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Crate & Barrel archive open for business

By Yvonne Spura, Archival Processing Specialist

We are happy to announce that a large collection of materials from Crate & Barrel, the well-known American home furnishings retailer, has been fully processed and is now available for research at Northwestern University Archives. The collection came to us from Crate & Barrel founders and alumni Gordon and Carole Browe Segal, both 1960 graduates.

A Crate & Barrel kimono by Finnish design house Marimekko

A Crate & Barrel kimono by Finnish design house Marimekko

The collection, which the library received in batches between 2012 and 2014, comprises 235 archival boxes of various shapes and sizes that are filled with artifacts, photographs, advertisements, fabrics, catalogs, and paper records that document the history of the company from its beginning in 1962 until 2015. This collection also contains historical materials of Crate & Barrel’s sister brand CB2, the children’s store Land of Nod, and the Finnish design house Marimekko. It is one of the few corporate archives held at University Archives.

The Segals met at lunch in Northwestern’s student union, and got married shortly after graduation. Inspired by their travels to Europe and New York City, the Segals planned a new kind of store that would carry the kind of unique, modern, and affordable household products that were nowhere to be found in Chicago.

On Dec. 7, 1962, Gordon and Carole opened their first Crate & Barrel store on North Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. With a constrained budget and only a few weeks’ time to prepare their space for its public opening, the Segals hammered crating lumber over plaster walls, covered shelves with dyed burlap, and used the shipping containers that carried goods from their manufacturers as display fixtures. Products sold by Crate & Barrel were imported mainly from Europe, with the Segals selecting the goods to be sold directly from small factories and manufacturers. Selling products straight from their shipping crates and barrels gave the new store its name and a signature look.

Below you’ll find a small selection of the colorful items in this collection that add perspective beyond the traditional paper documents common with corporate archives. If you want to find out more about Crate & Barrel’s history, and to speak with an archivist about viewing the collection, please stop by Northwestern University Archives on the lower level of Deering Library.