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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Are we stuck in a design rut? Mon, 19 Dec 2011 21:41:53 +0000

In his essay You Say You Want a Devolution in the January issue of Vanity Fair, Kurt Anderson wonders if America’s days of cultural innovation are behind us, noting that although “the world has become radically and profoundly new,” thanks to e-mail, mobile phones and other technological advancements, the world’s appearance has changed very little since the late 80’s or so. “The past is a foreign country, but the recent past – the 00’s, the 90’s, even a lot of the 80’s – looks almost identical to the present,” he writes, pointing out that popular fashion and style have evolved far less than they did between past eras when “the characteristic surfaces and sounds of each historical moment are absolutely distinct from those of 20 years earlier or later: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the advertising – all of it.” Nowadays, Anderson notes, “It’s the rare “new” cultural artifact that doesn’t seem a lot like a cover version of something we’ve seen or heard before.” I think Anderson has a point. Take last weekend’s box office returns – the top 3 grossing box office films were the latest installments of the Sherlock Holmes, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Mission Impossible franchises. Hardly bold and original.

Why is this happening? Capitalism might play a role. Anderson points out that established companies such as Old Navy have a vested interest in maintaining a certain status quo, which is why jeans never seem to go out of style. Likewise, if Design Within Reach has anything to say about it, mid-century modern may still be hip long after the 2050’s have come and gone. It’s like fashion and decor have taken a page from soap operas and comic books. In both genres, the characters and stories seem to progress, but ultimately, the goal is a kind of sameness where everything is slightly different but reassuringly familiar. Superman’s new costume (sans the red trunks) is about as new and thrilling as an Eames chair upholstered in a colorful Ikat fabric. It might seem exciting, but it’s a minor innovation at best. Maybe Anderson’s right and American culture really did start to stagnate in the 80’s? Maybe having so many choices offered by so many companies invested in the status quo blinds us to potentially exciting and innovative ideas? Or maybe there are only so many new ideas that can be birthed from the alphabet of suitable lines, colors and textures that the cultural gatekeepers, stakeholders and arbiters of good taste have incorporated into the cannon? Does the ubiquity of sameness mean that the truly innovative aesthetic “novels” already been written? While globalization has given everybody access to new words and phrases, there are only so many possible “plots” or combinations. What do you think?

Extra credit: Is it possible to create a new alphabet of design without scrapping what’s already in place? If so, how?

Top photo from the September 2011 issue of Azure Magazine: Innovating design seems more common in Europe at the moment. For example, I’ve never seen anything quite like the room’s wrap-around shell, and I really love it. (The general idea kind of reminds me of the set that Alvin and Todd installed in their very cool Andersonville loft). 

Hardwood floors continue up a curved wall in this modern apartment in Spain from Materialicious. Still a minor innovation, but I rarely see this type of design in the U.S.

Perhaps technology will ultimately enable new and interesting designs for both interiors and exteriors. This building, from the September 2011 of Azure Magazine, was built with an energy efficient material that breathes. 

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Open House: Mary’s Logan Square 3-Flat Wed, 30 Nov 2011 21:20:44 +0000

Earlier this year I met Janet, a very talented interior designer who lives in a massive, gorgeous apartment in a vintage Logan Square 3-Flat. After I finished shooting Janet’s place, she introduced me to her upstairs neighbor Judie, a freelance photo stylist, and it wasn’t too long before I returned to photograph her equally amazing space (you can read all about it in last week’s issue of Time Out Chicago). Earlier this fall, I returned to the 3-Flat yet again to photograph the third unit – Mary’s apartment, which I also love and which has apparently changed very little since she and her late husband George bought the building in 1969. Prior to that, Mary, George and their three children lived in a nearby apartment that Mary’s parents owned, although they had begun searching for a more spacious home with modern amenities in the suburbs. Despite the supposed benefits, suburban life held no allure for Mary, who had grown up in the city and enjoyed taking the El downtown where she worked as an executive assistant for an import / export company. Unable to locate the right home in the suburbs, Mary convinced her husband to tour a newly listed 3-Flat in Logan Square that she’d always loved. “I’d wheeled the baby buggies passed that building a thousand times, and I wanted to see the inside of it,” Mary recalls. George and Mary toured the building and quickly realized that it was no ordinary city apartment. Each unit had a large entry foyer, gracious room sizes, four bedrooms and two full baths – ideal for their family. “Make them an offer they can’t refuse,” Mary recalls telling her husband. He did, and the couple lived there together until George passed away in 1997. Mary loves living there to this day. “I’ve always loved it. I just feel so comfortable here,” Mary says. “This is it.” Thanks Mary!

