“It’s not just stuff.”
Karen Spencer says what she believes any of her co-workers would say about the old tiaras, upholstered chairs, French teacups and the hundreds of other antique items that make up The Grey House.
An American flag flies in front of a small, gray-blue building shrouded by foliage in midtown Tucson. The western wall is mostly covered by a large sign advertising “The Grey House: Antiques and Home Décor.”
Co-owned by five women who all have a passion for antiquing, each of The Grey House’s separate rooms is owned by a different woman who is responsible for the items and presentation in their respective spaces.
“It is one business, but we each respect each other’s area within the building,” Spencer said.
Spencer co-owns two rooms in the Grey House with her friend, Sarah Scheerens. One of the reasons the Grey House is unique, Spencer said, is that the committee of owners makes all the decisions.
“There’s more of a sense of ownership amongst all of us to make it successful,” Spencer said. “You sit behind that desk and you’re not just selling your stuff, you’re selling the store.”
The business originally began in 1996 on Fort Lowell Avenue, but moved in October 2008 because the building owner did not want to lease it again.
Stacy Van Dyke owns four rooms inside the Grey House and sells her antiques under the business name “Niche.” She said she really got into the antique business because she collected too many paintings and didn’t have enough walls.
“Everybody has a different look. You can kind of tell from each room what they are attracted to,” Van Dyke said. “I’m fairly eclectic. I like bold pieces and European antiques.”
Indeed, Van Dyke’s rooms are assembled with marble busts of famous leaders, oil paintings, leather chairs and crystal chandeliers. In one room is a 4-foot Mexican statue of St. Francis, dressed in a blue robe and adorned with glass eyes.
“He came from a church, where he was probably on a side altar. Probably in a niche,” Van Dyke said, laughing.
Van Dyke also owns the National Violence Prevention Resource Center in Tucson and picks up a lot of antiques for the Grey House when she travels for work. Four of the women, including Van Dyke, have other full-time or part-time jobs.
“We do it for … Gosh, why do we do it? Because we’re obsessed?” Spencer said.
“For fun?” Scheerens offered.
“We all start this because you start buying things and then you have too many things, and you have to do something with them.”
Scheerens and Spencer met when their sons were both 5 years old. The two women discovered they shared a passion for antiques and started selling antiques at an antique mall in Tucson around 1998, then began renting space in the original Grey House in 2004.
The two display their antiques in the Grey House’s kitchen and back bedroom. Light floods through the kitchen window mid-afternoon, illuminating a flowered stoneware fondue pot, tinted blue teacups and other 1970s-esque items displayed on the tables and shelves.
The floor of the room is painted a black and white checkered pattern on the concrete to make it look like tile, a feature that was original to the house before the business moved in, Spencer said.
The partners try to keep to a mid-century theme with the items in the kitchen, from an old metal ironing board, to a full set of plastic orange plates.
The room is embellished with turquoise and orange, although Spencer said she and Scheerens try to change up the color scheme often.
“Orange is a real hot seller right now,” Spencer said. She and Scheerens tend to buy a lot of turquoise for the room. “Sometimes we look at ourselves and go, ‘OK, we need to branch out’ because if your kitchen isn’t turquoise, you’re not going to be shopping in here.”
The second room the two women own houses miscellaneous items as well as antique wedding décor. A large, glass cabinet harbors dozens of vintage cake toppers and wedding china.
One of the rooms next to Van Dyke’s is run by Linda Manley. Manley used to own an antique store called “Antiques and Fine Things,” on Sixth Street and now rents space in the Grey House.
Manley’s room boasts many foreign antiques, such as French limoge china, Italian purses and a big, red book with “Paris” embossed on the cover. She also has several foreign books and re-upholstered lounge chairs in her room.
“I love textiles,” Manley said. “I like to buy used furniture and have them slip covered.”
One of the largest items in Manley’s room is a framed poster of the Ralph Lauren launch model for “Safari” fragrance released in 1990. Manley said she found the poster interesting because of Lauren’s alleged affair with the model.
Lynn Bell and Gina Judy own the remaining rooms in the Grey House. Bell’s rooms in the back of house are garnished with a wide variety of items, such as chandeliers, oil paintings, varnished end tables and pewter tea sets. Judy carries a girlish theme to her room, filled with vintage tiaras, Vogue posters and racks full of old fur coats, evening gowns and classical accessories a 5-year-old girl would go crazy to play dress-up with.
The Grey House has many regular customers, as well as some new people just stopping in to look around.
“There are antique shoppers who want to hunt for things and who want to dig around in remote corners,” Spencer said. “And then there are other people who walk in and want it presented to them.”
Due to the repeat customer base, the owners often make an effort to change things around in the rooms.
“People have a tendency to shop at eye level,” Spencer said. “Even if it’s the same stuff; if you move it around, people see it differently.”
Each of the owners works at the store one day a week and they rotate who works on the weekends.
“Whoever is working here is excited about what’s in our store,” Spencer said. “It’s not just stuff. We all like it.”
For more info
The Grey House is located at 2301 N. Country Club Road and is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 325-0400 for more information.