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AAI Staff Bios

Stuart Grannen

Like most legends, Stuart’s story only gets richer with the telling — and the amazing part is, it’s all true.

A wayward youth with an eye for wonderful old stuff (he bought his first architectural find, a stained glass window from a Baptist church, at age 7) Stuart started out perusing the aisles of New Jersey antique stores with his parents, then headed to college in Knoxville, Tenn., where he studied archaeology and became acquainted with the antiques (and a few of the bars) of the American South. 

In 1981, when a wide swath of homes were torn down to make way for construction of the Knoxville World’s Fair, Stuart managed to buy an enormous quantity of artifacts; old mantlepieces, stained glass — everything he could save. He stored it all in warehouses and barns, and quickly sold it to a New Orleans antique dealer, who promptly hired him.

In his late 20s, Stuart found himself part owner of an architectural resale company  in Minneapolis, where the artifacts were plentiful but the winters were too damn cold. He headed back south, to Nashville, where he continued to discover and recover all that he could from buildings headed for demolition, selling them to an ever-widening customer base seeking the historic, the eccentric and the truly original for their own spaces.

Finding that Chicago was a handy launching pad for his forays into far-flung corners in search of artifacts — and was also a city in the midst of a wave of demolition — Stuart relocated his business to the city in 1987. He set up shop in an old factory building in the city’s northside Ravenswood neighborhood and flung open the doors on a wonderland of architectural treasures. The love child of an antiques store, a museum and a curiosity shop (complete with a swashbuckling proprietor) Architectural Artifacts quickly became a place of fascination for the generations of Chicagoans who wandered through. Over the years, Stuart cemented his reputation as one of the world’s premiere dealers of architectural antiques and one of a rarefied group who helped rescue some of the city’s lost architectural heritage.

When Architectural Artifacts closed its doors with a no-holds-barred auction in 2018, the story arc was far from complete. A new partnership, with hoteliers Debra and Robert Baum of Bedderman Lodging, brought new excitement, a new location and the chance to lean into what had always been one of the store’s strengths — open door hospitality. Architectural Artifacts Inc. opened its doors in a reclaimed school building in 2022, offering event spaces, an all-day cafe and wine bar, and an all-new, radical assortment of the stuff Stuart started collecting as soon as the old place closed. The new concept allows him to do what he does best: travel the world in search of amazing finds and amazing stories, and share them with customers, collectors and all those who care to wander. 

Robert Baum, Partner

Robert brings over 20 years of expertise in real estate development, brokerage, management and finance to the AAI team — but don’t let that fool you. His bonafides for AAI leadership have an even longer history: Robert grew up at every flea market, antiques mall and auction house within a 100 mile radius of his hometown, Chicago, where he got a (very) early start on developing a love of old stuff from his parents, avid collectors. He also has a bent for hospitality, having been a force in the development and management of a portfolio of boutique hotels and restaurants in both Chicago and Nashville as a partner in Bedderman Lodging. You might say that creating a space that unites adaptive reuse development; relaxed, open door hospitality; and a world of amazing antique finds was … inevitable for Robert. In fact, we’d agree that destiny is not too big a word here.

Debra Baum, Partner

Debra’s extensive experience as a creative entrepreneur with a history in marketing, fashion and retail operations helps inform her role as the driving force behind all things design, operations and culture at AAI. As the founder of Chicago’s Urbane Invitations, Urbane Weddings and UrbaneFlea, she built a business based on impeccable service and legendary style — which led to a side project rehabbing vintage Chicago buildings with her husband, Robert; and eventually designing spaces and oversight of operations for Bedderman Lodging. As a partner and hands-on presence at AAI, Debra adds her trademark energy and creativity to designing spaces that fire imaginations and invite people to linger; as well as focusing on the bringing-people-together part of the AAI equation. Her belief that the team behind the scenes makes the experience at AAI one to remember (and repeat) means that you’ll be welcome, comfortable and amazed at every turn. 

Luke Blahnik, Partner

Luke’s entrepreneurial expertise and long career in real estate sales and development — not to mention the vintage bowling alley he bought and restored — add financial and sales acumen as well as plenty of business street smarts to the AAI team. After starting his own brokerage, Blahnik Properties, specializing in acquiring and rehabbing distressed properties, Luke brought his skill in strategic acquisition and creative talent for finding opportunities others might overlook to @properties, where he leads his own sales team. It’s his passion project, however, that best explains why he’s a natural for AAI. When Luke discovered a long-lost 1950s bowling alley above a vacant grocery store, he knew he had to restore it — and today, it’s Avondale Bowl, a gathering spot for the neighborhood and destination for Midcentury-style fun and cocktails. Anyone who’s in love with old stuff, knows their way around a vintage rehab and isn’t a stranger to fine food and drink … yep, that’s exactly our speed. 

Maura Davis, Director of Food and Beverage Operations

Maura’s multifaceted career in hospitality includes a wealth of experience developing new restaurant and bar concepts, as well as overseeing everything from menu development to staff training to financial forecasting and management. Her love of hospitality blossomed early, (as did her extreme talent for multitasking) while simultaneously working in bars and restaurants and earning a degree in nutritional biochemistry. Maura has put her stamp on some of Chicago’s best-known restaurant brands, including brand management and expansion roles at Francesca’s,  LM Restaurant Group, and Goddess Restaurant Group, where she oversaw the launch of the Goddess and Baker concept. In 2015, she joined her husband, Andrew Holladay, and friend Andrew Jones to launch Warsaw, Ind. restaurant rua, helping to build the restaurant from the ground up. In 2018, she joined Bedderman Lodging, where she became hotel operations manager, and continued to prove her multi-tasking prowess and love of great food and drink by completing her Level 1 WSET certification in wine. While working on the launch of AAI (including dreaming up an expertly curated wine bar that will knock your socks off) she’s currently pursuing a Level ll WSET. Stay tuned …

Andrew Holladay, Executive Chef

Andrew’s story is as winning as his amazing pizza; raised and educated in Indiana, he studied English and creative writing, but found that his “get-me-through-college” gig — cooking in restaurants — sparked a different kind of creativity. In 2009, he moved to Chicago and began his culinary career in earnest at the city’s beloved Lula Cafe, the vanguard of the flourishing Logan Square food scene, eventually rising to the role of executive chef. In 2015, he teamed up with friend Andrew Jones and wife Maura Davis to open rua, a hyper-seasonal restaurant in his hometown, Warsaw, Ind. In early 2022, Andrew partnered with the Architectural Artifacts team to curate the menu for a European-inspired all day cafe and cocktail bar — including extreme dedication to development of that aforementioned, life-changing, signature AAI pizza. (Ask Maura how many batches he tested … or just taste it for yourself.)

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