Once a month, while growing up in Glenview, Lee Thinnes rearranged the furniture in her second-floor bedroom.
Her parents, Leonard and Amelia, must have looked at each other and smiled on the first floor as they heard a bed roll, a bureau skid, a desk inch closer to another wall in the room. Their industrious, exceptionally creative daughter had envisioned a better use of space in her room and insisted on transforming it all by herself.
Clockwork … without the ticks and the tocks.
“I remember vividly taking a tour of my friend’s house [in La Grange Park] and being mesmerized with the design in each room and thinking, ‘Wow!’ ” says Thinnes, now the founder and owner of Lee’s Antiques in her current hometown of Winnetka. “I was just a child, maybe 8 years old. I also remember, in high school, flipping through copies of Architectural Digest in our family room and devouring the pages.
“The magazine’s pictures and words enthralled me.”
Count on Thinnes’ exquisite mix of rare antiques — including a stunning 18th century George II gold gilt mirror; a late 19th century French Louis XVI settee alongside a Mid-century Modern ebonized credenza; and a chic 1970s Lucite waterfall chandelier — to captivate attendees at the second annual Chicago + Art + Design Show at the historic Chicago Merchandise Mart May 18-20. Thinnes will be one of more than 80 national and international exhibitors responsible for widening the eyes and dropping the jaws of clients and designers at the Dolphin Promotions-produced showcase. Some of the other exhibitors: Trinity House Paintings from London, New York and the Cotswolds; Nally Jewels from New York; and new exhibitor Martine Boston Antiques from Limerick, Ireland.
“The designer community in Chicago is starving for this kind of access to rare, beautiful pieces,” says Thinnes, a Glenbrook South High School graduate who adored playing the Parker Brothers board game Masterpiece in her youth and continues to have an affinity for art history, particularly French art history. “If you love interior design, you’re in for a treat. I am thrilled to be a part of an extraordinary show in Chicago; it will exemplify what the design scene is all about in our great city.”
The opening night (May 17, 6-9 p.m.) benefit will be hosted for the first time by the Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, offering serious collectors the opportunity to shop the Chicago Antiques + Art + Design Show before the public first traverses the seventh floor of the expansive mart the next day.
“My parents pushed me toward business, even though they knew how much I loved design,” says Thinnes, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and became a star employee in advertising and pharmaceutical sales in no time, with New York City serving as one of her early professional stops.
“I felt like I had earned my ‘MBA’ in New York without going to school in New York,” Thinnes adds with a smile that belongs smack dab in the middle of a print ad for a toothpaste brand. “But I never lost my passion for beautiful things. My [late] father, always wearing a fedora and the owner of a North Shore hair salon, was elegant; my mother is elegant. Both loved beautiful things. Many years ago I worked during the summers with my mom, who managed an architectural firm, and now she helps me with my business [which opened in 2006], pulling things together for me, developing systems, running the show at times. Such a valuable and creative resource, my mom.”
I meet the wife of Andrew, a rabid fan of architecture and design, and the mother of their two sons (Henry, 16, and Marquette University student Francis) at Leonidas Café Chocolaterie in Evanston. Lee Thinnes orders a double espresso and a chocolate croissant. I look around the cozy restaurant near the corner of Central Street and Green Bay Road and think, for a moment or two, I’m in Europe.
“I travel to Northern Italy each year, to see my go-to sources, and I usually order something similar to this when I’m there,” Thinnes says. “Designers and individuals come to me with antiques in mind, and it’s my job to find the pieces for them. What I love to do is enter a room, look around it and edit it. Sometimes that takes me only 10 minutes, but it takes me longer to do that in my rooms at home. I also have this knack for mixing time periods in one room, arranging, for example, 1930s-style pieces with furnishings and other objects from the 1980s and making the blend work.”
Debonair Leonard died right around the time his daughter launched Lee’s Antiques. Glenview’s former little interior designer that could must have had her father in mind, as well as her mother, when she came up with the motto for her antique/interior design business: Life becomes more joyful when you surround yourself with beauty.
“Family has always been my first love,” Thinnes says. “I’ve been most fortunate that my family members, all of them, also love design. I even ask my sons, after showing them a piece, ‘Yes or no?’ And, when I discover a stunning antique, through what I think is luck, I feel my father’s presence. He’s in there … in that room with me.”
For more information about the Second Annual Antiques + Art + Design Show and its opening night benefit, please visit chicagoantiquesartdesign.com and wbnorthwestern.org. The Lee’s Antiques website address is leesantiques.net.