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Posted on Sun, May 16, 2010 : 6:06 a.m.

Ypsilanti landmark Materials Unlimited's architectural antique business and building listed for sale

By Janet Miller

From porcelain doorknobs to an imposing carved marble Empire-style antique mantel, Materials Unlimited has been furnishing homes and businesses with architectural antiques for four decades. Now, this iconic downtown Ypsilanti business and building are listed for sale.

The three-story building on the eastern edge of downtown and adjacent to the Huron River has always seemed more like a museum than retail space: There’s the rare jeweled Tiffany glass window, a beveled mirror with intricately carved acorns and oak leaves out of the 19th Century Cincinnati woodcarvers group, a Biedermeier bookcase from 1830s Austria.


Reynold Lowe started Materials Unlimited nearly 40 years ago on North Main Street in Ann Arbor and moved it to its current location in downtown Ypsilanti in 1980.

Janet Miller | Contributor

But owner Reynold Lowe said it's time to return to where he began: art and sculpture. He listed the business he started nearly 40 years ago on North Main Street in Ann Arbor on April 22, his 66th birthday.

The listing price for the building is $845,000, said Realtor Jackie Wright with the Charles Reinhart Company. The asking price for the business, inventory and database is $2 million. 

Lowe would like to sell Materials Unlimited as a package - the building, the business and the inventory - and he hopes a new owner would keep his five full-time and three part-time employees. But he’s also willing to sell the business separately, he said.

It would be a huge loss if Materials Unlimited left Ypsilanti, said Steve Gross, longtime Ypsilanti auctioneer and antiques expert. Lowe and his store have a national reputation, and it's been a landmark destination downtown for most of its history. 

"Back before the housing industry went bust, people would fly into Metro Airport from around the country and take an airport limo just to shop at Materials Unlimited," Gross said. "I used to see limos parked outside. They are not only one of the best for architectural antiques in the nation, they were one of the first. They've always had jaw-dropping pieces." 

But even with tougher economic times, Materials Unlimited remains a major draw, Gross said. "Everyone in the building trades is well aware of them. It's a must stop for anyone building anything."

The 1920s era three-story Art Deco building that houses Materials Unlimited is a piece of history, itself. Built as an auto dealership, it became a USO hall during World War II and then a Moose lodge, with a band stand and dance floor. Lowe bought the building from the Moose lodge in 1980.

With its high ceilings, wall of glass windows that bring in natural light and 16,800 square feet, it made an ideal showcase for Materials Unlimited, Lowe said. It has housed 12-foot fireplace mantels, entire staircases, architectural columns and a fairyland of restored antique lighting.

“Throughout the building, you see many different periods,” Lowe said. “There’s Victorian, English, European, American and English Arts and Crafts.” 

There are the clean lines of a Prairie-style glass window and the American art glass on light shades that show two distinct looks, depending if the light is on or off. Pieces from the 17th Century to the 1950s are represented, but most come from 1850-1935, Lowe said.

The lighting, hung from virtually every square inch of the three floors of ceiling, has been a Materials Unlimited hallmark. From kerosene to Victorian to Neoclassical to Art Deco and 20th Century Art Modern, Materials Unlimited has more than 1,000 lights. 

The lights illuminate a showroom floor of other architectural antiques: Doors (including a confessional door), stained glass windows, furniture and mirrors share space with large architectural pieces such as a late Victorian built-in buffet from the home of a Grosse Pointe Farms physician and a widow’s walk, a cast-iron rooftop railing from 19th Century North America.

Over the years, Lowe has found his architectural antiques inside buildings ready to be demolished, in attics and at auctions and estate sales from Chicago to New York. 
Materials Unlimited has always been a destination store, Lowe said.

Customers come from miles away looking for anything from the right door knob to a fireplace mantel. Some are restoring old homes and want to stay true to the period. Others are building contemporary homes but want a piece of history to be included. Many come with imaginations for ways of reusing salvaged parts of buildings that didn’t stand the test of time: There’s upholstered seating pulled from the old State Theater in Detroit that can be used for home theater seating and alter railing from a church that could be used a wainscoting, Lowe said.

“We have an extensive website, so we sell all over the world,” Lowe said. “We go to great trouble to tell you what we know about a piece: Its dimensions, its age, the collection it came out of, the country.”

The building has a number of potential uses, Wright said. It could be mixed upscale retail, similar to Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown, or it could be mixed use of lofts or retail. While the building was listed last month, the business will be marketed nationally, she said.

Still, Lowe said he hopes someone will buy the business and building together.