Mary has actually lived in the neighborhood since her parents bought a seven-unit building on Washtenaw in the mid-40’s. After World War II, apartments were hard to come by, and her parents wanted to make sure that Mary and her three siblings had a place where they could start out life with their spouses. At one point, Mary’s family occupied five of the seven units: her parents in the owner’s unit, Mary and her husband George in a unit and her three siblings and their spouses in the other three. Mary’s mother was such a beloved neighborhood figure that her likeness (silver hair with a bun) was included in this mural at Fullerton and Washtenaw.

Kachina dolls from Arizona.

Mary has owned this furniture longer than she has lived in the apartment.

Mary bought many of her Lladro pieces on layaway. 

Mary and daughter Kathleen. 

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Mom’s bungalow: The more things change . . . Thu, 24 Nov 2011 16:51:25 +0000

Happy Thanksgiving folks. I’ll be spending the day with Mom’s side of the family in the house where I grew up. If history is any judge, after dinner, half the family will clean up while the XY half will nap wherever they happen to find a spot in front of the living room TV.  I’ll most likely wander around taking photos and inspecting the house to make sure everything is as it should be (familiar). In the kitchen, there’s a tall corner built-in cabinet with three sections, each of which is still lined with remnants of wallpaper that hung in the kitchen when I was a kid – the bottom section sports a red and white checked paper that dates back to my mom’s first kitchen remodel in 1979 while the upper cabinets are still lined with a fussy blue and white patterned paper that’s also long gone. The A1 and corned beef hash can always be found in that cabinet, just as the same books fill the built-in bookcases separating the living and dining areas. On the other hand, the house has WiFi and Mom loves her iPad, but it’s nice to know that some things change more slowly than others. Hope you have a great holiday. Cheers.

I find Mom’s flour and sugar containers to be deliciously retro, especially the olive green screw on tops.

Most of these books have been here as long as I can remember.

A long metal turnkey opens the original front porch windows. The walls were coated with pebble-dash like the exterior of the house. As a kid, I’d throw the basketball against the side of the house. Bam, bam, bam, bam, each bounce sending a cascade of pebbles to the ground. Now I’m appalled (and the wall is kind of bald).

My mom’s built-in medicine case with the original bead board backing. A hinged mirror closes to cover it. I feel 15 again when I look into the magic mirror – but with some wear. As my friend Matt once said, You might think I don’t look 35, and I might think you don’t look 35, but when I was 16, I knew a 35 year old guy when I saw one

This is my room. As a pre-teen, I fought passionately for this wallpaper. Behind that door is a walk-in closet with a door to another walk-in closet – one of the the many strange closets I’ve had. 

This is my Mom’s den.

According to family lore, I’m like 1/96th Native American.

At night, the kitchen always has this cold glow, but florescent bulbs were green before green was cool. 

They really built them to last in the old days, didn’t they? This one keeps on chugging. Maybe I’ll use it as wall decor? Na.

That’s my cousin. He’s a good kid. Just two short years ago, he was (for some odd reason) terrified of the monster in the basement. I finally admitted that the monsters probably don’t live there anymore, and now he seems to like it down there. 

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Chicago is rockin’ autumn Fri, 14 Oct 2011 01:40:43 +0000

Habits are easy to pick up, and I have my share. But earlier this week the absolutely perfect fall weather earlier inspired me to skip the gym in favor of good old fashioned wandering. The first day, I was no sooner out the door than I ran into my friends Sara and Esmé (above), who were on their own walkabout to check out the neighborhood Halloween decorations. Later that week, I ventured east to the lakefront to check out the blood-red ivy leaves on the Lake Shore Drive overpass at Bryn Mawr, which I had spotted while driving on Lake Shore Drive a few days earlier. They were even more breathtaking in person. Today it rained so it was back to the gym.

Thanks Esmé and Sara. 

