Barrie Heath’s love of furniture keeps local business going strong.
WORDS BY jane johnson
photography by MARY CAROL FITZGERALD
Barrie Heath likes to say he loves the “guts” of furniture. How it was made, where it was made, when it was made, and who made it. And it shows. As the third generation family owner of Caledonian, Inc., a Barrington-based store that specializes in English antique and reproduction furniture, Barrie’s knowledge of all types and eras of furniture is impressive.
“I love furniture and I love the business. It’s a most rewarding job.”
In 1941, Heath’s grandmother founded Caledonian by taking her husband’s Interior Design business and expanding it into a furniture business. His grandmother proved to be a savvy businesswoman, continually grew sales and welcomed her children and grandchildren into the family business. Barrie joined the team in 1972. After majoring in business in college, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be in the furniture business, but after three months of working in the shop, he was hooked.
“I have developed a good eye for style, proportion, and color from working with furniture all these years. I still get excited when I find a special piece.”
The original store was located in Winnetka until 1997, when Caledonian moved to a large showroom in Northfield. Caledonian was known for high-end antiques and bench-made reproductions from England. The family scoured the English countryside and London markets for the best quality furniture to bring back to their customers in the United States.
“I learned the business from my grandmother and my father, who was born in London. Always having our own restoration workshop allowed me to understand the construction and finishing techniques.” Barrie still uses his relationships with antique dealers he met long ago to do his business today.
The North Shore proved to be the right target audience for the store at the time, with the wealthy business executives and professionals creating a strong demand for quality furniture. Then around 2008, the business shifted. The demand for antiques diminished, with the younger generations opting for mass-made furniture that was not based on quality or craftsmanship.
“Our customers used to view buying antiques as an investment and something to hand down to future generations, but that changed.”
Barrie closed the Caledonian store in Northfield and after some soul-searching, decided to continue with the business and open up a smaller shop in his hometown of Barrington.
“It made sense to open a shop in Barrington. It allowed me to be closer to my family and it offered the opportunity to have a smaller shop with less overhead. I am now able to help each customer personally and develop trusting relationships with them.”
Barrie and his wife, Nancy, who met as students at Barrington High School, raised their four children in Barrington. Now, their grandchildren are attending the same schools in town.
You may expect walking into a store dealing with English antiques and reproduction furniture to be intimidating, but Barrie creates an experience that is quite the opposite. He offers his services in an approachable, relaxed, and friendly environment and is always willing to just talk about the furniture buying process. He is also quick to refer you to other service providers if he can’t help you with what you need.
“We are not stuffy or intimidating at all. We are all about having fun and enjoying nice things. It makes my day when customers walk in and say ‘I can’t find this kind of furniture anywhere!”
Due to his low overhead and long-standing supplier contacts, Barrie is able to offer his pieces at very attractive prices and views his store as the best value around for high quality traditional furniture. If he doesn’t have an item you are looking for in his store, he can source it for you, or he can custom-make “just about anything.” He is utilizing the Internet for online sales through his website and Facebook page and is looking forward to expanding his online presence.
Caledonian is located at 202 James Street in Barrington, 847-381-0569, Caledonianinc.com.