Scouting — Mid-Century Modern in Chicago

Jennifer Sowinski

Jennifer Sowinski of Retroactive in Chicago.

Chicago and its surrounding area has always been a thriving scene for thrift, secondhand and vintage. To help us make sense of the 230 square miles, hundreds of thrift stores, consignments and resale shops, please welcome The Garage Sale Warrior, Diana Durkes, here to highlight some of Chicago’s premiere thrifters, refurbishers and designers on the scene.

Here in Chicago, we can’t get enough of the sleek and minimalist style of Mid-Century Modern. Weekends, we’re scouring neighborhoods from Humboldt to Irving Park, hunting up a credenza for the living room and a fun lamp to go on top.

Enabling our love affair are a handful of solo dealers around town, some who’ve quit their day jobs to rummage the dusty corners and uncover some beautiful vintage design. One of them is style scout and refurbisher Jennifer Sowinski, who recently opened an Mid-Century Modern outpost on the north side called Retroactive.

Herman Miller chairs (sold)

Herman Miller chairs. (sold)

Black Mid-Century Credenza (sold)

Black Mid-Century credenza. (sold)

Her tiny studio and showroom is in flux with incoming and outgoing work. She typically restores 6-8 pieces a month by design giants such as McCobb and Kent Coffey. She also sees value in anonymous pieces and ones that need a little TLC to make them house ready.

“This sets me apart from other dealers. I’m able to build a more interesting collection by choosing pieces others might pass up,” Jennifer says. On average, completed restorations are spoken for and out the door in 5-7 days.

Young newlyweds, architects, graphic designers and people starting modest collections are among her buyers. “They’re not looking for design names, but the pieces themselves, a combination of design aesthetics and storage for small spaces.”

With a background in art, plus the help of her industrial designer boyfriend, Jennifer  sometimes improves on the original by putting parts together. “Everybody has a sense of trying not to waste,” she says.  “And, spending time with a piece in the workshop is holistic to my mission of restoring and recycling. I’m excited that people are supporting it.”

Vintage Credenza

Vintage credenza available at Retroactive in Chicago.

Tell walnut and vinyl couch. (sold)

Tell walnut and vinyl couch. (sold)

Retroactive is in Rogers Park, Chicago ~ email jasowinski (at) gmail (dot) com for an appointment.

And stay tuned for more from Diana!

Text by Diana Durkes, photos courtesy of Jennifer Sowinski.

Diana has a dog with a big personality, wishes she had a personal chef and a gay best friend, spends too much time watching DIY tv, likes the combination of orange and grey, and has a revolving front door for her large family.

She writes about secondhand stuff on Garage Sale Warrior and Fine Diving.

  • Oh nice Pam! Jennifer has a great taste. Whatdya pick up?

  • Pam

    as a customer I can tell you she is the best!

  • Jen… stuff. Great luck with Retroactive. I will stop by the shop whn in the area.