Brandon and Lisa Nelson’s story of owning antique stores is a lot like the items in the stores — dynamic and maybe a little peculiar; random, not entirely purposeful, but beautiful and interesting all the same.
When they set out 20 years ago with their first antique store, Ipso Facto, they had no real interest in expanding or owning more than one location. Two stores later, they’re still not quite sure how it all happened, or how it worked out for them, but that’s just part of the charm.
“We just started it all young. We had kids young, bought a house young,” Lisa says. “We have kind of grown up together, and grown through a lot of it and figured it out.”
Brandon and Lisa became co-owners of the collective store Trilogy Antiques and Design in 2008, and in 2016 opened Alchemy Art and Antiques when Coldwell Banker put the building up for sale.
“We were at the closing and were like, ‘Well, I guess we’re opening another shop,’” Brandon says with a laugh. “We didn’t really have the strong intension of opening another store.”
Trilogy and Alchemy are full of antique, vintage and designer furniture, oddities and knickknacks. Cabinets, paintings, sculptures, lamps and every assortment of rustic peculiarities can be found between the two locations, most of which are directly selected by Brandon. His tastes, and subsequently the esthetic of the couple’s shops, are influenced from a number of places, including his parents, mentors, and education. Brandon attended the Art Institute of Chicago, but was always surrounded by art, antiques and collectors throughout his life.
“My mother always had art around and was always, when we were young, taking us to museums, so I was always interested in art,” he says. “My father was the same, but not so much with art, just more with ‘stuff.’ It’s in my blood somehow. Both my parents don’t do exactly this, but I can see how it relates to what both of their interests are.”
The Nelsons’ story would be incomplete without the mention of Jim Toler, one of Brandon’s former employers and owner of Lakeside Antiques and Springdale. Brandon started in Three Oaks working for Jim at Lakeside Antiques, followed him to Springdale, and later opened Ipso Facto in the former Lakeside Antiques location. When Jim died and the Springdale store was open, Brandon and Lisa began Trilogy, a cooperative store with 12 other occupants and contributors.
The Nelsons’ businesses have progressed simultaneously by surrounding themselves with the right people, and isolating themselves — venturing out on their own, but also creating projects with people who complement their tastes and strengths.
“We actively sought out people,” Brandon says in regard to Trilogy. “With the idea that I already admired these people — what they dealt in, and what their esthetic sense was — I can learn from them.”
In the same breath Brandon acknowledges the importance of independence and finding their own niche.
“At a certain point you’re kind of like, ‘Well, the more you can isolate yourself you can create your own vision,’” he said.
Thus, came Alchemy Art and Antiques, the Nelsons’ second store of their own, chocked full of high-end décor, and art pieces from Freeman Braswell Fine Art.
Two stores with very limited staff was enough work for Lisa and Brandon, however. The couple does the finding, the buying, the moving, the staging and the selling, especially at Alchemy where they don’t have a group of other collectors contributing to the stock.
“We’re essentially glorified movers,” Brandon says. “All we do is move stuff. We’re constantly at auctions. Anywhere we go it’s like, ‘OK, now we have to move that humungous thing we just bought.’”
“You either have a store, or you do shows,’” Lisa says. “To have a store and do shows is crazy because they’re both so much work.”
The immense work involved with owning two stores is where Lisa and Brandon have aligned their efforts and vision. Trust, communication and teamwork are necessities, both for their stores and for their relationship.
“I think you have to trust your partner,” Lisa says. “He’s very thoughtful, so if he’s going to do something I know he’s thought through every angle. If not, we talk about it. We talk a lot.”
For the Nelsons, flexibility is the key trait that makes the teamwork possible.
“Things do come up when you own a business. ‘Oh, I thought we were going out to do dinner with friends tonight,’” Brandon says. “And then something pops up. Sometimes you have to do things for the business and the situation, and you have to be a team player.”
Keeping track of a family while owning businesses has only emphasized the need for flexibility and trust in Brandon and Lisa’s constantly moving lives. The Nelsons’ three children, Sophia, 21, Mina, 19 and Everett, 8, have grown up in the antiquing and collecting business. While the kids always come first, the stores are as much a product of Brandon and Lisa’s marriage as their own kids. Finding balance is always give and take.
When an item is cool: buy it. When new opportunity presents itself: go for it. When one of the kids has a need: change the plans. Brandon and Lisa Nelson’s businesses and relationship are surprisingly reactionary, yet graceful enough to appear planned.
More information on Alchemy Art and Antiques, and Trilogy Antiques and Design, can be found on Facebook. Alchemy is located at 13696 Red Arrow Highway in Harbert, and Trilogy is located at 19 S. Elm St. in Three Oaks.