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Roundup! Mon, 10 Oct 2011 23:50:17 +0000

Recently I’ve been kind of obsessed with Lindsey Adelman Studios and their fantastic lighting collection. If you don’t have 15 big ones to drop on one of their custom chandeliers, Lindsey Adelman Studio has posted detailed instructions for several fixtures on their website. Best of all, the parts needed to construct the stylish pieces can be purchased from Grand Brass, McMaster-Carr and I know how I’m going to keep myself occupied this winter.

Speaking of lamps, check out this concept drawing for a lamp / robotic servant that would have lived on Superman’s home planet of Krypton.

Part Roomba, part Moooi, that lamp is enviable, but I’ll bet it won’t be very long before we have furnishings every bit as useful.

DC Comics recently rebooted their entire line of comic books, which includes iconic characters such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. The company used the opportunity to toss out 60 years of convoluted continuity and to update the characters histories and costumes. Superman, for example, is losing the iconic red trunks. Corny as the red underoos might be, I’m not sure if I approve of this change. The red adds a nice flair. What do you think?

Vintage Superman

The new look. (I suppose it’s alright).

Superman’s ditching the red trunks, and I’m ditching the blue art in my dining room. I’ve never particularly liked the piece, and last week I finally replaced it with a vintage wooden screen that I bought at the Randolph Street Market a few years ago. (Note the astronomy prints on the opposite wall because they come up again later in this post).

I’ve always liked the screen, but I never knew what to do with it. No clue why I didn’t try hanging it above the dining room buffet a long time ago. I guess I just didn’t see it working there. It’s very difficult to break the mental blocks we have when it comes to our own homes, don’t you think?

From the summer issue of CS Interiors, check out this great photo of Ann Kendall of Covet Studio in Glencoe and her astronomy prints. Great minds think alike! Ann’s installation confirms my suspicions that the one in my dining room would benefit from adding another couple of vertical rows. Unfortunately (and fortunately), I live in a quirky house:

This old gas light fixture prevents my installation from being as large as it could be (ok, should be darn it!). But it’s too charming to remove, so I persist.

I swiped the astronomy print idea from an Elle Decor spread a few years ago, and I recently spotted the same prints in a gorgeous Highland Park home (as chronicled in the now classic post Jinx, you owe me a coke! Coincidence or design doppleganger?).

How about this ad for Jayson Home? I’m obsessed with snakes, and Jayson is by far one of my favorite shops in Chicago. Caroline Scheeler and co. have always made room for the slithery reptiles in their product line, which makes me s-s-so happy.

Continuing with the snake theme, I snapped this photo of a vintage lamp recently at the home of a very talented photo stylist.

This is a recent Associated Press photo.

Speaking of snakes . . . I spent last Saturday paging through the last several months worth of Rolling Stones issues, and I particularly enjoyed Matt Taibbi’s May 2011 article The People vs. Goldman Sachs. To illustrate Goldman’s dubious business practics, however, Taibbi attempts to draw a comparison to the way in which interior designers do business, and I’m not quite sure that it makes his point. What do you think?

A little maybe. But don’t many interior designers, in fact, mark up products to supplement their incomes? And I don’t really have a problem with that. They have the creativity and the access. They edit, and they deserve to charge for it. Sure, jacking up the price of a brand name wallpaper is unethical, but it strikes me as a subtle distinction, and I’m not sure that it really conveys the magnitude of Goldman’s shenanigans as so eloquently recounted by Taibbi.

Isn’t this a clever product roundup? From the iPad magazine POST (debut issue – Matter).

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Neighbors Say the Darndest Things Tue, 27 Sep 2011 21:30:02 +0000

A few months ago, I was chatting with my neighbor, Judy, who is sort of a neighborhood legend, known for her involvement with the community and the local church (not to mention the raucous back porch card parties she throws on warm summer evenings). For decades, Judy has watched neighbors come and go, so she’s a font of  information about the history of the neighborhood. My apartment was kind of a disaster when I moved in five years ago, and I’ve always been curious about what it looked like in its original pristine condition. (Who decided to tear out the pantry, because I want to have a word with them). So naturally I peppered Judy with questions: Had she ever seen my apartment’s original vintage kitchen? (No). Who had replaced it with such an unattractive remodel? (The man-hating (but not lesbian) women who shared the unit for several years). Who had let the back yard become so overgrown and why? (Past tenants, absent landlord). While her recollections were fascinating, I still had more questions than answers, so I asked Judy if she had ever taken any snapshots inside what is now my apartment. At that, Judy, who has presumably never seen this blog, started laughing wildly. “Do you think I’m crazy or something? What kind of screwball would take photos inside somebody else’s apartment?”

