Chicago – Strange Closets people, homes, travel and stuff Mon, 29 Apr 2013 17:29:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Day Trip: Milwaukee Art Museum Mon, 09 Jan 2012 21:07:34 +0000

If you haven’t visited the breathtaking Milwaukee Art Museum, which was created by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, I highly recommend that you check it out. Although I’ve lived in Illinois for most of my life, I’d never actually visited Milwaukee proper. Prior to my recent visit, I couldn’t understand why one would bother to make the trip. What would be the point? With plenty of culture, shopping and lots of action, Chicago has it all, right? Well, not really. Not if you like hills, of which Milwaukee has plenty. Not to mention the historic architecture, new downtown loft developments and the friendly populace. On the way out of town, we popped into the indoor public market, where there was no shortage of tasty treats. We left Chicago around 1 or 1:30 p.m. and were back in Chicago by 7:00. Not a bad day trip.





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Burning Man spirit in the Illinois boonies Tue, 06 Sep 2011 16:39:03 +0000

Intrigued by the massive public art displays, anti-commerce ethos and the rich photographic opportunities that would have undoubtedly presented themselves at Burning Man, I briefly contemplated heading out into the Nevada desert for the annual festival this year. (Click here for a 2009 New York Times slide show depicting some of the art installations). It was general cowardice that stopped me, not to mention a lifelong aversion to dirt and grime, which come part and parcel with the periodic dust storms and scarce water. Instead, I visited my Mom and her husband Jake, who took me on a tres interesting drive through the back roads of Will and Grundy counties. As I learned in short order, there’s Burning Man spirit right here in Illinois. You just have to know where to look for it. Hint: start at the Three Rivers Yacht Club where there’s a massive stone skull facing a Totem pole that points the way to Valhalla.

If I could attend Burning Man in the comfort of a decked out Airstream, I might be singing a different tune. Click here for the New York Times story.

The eyes must light up at night. I’d love to party there one evening. Maybe we should get a group together?

Just add wheels and this could be way cooler than that Airstream.

Don’t ask me.

This yurt, which might make a decent Burning Man dwelling, is now available on a riverfront road between the Joliet and Three Rivers yacht clubs.

Pretty decent view but watch out when the water rises.

Something tells me that watch towers will soon be the hot trend in home construction.

Speaking of towers, these are the cooling towers for the spent fuel rods at Dresden nuclear station. Note the massive cloud of steam. (A clump of my hair fell out this morning, but I’m sure it’s just psychosomatic).

Sorry to end on a corny note.

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Museum of Science and Industry Smart Home 3.0 Wed, 03 Aug 2011 16:10:15 +0000

Few things are more eco-friendly than recycling, which is something that vintage enthusiasts have been exclaiming since the first “green” products began hitting the market several years ago. This year, the Museum of Science and Industry acknowledged this fact by selecting Scout owner Larry Vodak to curate version 3.0. of their Smart Home, which I toured last week. While the inspired exhibit has always impressed, Vodak’s vision has imbued the space with the same kind of soul that pervades Scout and my other favorite haunts. One of my favorite elements are the upper kitchen cabinets, which are vintage steel cabinets from the University of Chicago science lab. If you haven’t visited yet, check it out. Smart Home 3.0 is well-worth the trip. Click here for more information about the Smart Home. Click here for more information about Scout.

After the exhibit closes on January 8th, 2012, Larry will be selling many of the furnishings at his Andersonville shop, Scout, so ask if you see something you can’t live without.

This is one of my (many) favorite Ted Harris pieces.

Another Ted Harris piece, this chandelier was made from old fluorescent light bulbs.

The open upstairs landing makes an ideal place for an office.

This Italian bed is one of the few new pieces. I love it. What do you think?

In the garage, a cool way to grow plants.

Larry Vodak

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A cool hazy patch of lakefront on a hot, humid July Chicago day Thu, 21 Jul 2011 18:50:33 +0000

Speaking of the beach . . . despite the fact that a heat dome has been hovering stubbornly over Chicago for the past several days, I decided to go for a stroll by the lake earlier this week and was surprised to find that the water hitting the hot air had created a cool (but humid), hazy bubble of its own. One lifeguard described it as mystical, and that’s how it felt.

How about an annual beachfront flea market / art festival? It might be a pain for vendors, but think it would be mobbed with curious shoppers.

Although the day felt real (and I have photos), some of the people enjoying the beach might have been doing so via dream projection.

It looked like sheets of light.

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Photos: Summer in Edgewater Glen Tue, 05 Jul 2011 18:11:00 +0000

I’m kind of obsessed with this retro building on the north side. My friends think I’m crazy and that the building is ugly, but as you can see from this photo, they are mistaken. What do you think?

This is the house directly across the street from the building in the top photo. It reminds me of that house under the roller coaster on Coney Island as featured in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

On a parallel street, this private abode is very intriguing.

This garage balcony looks pretty swank. You can almost feel the buzzing of the electric lines. (If the Secret works, I will soon have a similarly lovely retreat atop my garage).

