or collector interest by staying fresh and tying in the other offerings of the Mart. We are also directly representing theme partners and associations with this Fair.

JK: What are your top three highlights of this new offering at the fair this fall?

JW: [The first is the introduction of] Emporium as a fresh [perspective on antique collecting.] [The second is our] marketing program [which features] partnerships with traditional home, WTTW 11, and the Keno’s involvement with keynotes and talks. The third highlight is the partnership with the Women’s Board at Friends of Prentice, [featuring] the opening night preview and conversation with the Keno’s on Thursday night. Those ticket sales will benefit [Northwestern Hospital]. [However,] the Dealers are the show; the stories they tell about the items they [bring] are really the most important thing.

JK: Some of my readers are fond of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and familiar with the tour in Oak Park, IL. Regarding the VIP tour of Robie House, who sponsored this trip and what are the criteria for attending MMPI VIP events?

JW (& LF): The Robie house is in Hyde Park, at 58th & Woodlawn. A Trolley leaves the Mart at 9 a.m. on October 3rd, for “private spaces at The Robie House.” Special VIP options like this compliment the show offerings. Past events include backstage events, attending Dreyhouse, and a book signing. The Collector Tour Program is usually presented to a short list of VIP collectors which comes from our dealers. VIP collectors will explore the recently restored private spaces of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, including the third floor, open to the public for the first time. An icon of modern architecture, The Robie House is celebrating its centennial anniversary in 2010. Renowned for its amazing contemporary spaces, sweeping horizontal lines, dramatic overhangs, stretches of art glass windows and open floor plan, the Robie House set the standard for a new way of living that continues to influence modern design today. (The tour is already full as of press time.)

JK: Do you recommend any particular portions of the Fair that we have not covered here?

JW: There are additional keynotes. Jan Carr, of Better Homes and Gardens, is speaking on October 2nd. Carr is bringing examples from the magazine of the mixture of antiques with contemporary furniture. LuxeHome Kitchen and Bath is sponsoring a keynote with Carter Oosterhouse, HG TV host, of Carter Can and Red, Hot and Green on Saturday also.

JW: The Designer Consultations will be available to help novice collectors find a designer. Show attendees can ask for designer docent tour to guide them through the show, to introduce them to or initiate conversations with dealers.

JW: Dream Home will also have extended late night hours, in their 1st floor space.

JK: Your tenure at MMPI has been 17 years, primarily in marketing and communications.

JW: I started the internal department, and was the primary push behind making the consumer shows as independent position. I got my start in marketing at Bloomingdales.

JW (& LF): I also oversee the Community Affairs Department at MMPI, which is responsible for implementing partnerships with Chicago’s active charitable community by organizing events with The Greater Chicago Food Depository, University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Friends of Prentice, Juvenille Diabetes Research Foundation, and Respiratory Health Association. In addition, the Community Affairs Department participates in or produces over 20 charitable events per year, including Sharing It Day, Canstruction, and the Chicago Historic Bungalow & Green Expo, located at The Merchandise Mart.

JW (& LF): Prior to joining MMPI, I oversaw the special events and PR division of Bloomingdale’s as they opened their Chicago store, serving in that capacity from 1989 to 1991. Previously, I was the special events director at Bloomingdale’s in Chestnut Hill, Mass., from 1985 to 1989.

JK: How long have you held your current position, Senior Vice President of Consumer Shows for MMPI?

JW: I have been the Senior Vice President of Consumer Shows for MMPI for about 5-6 years. It was a very natural transition from my previous role. I had worked on every consumer show campaign during my time in marketing and communications. I hired Lauren, for her role in public relations.

JW: The building at the Merchandise Mart allows for short focused consumer events. I am a consumer marketer at heart. My role is about building interaction, between the various partners, and especially with the galleries and dealers who make the halo of focused work and merchandise that is a signature of this type of event. It is exciting for me to be a part of that. Additionally I am currently working on consumer Facebook page for the Mart.

JK: What are some of the joys and challenges of coordinating the partnerships that make shows like the Antiques Fair work?

JW: This job is mostly joys. I don’t think I ever found it a challenge. Each relationship is about building mutually beneficial interactions, whether it is a charity looking for fundraising and event exposure, or a media outlet, like the Tribune or WTTW 11 seeking face to face interaction. When partners offer their natural strengths it results in a mutually beneficial event, connecting speakers to audiences, and more partners equal more benefits.

JW: For example, in the One of a Kind Shows, situated in Chicago and New York, the partners in each market identify a unique perspective, where the shows are similar but the audiences and partners reflect the differing options and benefits.

JK: As an involved member of the Chicago community, both at work and in your civic roles, creating networks is integral to your life.

JW: I relish my involvement, especially the neighborhood organization and the Magnificent Mile board. The MMPI fosters active involvement in the community by its staff and encourages crafting roles that are satisfying. Thus many who go to work there make a lifetime of the involvement and love their jobs.

JW (& LF): I am also on the Board of Directors for the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, and served as Chair of the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival for the past two years. Each November, more than one million visitors line the city of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, for a festival marking the official start of the holiday season in Chicago. I am also on the Board of the Children’s Theatre in Winnetka. I live in the northern suburbs of Chicago with my husband Scott, and our two children Aubrey and Cooper.

JK: What are some of the types of partnerships that you are looking to develop for MMPI programs at this time and with whom?

JW: There are so many options for partnerships, but these are the top three that I look to create. First, media relationships are necessary to promoting a four day show. We have to make a lot of noise and the [media partners] help us tell the story. Second, charities are favored partners, as MMPI likes to be a great corporate citizen, and involvement with fundraising for charity is integral to the corporate vision. Third, relationships with associations allow us to promote the industry, foster sales and awareness of the expertise and products. The staff [of] MMPI are members of associations in the industries of antiques, artisans, interior designers, and architecture. MMPI’s commitment to these industries is reflected in the community affairs division, in which I am active. This division fosters active participation, memberships, and community involvement and spurs growth options. The final element is brand partners that make sense, such as Baker, the antique of the future, with whom the Mart is fostering success and value for the future.

To purchase Fair tickets and to register for the Leigh and Leslie Keno Keynote on October 1st, 2010. Please RSVP at: the Merchandise Mart

To purchase tickets to the preview night benefiting Friends of Prentice, visit:

For more information about the Emporium:

To purchase Multi-day tickets for $15, which include general admission to the Preview from 6-9 pm and return visits throughout the weekend, October 1st through 4th, 2010:

For more information about Uber Modern:

For more information about Broadway Antique Market:

For more information about Moss Studios, Inc.:

For more information about R. Ege Antiques:

To sign-up for a complimentary designer consultation visit:

and click on Fair Information, then Special Features.

To Register online for the Carter Oosterhouse keynote presentation visit:


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