Known for its startup companies, trendy restaurants and art galleries, River North is also Chicago’s epicenter of interior design.
And the showrooms extend beyond that famous behemoth of a building that overlooks the river, the Merchandise Mart.
The streets north and east of the Mart are dotted with stores selling classy furniture, fixtures and floor coverings. Many of these shops have been in business for a while, but this year was the first time they banded together in a neighborhood association, calling themselves the River North Design District.
If you’re shopping for a sofa or a sink—or if you’re just in the mood for looking at some Nepalese rugs or Italian lamps—the design district makes for a pleasant stroll. (However, if you’re used to IKEA and Target prices, you may be in for some sticker shock.) Here are a few of the interior design showrooms that caught our eye.
The Golden Triangle
330 N. Clark St.
While most of the area’s stores focus on the latest designs, this wonderful curio collection takes you on a trip back in time and across continents. One part of the store feels like a Victorian-era explorer’s drawing room, with sculptures of the Buddha on pedestals amid British colonial bookcases. Continue through the 23,000-square-foot gallery’s various architectural and historical zones and you’ll also find a sunlit modern wing.
314 W. Superior St.
At this furniture showroom, the accent is on the Italian. The chic, sleek creations of Italy’s leading designers are for sale, including a “shadow lamp” by Cappellini ($2,878), which towers more than 6 feet high, resembling a huge glowing mushroom. A set of five colorful nesting tables by Cassina ($6,185) looks like a disassembled Alexander Calder mobile sculpture.
Oscar Isberian Rugs
120 W. Kinzie St.
In business since 1920, Isberian boasts a selection of 80,000 exquisite, handcrafted rugs from around the world. Along with this showroom in River North, Isberian has stores in Evanston and Highland Park and an online shop.
401 N. Wells St.
Here’s a smaller alternative to Isberian. This shop’s sustainable, environmentally friendly Tibetan carpets are handcrafted with traditional methods, but most of the designs are modern, looking more like 20th-century paintings than patterns from “The Arabian Nights.”
The Tile Gallery
555 N. Franklin St.
Every kind of tile, from classic stone mosaics to contemporary glass, is on display here, with an impressive variety of designs, from minimalist to ornate. Even the floor, covered with dozens of different colors and shapes, feels like a work of art.
While you’re in River North, stop in for a meal at one of the area’s eateries, which include Roka Akor, Bub City, Mastro’s and many more. And the art galleries—clustered around Superior and Wells streets—are worth a trip of their own. Exhibit openings are usually on Friday evenings.