Photo: Neither Judy nor I live in these Lakeview 2-flats, however they do neighbor one another.  

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Mid-Century Sale – Sat 9/24 and Sun 9/25 (sponsored) Tue, 20 Sep 2011 02:17:35 +0000

Attention mid-century modern lovers: The Christian Science Reading Room in Oak Park will be closing on October 1st, and Amazing Space’s Diana Ostreko will be selling off their stellar collection of 60’s-era furnishings by designers such as Wegner, Risom and Stiffel this Saturday, September 24th from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Sunday, September 25th from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m. at 165 N. Marion St. in Oak Park. Click here for Diana’s website.

. The collection consists of:

1 Jens Risom work/dining table,

4 Risom dining chairs,

4 Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs,

3 Wegner CH23 chairs,

2 teak work/desks,

3 triangular Nills/Denmark teak side tables,

2 round Risom side tables,

1 Round 42″ Teak Dining Table

3 upholstered lounge chairs,

2 upholstered low lounge chairs,

1 Danish 2 level side table

1 Danish cabinet with formica top

6 David Rowland 40/4 black stacking chairs in metal

26 David Rowland 40/4 orange stacking chairs in metal

1 umbrella stand with copper tray

8 Cherry or Bleached Mahogany custom/hand made bookcases 76.75″x30″x12″ with 2 lower doors ($4000.00 back in 1960’s)

2 Cherry or Bleached Mahogany custom/hand made bookcases 32.75″x40″x12″

2 Stiffel Mid Century Brass Tall Table Lamps-not matched

4 Nessen Brass Desk Lamps

1 Nessen Swing Arm Brass Desk Lamp

1 Bark Style Ceramic Table Lamp

What: Amazing Space mid-century estate sale

When: Saturday, September 24th from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Sunday, September 25th from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Where: Christian Science Reading Rom – 165 N. Marion St., Oak Park, IL

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California dreamin’ Mon, 19 Sep 2011 01:29:44 +0000

I’m having an adverse reaction to the mere thought of snow, and after last week’s cool spell, I’ve realized that 60 degrees is 10 or 15 degrees shy of ideal. Maybe I’ll move to L.A., where I spent a couple days last month. I’ve long fantasized about living in a mod house with killer views in the Hollywood Hills, but at this point, something much more modest sounds just lovely (and it’s only September). So I ask you:

What do you think of L.A.? Have you lived there? If so, where? What did you think?

Am I the only person who’s dreading this coming winter? And shouldn’t it still be fairly warm at this time of year?



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Blue’s Gardens Mon, 12 Sep 2011 16:30:30 +0000

When I moved into my apartment five years ago, I never would have never guessed that my back yard would still look so uninspired (euphemistically speaking) after so many summers. Sure, the vegetables that grow in its sandy soil are mighty tasty. And when you really pay attention, nature’s grandeur expresses itself in a single blade of grass, which makes my tiny city lot a genuine Garden of Eden, albeit one where a rusty jalopy on blocks wouldn’t look so out-of-place. How very unlike the gardens designed by my friend Blue McLeary, a Northbrook-based landscape designer, intuitive and past Open House star. Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to photograph two of Blue’s latest projects – the latest changes to her own Eden-esque yard and a landscaping project she recently completed for a nearby North Shore client. Blue’s ideas have given me a few ideas about how to magnify nature’s grandeur in my little urban retreat, and I thought you might be likewise inspired by her unique point-of-view. Thanks Blue!

Click here for Blue’s Open House.

Click here for Make It Better’s Adventurous Women series to read more about Blue’s work as an intuitive. I recently sat with Blue for a fascinating and enlightening reading that has prompted much introspection. Highly recommended.

River rock islands: what a fantastic way to beautify a simple concrete patio!

Original art by Blue’s husband James.

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