As the found-objects buyer for Anthropologie stores, Keith Johnson combs flea markets, antiques stores, art shows, and bazaars around the world for marvelous things.

In other words, he gets paid to travel and shop.

Thanks to Johnson’s keen hunting instincts, Anthropologie stores display their $4 latte bowls and $88 ruffle-necked sweaters not on mere shelving, but on massive old French farm tables, weathered garden furniture, and turn-of-the-previous century painted wooden cupboards.

All of it is for sale, of course.

Johnson once bought up hundreds of carved-wood panels used for flocking velvet at a French textile factory and, in a genius stroke of repurposing, sent them into the stores to be sold as wall art.

Among his countless other scores: A metal hook he spied in a French hotel became a best-seller as an Anthropologie reproduction; a Gothic-looking wooden gate he bought in a London shop inspired a headboard; and a British furniture-maker he discovered was tapped to design a chest whose unusual surface finish makes it look as if it’s covered in fabric.

An artist and former furniture designer, Johnson started his global shopping excursions soon after his partner, Glen Senk, a former Williams-Sonoma retailing executive, took over the Anthropologie helm in 1994. Senk was tapped by Richard Hayne, founder of Urban Outfitters, to help build the new concept, which brought upscale women’s apparel and home furnishings under one roof.

Senk enlisted Johnson to help with the fledgling chain’s two stores in Wayne, Pa., and Rockville, Md. Part of the Anthropologie plan was to feature sophisticated, constantly changing store interiors with an "evocative environment."

Using striking antique furniture as display fixtures seemed like a great idea. But there was a problem.

"We learned that people don’t want to come into a store and find something is not for sale, and if we wanted to create change, we had to keep bringing in new fixtures," Johnson says.

"I grew up with an art-dealer father who would spend months every year in Europe buying art. I never imagined I would find myself doing the same thing."

One thing Johnson has learned is to travel light.

"I always tease him because he keeps everything in his pocket," says Wendy Wurtzburger, Anthropologie’s merchandise manager. "He’s got his digital camera and his phone, and phone numbers on scraps of paper."


"There is a lot of competition out there," Johnson says. "If a market opens at 7, you want to be there at 6. At some of these places, there are thousands of people waiting, and when the gates open there is this war cry and you have to run like a madman."

His recent finds include the art-nouveau interior of a notions shop in Barcelona, Spain, including a 20-foot-tall cast-iron balcony; it all ended up in their Newport Beach store.

Johnson says, "We’ve periodically tried building store fixtures, but they don’t have the soul of the old pieces. The old things give a life and resonance to the stores that just can’t be replaced."

© 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

For store hours and more information, visit