The Convention Center, spanning 679,000 sqaure feet and shaped like a box, was never meant to be cozy.
So when Urban Outfitters took over the Philadelphia Antiques Show's latest site at the Navy Yard last year, an exhaustive search left organizers with the North Broad Street space — and a challenge: How could they transform the vast convention floor into an intimate setting for its 56 vendors?
Opening Friday and running until May 1, the longest running antiques show in the country will be presenting formal furniture, ceramics, silver, textiles and fine art in a spruced up space.
"We're spending the money to carpet the space, put up painted walls, and install effective lighting," said show chair Gretchen Riley, who would not reveal the show's budget. "I think it will be very intimate."
Although Philadelphia is a big city, finding inviting spaces to present antiques events are very difficult.
The Philadelphia Antiques Show was held in the 33rd Street Armory from its founding in 1962 until 2007. Space was limited, but the historic building was a perfect setting for objects with a history. The event grew up in the familiar structure; showgoers knew exactly where to find favorite dealers, the café, or an afternoon lecture.
When Drexel took over the armory, making it unavailable to outside events, the show moved to a vintage structure at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Two professional antiques shows had held successful events there in prior years, and its 43,000 square feet with a tent for dining and lecture areas worked well — until Urban Outfitters added the building to its campus.
The Philadelphia Antiques Show's organizing committees, as well as managers Josh and Sandy Keeling Wainwright, all participated in a search for a new venue. Sandy Wainwright said, "You name a location — we probably looked at it."
The convention center was ultimately chosen; Hall F offered 125,000 square feet, more than enough for an event of this size.
Collectors may remember, however, that this venue already had been tested by an antiques show. Frank Gaglio's Barnstar Management (now happily ensconced in the Armory on 23rd Street) ran a show he called Antiques at the Center from 2004 to 2005.
Gaglio ran into two basic problems: Negotiations with various unions about job duties — essentially, who is allowed to do what — were an ever-present factor.
But the greatest challenge was making the floor feel cozy enough for exhibitors' antiques and fine arts. Barnstar presented an attractive show with walled and wallpapered dealer displays, but visitors were always aware of the empty cavern looming beyond the lighted show.
The Philadelphia Antiques Show will use 70,900 square feet for dealer booths with wide aisles, exhibitions, dining areas and a lecture hall. The extra room will allow not only a café but a dedicated bar lounge area.
So that guests won't be ambling through a huge room that dwarfs the collections, organizers built 10-foot-high walls to enclose the space. Said Sandy Wainwright, "It will duplicate in feeling what we had at the 33rd Street Armory for many years."
Still, it's an unknown for many veteran dealers.
"We're a bit concerned because we don't know the logistics," said Ed Hild, who partners with Patrick Bell as Olde Hope Antiques of New Hope. There's the standard questions, like, how close is the loading dock in relation to their booth? But he's optimistic about issues specific to the convention center space.
"The show management has worked out a lot of issues with the unions that we were anticipating would be problematic. For instance, depending on the size of the booth, you can put up your own lights, transport and hang your own material."
He cited other selling points for the Convention Center: effective advertising, good access by train, and parking in the area for visitors and exhibitors.
The larger space also will accommodate a juried flower exhibit (it pairs local floral designers with antiques dealers to create arrangements that highlight objects) and "designer rooms," which showcase the work of three local design firms, each creating a room setting as a way to illustrate how antiques can be incorporated into other decorating styles.
"We're trying to attract new collectors and teach people that your home doesn't have to be a period house to collect antiques," said Riley. "You can mix and match periods and media in the same way you might in an art collection. Contemporary furniture works with antiques, and the juxtaposition highlights the beauty of both."
Gregory Augustine of August Interiors tackles mixing antiques into a modern interior using a traditional 18th-century high chest of drawers and gilded mirrors.
Barbara Eberlein and Jennifer A. Gibson of Eberlein Design Consultants use as a backdrop a sleek Center City high-rise apartment to showcase antiques from various periods — Empire to Aesthetic.
Another advantage of the new location: the Philadelphia Antiques Show is closer to the 23rd Street Armory Antiques Show — the other star in the city's annual multievent "Antiques Week."
The 23rd Street Armory show, which occupies the gothic First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry Armory, is a 45-exhibitor event that opens Friday at 10 a.m. and runs through Sunday. Among the new and returning dealers this year are the Garthoeffners, Mario Pollo, Michael Whittemore, and Dover House Antiques.
Show Manager Frank Gaglio makes no secret of his love for the show's current location: "From the moment you approach it from outside, the building has character. Our armory is small enough to be intimate, yet large enough to accommodate our dealers' booths in a very gracious way."