When it comes to home design, Oak Park resident Mary Beth Herr is no novice.
The University of Illinois-trained architect has used her knowledge in a variety of professions, with each adding something different to her design skill set. For her latest venture, Herr is partnering with former colleague Dot Coyle to bring design to the masses. The two are opening their eponymous store in Chicago’s former Spiegel Warehouse in order to bring a variety of interior design services to local homeowners.
Coyle & Herr will draw on the women’s shared design and special event experience, and the store will benefit from Herr’s diverse background in the area of home design.
Shortly after graduating, Herr worked for a traditional architecture firm for a time before joining Berta Shapiro’s interior design business, where she gained experience in all aspects of the field.
“Working with Berta, I got exposed to residential design at the top of the food chain. She really worked with the best of materials: great upholstery, tile and millwork. It was a great experience.”
After the birth of her fourth child, Herr looked for more flexible work and joined Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs, where she worked for 20 years, planning special events and exhibits.
“I got the things that fell towards interior design. Because the budget was tight, I was often working with used products. I met a lot of upholsters, refinishers and special events lighting people. I realized that there is so much furniture in this world.”
While working for the city, Herr met Coyle, who shared her interest in interiors as well as a knack for planning special events. With their combined interest in design, the two decided to take a leap and open their own store. Friend Leslie Hindman, of Chicago’s premier fine art and furniture auction house, spurred the two into action by agreeing that there was community interest in a high-end design consignment concept.
Herr describes the store’s concept as a sort of consignment shop for interior designer’s leftovers. Much like the website OneKingsLane.com offers interior designers an online outlet to market furniture and home accessories that their clients don’t need or want to sell, Coyle & Herr plans to offer the concept in a physical store.
“We really think there’s a market in Chicago’s interior design world for this kind of space,” Herr explains. “We’ve already heard from so many people in the field that they can use a store like this. We’re going to offer furniture as well as other items for the home.
“We’re really there to share every resource as well, from letting people know how much fabric they might need to re-upholster a piece to the names of trusted refinishers and upholsters. We want to give people an outlet for their goods as well as their services.”
Herr adds that she and Coyle will also offer personal design help. “We’ll be there to troubleshoot if people want to email us a photo of a corner of their home and ask us how to fill it, or if someone comes in looking to furnish an entire room, or if they just need that one special piece.”
While looking for a location for the store, Herr met Paul Levy, owner of the former Spiegel Warehouse, now the Bridgeport Arts Center. Levy purchased the 500,000 square-foot building in 1999 and has steadily been transforming it into a destination for exhibitions and events, while retaining the 100-year-old building’s industrial charm.
Levy notes, “The building is fairly new in its redevelopment. A lot of its old uses are being phased out for new ones. During World War II, all of the skylights in Chicago were ordered covered due to the perceived threat of bombing. In the event space, we dug out the skylights and re-glazed them. We’re doing the same in the adjacent fashion center.”
The timber warehouse is already home to an event space with sweeping city views, an art gallery and artists’ studios. Plans are in the works for a fashion center, ceramicists’ studio and artists’ live/work space. Throughout, original details such as the skylights, wood plank flooring, and timber wood posts and beams have been salvaged while other original items have found new purposes. Old steel plates from the building’s warehouse days now serve as doors to the bathroom stalls.
Levy was able to offer Coyle & Herr a large amount of square footage. The redevelopment plans include adding 15-foot windows that will look out into a garden. The former railroad loading space will be transformed into a garden, and the building itself will retain its original steel trusses and brick walls, complementing the history of the space while allowing outdoor access for special events at the store.
According to Herr, the location at 35th and Racine is ideal for the store.
“We can set up vignettes in the space’s 15-foot window bays. With so much open space, we can scale it so that people can understand how the furniture will look in their own homes. We’ll be able to create a market space feel and also include specific areas such as an area for chairs or remnant fabrics.
“One of the attractive aspects of the building is that there is plenty of parking and a covered dock for unloading and loading, making it easy for our customers.”
Coyle & Herr plans a soft opening within the next two months, and then plans to hold 10-day sales once a month and will also offer services by appointment.
“Each month, when we do a sale, it will be like a special event,” says Herr. “We’d like to showcase the home items we have while also promoting something else. We’re already talking about an evening reception pairing local artists’ work with wine pairings that complement the furniture. Paul’s also got us thinking about combining an event with local food trucks.”