"It should be someone who has an interest in history, who loves architecture and the decorative arts. Someone who is passionate about these things," he said. "And maybe a little eccentric." 

Janet Miller is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.



Tue, May 18, 2010 : 11:11 a.m.

@ ypsidog, I know the place! Excellent recommendation!


Tue, May 18, 2010 : 6:22 a.m.

Try Archetectural Artifacts in Toledo, same type inventory and working prople's prices!! the dog

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, May 17, 2010 : 4:55 p.m.

I sure hope a buyer can be found. It is a really neat place.

Lisa Bashert

Mon, May 17, 2010 : 1:39 p.m.

It's heartbreaking to think of downtown Ypsi without Materials Unlimited. We've bought many things there and if you think their prices are outrageous, well, you just don't know how to look -- we're certainly always on a budget, but some things are "must have." I've browsed their website, and seen their ads in all my mom's publications on antiques. More and more, I came to appreciate what a gem we had in our own back yard. I just strolled through the other day, but you can bet I'll make a few more trips downtown -- keeping my fingers crossed that we won't lose this local treasure.

laurie in ypsi

Mon, May 17, 2010 : 1:05 p.m.

This business is beautiful and definately worth an afternoon of browsing but browsing doesnt pay the rent or move inventory. I personally never bought a thing while in there because the prices on most things just were higher than I could justify. I wish him all the best and will certainly stop by one last time to wander and admire his wares.


Mon, May 17, 2010 : 6:55 a.m.

@ sjausi, I'm not BP, that is different story. Thanks.


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 7 p.m.

@sjausi: No argument here--we should all be concerned about the environment, but not to be so obsessed about it that it causes us discomfort, such as low flow showers that clean you, but don't relax you. I agree about Chinese crap. I used a power washer(made in China, bought from Lowe's) that broke after 5 usages)


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 6:17 p.m.

I am guessing the folks flying in did not have a store like this in their own back yard, so hence their desire to shop here. The owner of this business has spent 40 years creating a destination shopping space which has benefited michigan and more importantly the local economy. David chose to make an un-needed trip to chicago to save some bucks - you know walmart probably sells great "restoration knock-offs" made in China so why not buy stuff there and save a ton of money. himjo buying antiques or second hand is always better for the environment and your wallet.


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 4:52 p.m.

Environmental cost? Come on now child--that kind of thinking will take you to the insane asylum, because whenever you take a step you will be worried if it good for the environment. Oh heavens, they chopped down trees to make these beautiful antiques.


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 3:15 p.m.

It is a wonderful inventory, but I'd be shocked if the asking price is met. Ypsi is struggling to sell / lease the existing buildings. And, the business model has to be a major struggle these days with no building going on in Michigan or the rest of the country. People are clearly not buying what they used to, and the inventory must be a tough sell. High end is not the place to be these days... Hope all of you talking about the Mich economy are driving a Ford or GM...


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 10:42 a.m.

I love this place - it is actually better than some museums. What will happen to the inventory if someone does not purchase it. Maybe the Smithsonian.


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 10:27 a.m.

David, I always found the stuff overpriced too. They did have some great items, and it was fun to walk through. I would have been interested in some things if they were even close to reasonable market value. sjausi, how about the environmental impact of "people who would fly into Metro Airport from around the country and take an airport limo just to shop at Materials Unlimited?" You should be happy if it closes. :-)


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 8:12 a.m.

I hope Materials Unlimited will find another passionate owner. David, what about the environmental cost of your choice to purchase in Chicago, let alone the impact to the Michigan economy.


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 6:36 a.m.

If you've never had the chance to wander through Materials Unlimited you don't know what you're missing! It's a myriad of antiques and treasures from days gone by. Around every corner is something to catch your eye and make you gape in awe. Throughout the building there are items that live up to the phrase, "they don't make them like they use to". It definitely is more like a museum than a retail spot for beautiful antiquities. I hope whomever buys it keeps the business in place. It would be a shame for such a long standing institution like MU to leave Downtown Ypsi. Oh how I wish I had $2.8 million to buy such a treasure trove of History and Beauty! If you've got nothing to do today make it a point to stop won't be disappointed!


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 6:33 a.m.

Please say it's not true. I bought my girlfriend a gift from Materials Unlimited for Christmas. (a cast concrete dolphin.) This is truly sad news. Now if Haabs closes it's doors it will mean the end for Ypsilanti.


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 6:26 a.m.

The prices are always outrageous! I ended up going back to Salvage 1 in Chicago for all my needs, even with gas money the extra trip was worth it for most items.