Born in Nashville, Lauren H. Bugg graduated from Hillsboro High School and Samford University, and then got married and raised her children. Later in life, she pursued her love of antiques and people by purchasing GasLamp Antiques & Decorating Mall from its pervious owner. She transformed the space by doubling the number of dealers and later expanded into a second location, GasLamp Too. The GasLamp stores are now home to 300+ dealers, and Lauren has grown it into a company based on quality antique goods and dedicated staff members. Visited by celebrities, designers, tourists and locals, GasLamp is a destination for antiques lovers. Those closest to Lauren are quick to share that she cares deeply for her employees, the environment and her family and friends. We are thrilled today to welcome Lauren Bugg as today’s FACE of Nashville.
What drove the decision to purchase GasLamp from Mike Chilando?
I had been working as his bookkeeper for a year and a half and then as the general manager for another two-and-a-half years. I knew that Mike really wanted to go back to his former industry working with cars. He also had found that this business is not the cash cow that he had hoped it would be. I was more interested in being creative and building a business based on the people.
How have things changed since you took over the business in 2004?
The first thing I did was to concentrate on renting the spaces and prequalifying the prospective dealers to try to get dealers who could be successful. That first year, we doubled the number of dealers, and from then on, the spaces have remained rented or turned over within a week or two.
Why did you decide to open GasLamp Too?
In 2011, I realized that we had a waiting list of dealers about one-and-a-half to two years, and I began to think perhaps we needed to expand. Then one Saturday in the spring of 2012, I got a call from a dealer at the Harpeth Antique Mall in Franklin that they had all gotten notice to vacate there in 30 days. Then I knew it was time. We found a space right down the street that was the same size and that we could build out as we needed to. We opened the last week of August 2012 with all spaces rented that had been built. We finished the buildout and rented the rest within the next month.
Are there any key differences between the two spaces?
We work at keeping the variety of product, style, age and genre diverse at each mall. The layout at Too is more open because we were unencumbered by the existing layout. That mall feels more open, yet the size of each mall is exactly the same.
What sets these antique malls apart from others of their kind?
We work at cleanliness, order and ease of navigation. Both spaces are climate controlled, have a café or snack bar and have public restrooms. We have staff members who love this business and always want to help the customer with whatever they are looking for. The staff works at both malls so that they are familiar with all dealers’ styles and the product they bring in, thereby they are able to help more efficiently.
Exploring the many booths can feel like getting lost in a corn maze of great finds. Do you have any advice for new visitors navigating the space?
Ask at the front desk for a map of the store. Also, we have a person designated at each store every day to work with the customers on the floor. Ask, and they can help find whatever the customer is looking for.
What is the greatest reward of running a business?
Getting to know the customers and each dealer, and seeing the treasures that they bring in each day.
What is the greatest challenge?
Juggling the income and expenses. Since we pay out most of the money brought in to the dealers, who furnish the product, we have a small percentage to cover rent, payroll, etc. It’s a balancing act.
What goals do you have for the next five years?
My goal is to get the business on firm footing for the next generation to love and be able to make a side income with, or even a full income. We have spawned several businesses that started with us. We are very proud of those entrepreneurs.
Are you currently coveting any in-store items?
I do covet several pieces, and I just bought a little love seat that my husband and I had talked about finding for several years. There are such wonderful pieces and art that I have to be judicious, just like everyone else. However, since I own the business, I don’t allow any dealer to give me a special break on the price as they might with someone else. I think it’s wrong to seek special favor.
“We have spawned several businesses that started with us. We are very proud of those entrepreneurs.” — Lauren Bugg
What is the most treasured item in your home?
My most treasured items in my home are those I inherited from family. I had a wonderful family, and it’s a way of still living with them.
When traveling, do you make a point to visit antique malls/shops/markets? Do you have any favorites outside of Nashville?
I do visit other antiques malls on occasion but generally have little time to indulge myself. Many of the staff do visit other places and tell me about what they have come across and any ideas they see at other malls. I read Architectural Digest and Interior Design each month to keep up with moving trends as well as watching HGTV and DIY. Some of the most intriguing TV shows to me have been those on “tiny houses,” which are very inventive in how they consolidate and build out for plenty of storage.
When you aren’t at GasLamp or GasLamp Too, where can we find you hanging around town?
I’m kind of a homebody. I do go with my husband to the movies on occasion. We live in a house that we designed and built 18 years ago, which includes many antique elements. I really like a mix of antiques and contemporary, and it shows throughout the house. In addition, it’s on top of a big hill in Green Hills and is naturally beautiful in all seasons. Sunsets are spectacular every day.
What do you think distinguishes Nashville from other Southern cities?
Nashville is now the go-to place to be. With the addition of our Symphony Center, The Frist, building of Greenways for Nashville, the revitalization of areas downtown like the Gulch, the Riverfront and the Pedestrian Bridge connecting East Nashville with downtown, and a boom to revitalizing old neighborhoods, Nashville is showing its diversity, creativity and style.
What is the best piece of advice you have received and from whom?
I get advice almost every day from dealers, customers and friends. I think about most of it and blend in what helps and makes sense to me. But the best advice was from the way my parents and grandparents conducted their lives with fairness and honesty toward others.
What are three things that you cannot live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
I cannot live without creative outlets, learning something new each day and seeing other people regularly.
A special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos!
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