Decoding the Mart’s Design Center

Tips and Advice

Have you heard the news?  The Merchandise Mart is now opening it’s showrooms to the general public.  Well, sort of.  Here’s how it works:  You go to the Merchandise Mart and check in with the Concierge who gives you a pass to visit showrooms on floors 6, and 15-18.  You also receive a complimentary one hour consultation with the “designer on call.”  This designer can discuss your project with you, and should you find something in one of the showrooms, the designer will make the purchase for you.  See, the showrooms aren’t going retail, they’d just like to encourage you to see what they have and buy from them.  You just can’t do it directly. 

picture of the Merchandise Mart Chicago
Chicago's Merchandise Mart

I understand the Merchandise Mart’s goals, and while I applaud their efforts to keep up with what design centers in other cities are doing, I also have some concerns for you- the client.  Granted, some people are good at navigating the showrooms, are able to spot what they want immediately and know what they want to achieve when they arrive.  For those few (and they’re very few),  this is a great opportunity. 

Tufenkian rug showroom at Chicago's Merchandise Mart
Just one of 150 showrooms!

For most people, this can be an invitation to confusion, with the result being less than you had envisioned.  Why? Well, here are some of my concerns:

  • First, the Mart is a HUGE place and the showrooms can be overwhelming.  Sure, you can walk in and look around, but you may become a victim of visual overload before you find what you want.
  • Second, if you find what you want (let’s say a sofa or chair), if it isn’t in a fabric that works for you it’s time to trot off to the fabric showrooms to find one that will. (see above regarding visual overload)
  • Third, while the showroom employees might be helpful- they’re not in the business of retail.  They want to work with designers who can bring them continued business. 
  • Fourth, working with the “designer-on-call” is great if you’re one of the few that can immediately spot what they want and know it’ll be perfect, but how much can a designer really help you if you only talk to them for an hour, and they don’t even get to see the space they’re helping you with?  Pictures can be helpful, but it’s very hard to give you a fabulous outcome without seeing the space and getting to know you.  Both of those take some time.

My suggestions for visiting the Design Center are:

  • Engage a designer for your project BEFORE going to the Mart.  They’ll get to know you and your project and direct you (even accompany you) to the showrooms that will fit the style and budget that you’re looking for.
color samples, and floor plan
A designer can help you have a plan- a great place to start!
  • Know what you’re looking for before you go.  Know the sizes, the colors, and style before heading off into the world of visual overload.  Again, here’s where working with a designer ahead of time is going to make this easier for you.
  • If you don’t have a designer and want to find one, you can check out “Find a designer” on the Mart website as well as ASID Illinois’ website Both of these sites can help you find someone to work with.

Next time- how to choose and work with a designer.  Enjoy the wonderful Chicago weather!

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