Ms. A has always struck me as a bit plain Jane, but she looks sensational in this Smart Water ad.

Since The Return of the Bed Bugs, I’ve quelled any impulses that I might have once entertained to rescue upholstered furniture from the trash. But I do like the lines on this one.


I’ll bet that there’s an apple pie cooking in this Uptown single family.

I lived off the Argyle stop for a year or so in the late 90’s.

Along the lake.

I call this one The Gates of Heaven.

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Photo Essay: Labor Day in Downtown Chicago Tue, 08 Sep 2009 09:07:22 +0000 _dsc1607

As you peruse today’s photo essay, I must insist you listen to this excellent song.  Just click the YouTube player icon on your screen.  Sheesh, can you imagine how strange the preceding sentence would’ve sounded to you fifteen years ago?  Or, how much would we even understand about modern day life if we were transported here from the year 1900?  I’ll bet my first reaction would be like, “ARGH!  Why am I typing on a TV?”  But I’d be excited about electric cars.

But I digress, I spent Labor Day hanging around downtown (up to no good).  The weather was warm and slightly humid, so the slightest hint of a breeze made powerful use of the cooling properties of evaporation, which tamed my cranky inner beast (for now).  I passed Oprah’s crew, who were setting up a closed off Michigan Avenue for the big O-vent.  And I wound up in Millennium Park, which is just such. a. joy.  So enjoy the photos.

How was your weekend by the way?  What’d you all do?


Oprah's crew setting up for the big surprise. I can't even sleep I'm so darn excited.


Truth in cropping.






The past and the future face off once and for all






Fun Fact: Did you know that Millennium Park's much loved "bean" sculpture is also a swirling death vortex?


This frickin' guy pissed me off. If it were not for him, the entire view would've been clear (which never happens). I'll try again next time.


Do you think these folks are promise keepers?



Fiction in cropping. There aren't any other dudes behind the pictured dudes.



Can you believe how slovenly society has become?


















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Chicago Secrets: The Field Museum’s Hush-Hush Rental Program AKA the Harris Loan Center (Exposed!) Wed, 18 Mar 2009 08:45:43 +0000 3361656759_07ed0e6b72

Museums, in addition to being large publicly funded institutions which are open to the public for educational purposes but which often require an annual membership or nominal daily fee, are places where ANYTHING can happen!  Artifacts are collected for crying out loud!  From around the world!!  From remote areas!!!  Watch it because the exclamation points are really flying now!!!!!!*

Those of us who were regaled by the adventures of Indiana Jones know this already.  While we’re on the topic, I love the scene in the original (numero uno) where the good doctor (played by Hollywood Everyman Harrison Ford) is confronted with those dastardly swordsmen, and he, cool as a cucumber chillin’ on ice, takes out his pistol and takes care of the problem (as if the entire film’s premise weren’t blatant enough, the scene’s obvious pro-colonial propaganda should give one pause before rewinding to watch it again).

So I was excited when former Open House star Maribeth invited me to visit the Field Museum shop.  Things were going along splendidly enough – you’ll see more about that later this week – when Maribeth slipped and revealed a secret that was so . . . well, I promised not to say anything.

Continued . . .


To calm Maribeth down, I swore up and down I would never breath a word of it.  And I never will.  What?  Why are you looking at me like that?  Oh man . . . I can’t (I promised Maribeth) . . . She might get in trouble . . . OK I’ll spill . . . but you didn’t hear it here.  So there’s a department, so secret it has an official name and website (the Harris Loan Center), which is located deep in the Museum’s bowels and filled with taxidermy.  But unlike taxidermy which is unavailable to be checked out, this taxidermy is available to be checked out.  CRAZY!  Like a fox.  Literally, they have everything.  You just pay a one-time fee (no, it’s not one million dollars) and you can take the little critters home with you.

So that dear friends is my decorating tip of the day.  Spruce up your room, for a party or for daily living, with one of the Harris Loan Center’s check-out-able taxidermy pieces.  I checked out Sue+

Field Museum.  312-922-9410

*  How do you feel about exclamation points (!)?  I make myself use them because I recognize the function they serve particularly in an e-mail.

Hi Bill.

Hi Bill!

See.  I’d rather somebody say, “Hi Tate!” than “Hi Tate.”  But I also think exclamation points seem kind of artificially enthusiastic.  There needs to be something in between the period and the exclamation point.  Something like + at the end of a sentence conveys a general friendliness.  Not Hello.  Not hey.  Hi.

Hi Bill.

Hi Bill+

Hi Bill!

Do you find yourself thinking about punctuation:  Do you want to solve the vexing issue we face punctuating!  Get it.




I hate my reflection sometimes.





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Photo Tour: Open House at 319 Albany Tue, 28 Oct 2008 13:15:00 +0000

Sunday’s Open House at 319 Albany offered a tremendous opportunity to meet some of Chicago’s great talents and to see their work in person. What could be a more appropriate image to kick off the photo tour than one of Chicago-based photographer Marc Hauser‘s work? Hauser was selling prints of his work, including beautiful photographs of celebrities he’s photographed over the years.

