A stately 1850 mansion near St. Louis is home to Strangelovely, the brainchild of antiques dealer Kim Tanner. She previously ran a brick and mortar shop in Chicago, before taking the plunge and moving her business to the larger, historic space. Here, her pieces are displayed in a space that feels more like a home—since it is one—than a traditional showroom environment. Shoppers are better able to imagine antiques and vintage finds in their own homes, all while Kim works to restore her country estate and the surrounding grounds.
We spoke with Kim about her start in the business, how she decided to move to her impressive new space, and how she chose such a unique name for her firm. See what she had to say, and be sure to shop Strangelovely’s full offering on Chairish.
Firstly, how did Strangelovely get its start? And how did you select such a unique name?
I got my BFA in Interior Design in 2004 and then went on to work in a few different positions—some closely related to interior design, and others not so much. In 2012, there was an upheaval at my company and my future was unclear. As a way to soothe myself I would work on refinishing furniture pieces. About that time there was a surge of companies who were hosting makers and selling their pieces online. On a lark one day, I decided to list something, just to see what happened. I can’t tell you the pride and excitement I felt when my first piece sold. It was such a thrill and I think I knew right then that I had to keep going with this.
Strangelovely got her name one night when I was at home watching movies. I had been ruminating about my potential business and trying to find a way to make the scary leap from a steady paycheck to being self-employed. It just so happened that Dr. Strangelove was on and I thought, “that is an awesome name for a vintage business.” I immediately looked it up and alas… it was taken. Then I started playing around with variations on Strangelove and landed on Strangelovely. I liked it even better! The domain name was purchased that night!
You carry a wide variety of vintage pieces from different eras. How do you manage your sourcing, and how do you make choices about what to select?
I like to think that I’m good at mixing eras and styles in my interiors and shop. I have such an affinity for older things and can’t seem to stay in one lane. The more I learn, the more I appreciate and am inspired by each era. Sourcing is a constant in my life. Luckily for me, it’s one of the most fun parts of my job. Usually I select what I like—that’s it. There are also variables, like how much work a piece needs or how expensive it will be to have it redone. I’ve learned so much in the last 10 years that my eye has developed considerably and I can tell what works and what doesn’t (usually).
How was sourcing affected by the pandemic, and how did it affect business overall? Did you pivot the way you work as a result of changes in the industry over the last two-and-a-half years?
The pandemic was a serious challenge for all of us in a lot of different ways. I consider myself one of the lucky ones and I don’t take that for granted. Sourcing in the pandemic was more difficult at first, of course. Everything was so chaotic and we didn’t know what was safe and what wasn’t. When I started to get used to the idea and felt safer with protocols, I did start to reach out to sources again. But for a good, long while, there were no auctions or estate sales. I think the pandemic changed things in that area for all of us and continues to do so. I see many more online auctions and sales than before.
I did pivot in a big, big way during the pandemic. I was in a storefront in Chicago for years and had no intention of leaving. But while on lockdown and spending too much time scrolling, I found an incredible property in my hometown near St. Louis—the kind of property I never dreamed I could have. When I came to look at it, it had everything Strangelovely and I could want, and then some. It forced me to really look at my life and where I wanted to be in the next several years. It was a tough decision and I have to say that it was also one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Have you seen more customers coming through digital methods like Chairish? Do you see that having an effect on how designers shop for vintage, in particular?
Oh absolutely. Both end users and designers are utilizing reputable sites like Chairish more and more. Once the integrity of a site or business is established, it’s much easier to shop online and know you will receive a high-quality product. Shopping in person is really fun and is sometimes a necessity, but if you feel comfortable shopping online, why not order and have it shipped straight to your home or work site? Another great selling tool is social media. It allows me to keep my clients and customers informed about the very latest and greatest from Strangelovely, both in terms of which items are new to the shop and what’s happening in general.
In terms of the brick and mortar business, how has business been at your store? What is the design scene near you like right now?
My home and business are in a small-ish town in downstate Illinois. I sell mostly online these days but I do often have special events where I host the design community and design enthusiasts. Additionally, I make private shopping appointments where people can come shop on their timeline. Having a space to showcase your items is essential. I like to keep mine styled and ready to go! My old partner and I used to say of the shop and its condition, “if Nate Berkus walked in here right now, would I be embarrassed?” If yes, get to work. If not, hooray!
What types of pieces do you see moving these days? What are the patterns in terms of what’s selling right now?
Vintage sofas! I do so well with sofas and I think it’s because they used better materials and expert craftsmanship. These pieces are already 50, 60, or 70 years old, and still look great. Even if fresh upholstery is in order, you still get a high-quality piece of timeless furniture. Of course casegoods always do well. They’re so versatile and well constructed.
What’s a dream piece you’d love to own yourself?
I used to always put my best pieces in the store. These days, it’s getting harder and harder to part with some now that I’m furnishing my own dream home. Right now, I’m on the hunt for a larger, Lucite ribbon chandelier and antique brass rails for a library ladder I have. A dream piece for me would be a large refectory table or a pair of 1930’s worn leather Deco club chairs.
Do you see any upcoming trends in terms of what’s next for the design world? What types of pieces do you hope to stock next?
I’m seeing a lot of warm tones coming up with visual texture like clay, plaster, and linen. I’m also seeing a return to more “traditional” luxe as opposed to the super sleek and sexy lines of modern interiors. My intention is to keep doing what I do and buy/design by mixing styles and eras with loads of layers, details, and layered light.
Are there any styles or trends you’d like to see disappear in the design world right now?
This one might get me in some trouble… I am so done with farmhouse, especially text or script art. The farmhouse “movement” just went too far. And it’s a shame because there are some elements that are classic but have become so synonymous with this style that they’ve lost some charm. Of course, I’m not one to design with any one, single design style.
Who are some of your favorite makers or designers, in terms of your own inspirations?
Growing up I was lucky to know both of my grandmothers. Marian was an avid quilter and was able to make something from nothing. Mary was an antiques dealer and historical preservationist. Her design style heavily influences mine. I think the combination of strengths from these two women informs a lot of what Strangelovely is… and that is the notion that great style is for everyone and doesn’t always have to be “aspirational.”
I also admire the work of Caroline Turner of Caroline Turner Interiors out of Chicago. Her work is sharp and elevated without being pretentious. Marianne DeLay of Dark Garden Home has also been a big influence. Her style is so moody and romantic.
All images courtesy of Strangelovely