An Insider’s Guide to the Merchandise Mart

For many, the mere mention of the 4.2 million square foot Merchandise Mart conjures images of decorators and clients deliberating over furnishings and fabric samples, and squabbling over prices.

But while the self-contained design district is, in fact, Mecca for aesthetic fetishists, the Merchandise Mart is open to the public. And navigating the sunless internal corridors of the two-block structure is easier than it sounds (but don’t forget your Vitamin D supplements). Here’s how it breaks down:

Dream Home
There’s still time to visit this year’s Dream Home, which showcases the work of Chicago’s top interior designers, each of whom take on a different space. The result is one very quirky house, and whether you love or hate the different styles on display, you’re sure to pick up at least a couple of new ideas. 2010 highlights include a gorgeous striped sitting room designed by HGTV star Monica Pedersen and Becky McCallum, which feels hyper-masculine in spite of the hot pink sofa, and a tranquil gray and burnt orange master bedroom suite by Glencoe designer Jeannie Balsam.

Insider Alert: Hurry over, because this year’s home closes on December 10.

Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (through December 10)

Luxe Home
Comprising the showrooms on the first floor, Luxe Home features more than 30 boutiques, including Ann Sacks, Remains Lighting, Kohler and other kitchen, bath and cabinetry vendors, making it a one-stop shop for those working on (or just dreaming about) large home renovations.

Also open to the public is a 6,000-square-foot Design Resource Center with staged vignettes from vendors like Closet Works, Chicago Tile Institute and Katonah Architectural Hardware.

Insider Alert: You can call for an appointment with the Luxe Home concierge (312-527-7939) for a personalized shopping experience based on your interests or needs.

Watch for the Subzero, Wolf and Bentwood showrooms, which all open this fall.

Design Center (Floors 6 and 15 – 18)
Most vendors located on the Design Center floors sell only to the trade, although most allow visitors to browse freely and a few vendors, including Richard Norton Antiques, Richard Norton Gallery and the 15th floor sample sale showroom sell directly to the public.

For a more personalized tour, Dream Home visitors are eligible for a one-hour consultation with an on-call designer who can also work with you to make purchases on your behalf (Monday through Friday 10–5 p.m.).

Insider Alert: Huge sample sale open to the public on November 12 and 13. Preview day November 11. Go to for details.

Tradeshows and Events
Also watch the Merchandise Mart website,, for a list of consumer and trade shows, and other events, including the ever-popular:

One of a Kind Show and Sale, December 2-5

Insider Alert: On Thursday, December 2, 100 percent of ticket sales benefit Children’s Memorial Hospital.

Located in Chicago’s bustling River North neighborhood along the picturesque Chicago River, the Merchandise Mart is conveniently served by CTA’s brown and purple lines. Street parking is plentiful on weekends, and there are also a number of lots and parking garages nearby.

Credits: Featured room design courtesy of Summer Thornton Design

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