Words will just get in the way (I know, too late), so I’m going to let the photos do the talking.

So in addition to being this great guy who has given me several amazing tips, Randall Kramer makes outstanding pieces and has one of sharpest logos in Chicago. And yes I’m aware that using “sharp” as a descriptor isn’t current in vogue.

Randall Kramer’s latest bench, a glorious (and comfortable) objet d’art was recently photographed for Luxe Magazine.

Lucy Slivinski’s studio. Look for an interview soon. Her work is unf’ingbelievable, strange and beautiful and industrial and organic.

Sharon Bladholm

Sharon Bladholm

Michael Thompson. Did you see the piece about Michael in the new Chicago Home? If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do so immediately (for bi-monthly ecstasy). Thanks!

Martin Giese’s studio

Martin Giese’s studio

Martin Giese’s studio

Martin Giese’s studio

Sorry, me again. Can you tell I like Martin’s work? I also love Philip’s (below).

Philip Livingston in his studio

Phil Livingston

Phil Livingson

Phil Livingston

Phil Livingston (front view)

Phil Livingston (side view)

A vignette in Tom and Lucy Latimer’s Studio (Latimer Line). Both pretty cool cats, this husband and wife team make custom furniture pieces and have distributed through Crate and Barrel (among others).

Ken Gold

Ruth Aizuss Midgal. Are there even words for how . . . no, I guess not. But I love Ruth’s sculpture.

Steven Green’s Studio

Steven Green’s Studio

Anastasia Mak’s work (Watch for more on Anastasia soon. Her work is energetic, whimsical and very affordable. Put her on your gift resource list.

Creative Wood Forms

Creative Wood Forms

And now for some misc. building pics:

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Design Destination: Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois Fri, 11 Jul 2008 15:30:00 +0000

When I was a kid, my dad lived out in the country along the Fox River between Plano and Sandwich, IL (we called it Bologna). Every so often, we’d be driving and dad would alert us that we were approaching the famed glass house; the whole family would crane our necks, expecting to see somebody sitting on their toilet, but the only thing I ever saw was my disappointed reflection in the car window.

Other than that, I didn’t hear too much about it, and those who brought it up did so with a suspicious tone, inevitably speculating about the sanity of those who built and inhabited it. Apparently, the very idea struck locals as the most eccentric and nutty thing they could ever imagine (this was 1986 and Tom Cruise wasn’t jumping on couches yet).

It wasn’t until recently that I learned that the space was not inhabited by people busily tattooing themselves and miming (not that I know of anyway) but was actually a historic and architecturally significant home designed by Mies van der Rohe and that it even had a name*, the Farnsworth House.

Continued . . .

And now, the one room glass and steel home is open to the public and being maintained by a very fine group of people who are trying to raise money to save this Illinois gem, which is extremely expensive to maintain. The space can also be rented for events.

If you’re bummed out because gas is too expensive and you don’t have enough vacation time, take a day trip out to the Farnsworth House (you can find visitor information here). And to learn more about how to make a tax-deductible contribution, click here.

The Farnsworth House is located at 14520 River Road in Plano, IL. For questions, visit their website or call 630-552-0052.

* I love homes with names – so fancy and pretentiously campy. I’m going to name mine. Suggestions? Maybe I’ll have a contest?

All photography courtesy of Farnsworth House’s website

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Open House: House 5863 Thu, 01 May 2008 13:00:00 +0000

In most cases, I like the concept of Bed and Breakfasts a whole lot more than the reality. Sure, it sounds cozy and “real”, the idea of staying in an actual home instead of a sterile hotel, the informal shared breakfasts, meeting new people, helping a real person make their living.
But my, admittedly anecdotal, experience typically involves Victorian decor, misleading photos, small showers, bad food, awkward breakfasts and uncomfortable beds.

So when House 5863 opened in my neighborhood, I was dubious.

And I was wrong.

House 5863, in Chicago’s Edgewater Glen neighborhood, is light and clean and modern (no doilies, no floral prints); the facility is what a good home away from home should be, a relaxing respite, a place to experience a real city neighborhood within walking distance of shops (like Scout), restaurants and the El.

The owner, George Brown, has transformed what was once an unusual building (one of a number of formerly commercial buildings that lined the otherwise residential Glenwood when the neighborhood was built in the early 1900’s) into a guest home, a source of pride for the neighborhood, a space to reflect, to meet new people and to fall in love with Chicago.

When I arrived to take photos, I chatted briefly with a visitor from Brooklyn. She was thinking of moving to Chicago “because there’s too many strollers in Brooklyn.” I lied and assured her that we don’t have that problem, but advised her to avoid Andersonville until her next visit.

House 5863 is located at 5863 (hey weird) North Glenwood in Chicago’s awesome Edgewater Glen neighborhood. For questions or to make a reservation (which I do recommend), call George at 773-944-5555.

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