A Local Retailer Proves Consignment is Cool
As his Phoenix store, Relics, enters a new chapter, Timothy Harris offers insights on home decor.
By John Roark | Photography by Carl Schultz
“I was always a weekend warrior,” says consignment retailer Timothy Harris. “I did everything—laying bricks, hanging drywall. I have always been drawn to anything having to do with the home, interiors and gardens. It’s innate in me.”
That love of home—in addition to exquisite design and beautiful interiors—led Harris and his partner, Todd Zillweger, to a crossroads nearly 20 years ago. “My background had been in the corporate world, and Todd had been involved in more creative capacities in floral and catering. We both wanted more control over our careers and lives, and to have a more creative outlet,” Harris recalls.
The two combined their strengths and interests and embarked on the business of importing antiques. “My corporate career gave me background in the things you need to manage a small business,” Harris says. “We made a couple of exploratory trips to Europe and figured out where we would source, wrote up a business plan and got the funding.” Ten months later, the couple opened Relics Architectural Home & Garden in a 5,000-square-foot storefront in Phoenix’s Camelback Corridor; they specialized in antique European architectural salvage and garden antiques.
“For the first 12 months, I worked full time at my corporate job and spent evenings doing the accounting and weekends at the store,” Harris says. “Within three years, we were bursting at the seams.” When the building next door became available, the couple bought it, significantly expanding the store’s footprint.
“Everything was going great, and we continued at full speed. We expanded our inventory to include antique and vintage furnishings and accessories. Then the recession hit and things slowed down,” says Harris. “We tightened our belts; everyone pitched in and did whatever was necessary to keep things going.”
In 2016, Zillweger passed away following a battle with a rare bone marrow disorder. “I floated through 2017 just trying to see straight,” Harris recalls. “I realized I had this amazing crew, a great location and a reputation that I didn’t want to lose. We needed to redirect our focus with a new model that would incorporate everything that we already had in place.”
Today, with a new name, Relics Antique & Furnishing Consignment features an inventory that spans the late 19th century to the present. In addition to focusing on consignment, Harris says he is exploring reimagining classic furnishings for today’s sensibilities. “So many pieces have great form or lines but may not work in today’s decor,” he says. “It’s exciting to consider giving new life to a piece that has great design but an outdated color or finish. Everything deserves a second chance.”
Here, Harris shares his insights on home decor.
Grouping collections of like objects, such as candlesticks or obelisks, is a way to express yourself through your decor, Harris believes. “Find something that has an interesting form and keep your eye out for that when you are out and about.” He also advises “collecting” your collections. “Rather than spreading your similar items throughout a room, contain them within a parameter, such as on a tray or mirror on a tabletop. Defining a boundary creates cohesiveness, and a gathering of multiple pieces doesn’t look like clutter.”
DEFY THE EXPECTED
Harris enjoys finding creative solutions for items beyond their traditional uses. For example, antique trunks and suitcases make excellent accent tables, whether stacked or retrofitted with casters or stands. “I find them to be amazing places to stash things that you don’t need to use all the time, such as gift wrap, charging cables or lightbulbs—all the unsightly stuff that takes up space that you don’t necessarily want to look at.”
To build cohesiveness within a space, Harris embraces commonality. “If you have a unifying element, you can transcend eras and styles,” he says. “It could be a color, a time period or a theme. I like the idea of taking a color that’s featured in your interior and bringing shades of it into an art grouping. You don’t want to repeat the exact hue, but echo the key color in other materials and mediums.”
“I love rooms that have multiple purposes and inviting, cozy spots within them,” says Harris. “For example, rather than isolating yourself in a home office, place a desk where you can check your email in the living room. You’re still engaged with the larger space. Many homes have soaring ceilings and enormous rooms. What makes them livable is breaking them up into usable sections. It’s all about creating moments within a space that are expressly your own, designed for your comfort.”
CELEBRATE YOUR TREASURES
Why own beautiful things if you never see them? “You bought these items for a reason; don’t hide them away because they’re too precious,” says Harris. “I recently pulled out all my antique Limoges china pieces. I love them but they rarely see the light of day. Where is the sense in that? Now I have a collection of coffee cups and saucers that I use throughout the week. That makes me happy. Go ahead—chip it, break it, but use it and enjoy it.”
Furniture that has good form easily can be updated with new upholstery, a textured throw or patterned pillow, says Harris. “You can always reinvent or refresh your pieces. My sofas are in a room that gets a lot of sun, and I can see them beginning to lose their color. Next time, I will recover them in outdoor fabrics. The quality now is unbelievable, and you don’t have to worry about fading. And you can continue that same fabric outside and have continuity in your aesthetic.”