Name: Ronnie, Viktoria and two teenaged kids
Location: East Lakeview, on Roscoe
Size: Don’t know. Never really thought about it. Big by AT standards, I suppose. Maybe 1,500-1,600 sq. ft. per floor?
Years lived in: 15; Owned since 1993 (when the price of our single-family house—originally a working-class three-flat, and then a 1970’s-influenced duplex with a rental until when we moved in—cost what a decent Lakeview condo costs today).
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Ronnie and Viktoria and their two teenagers live in a home full of surprises. With enough space to experiment with how it's used, the family plays with a traditional dining room by making it home to a ping-pong table. Shelves and surfaces are covered in favorite books and magazines, toy collections and sculptures, stickers and buttons (looking like an atmosphere that engages, not a chaotic space in need of tidying). With an equal balance of shape and color, texture and calm, old and new, this East Lakeview home shows 15 years in the making - and living.
Ronnie's collection of about 150 wood dolls appear throughout the home almost as residents themselves. They are made by the Ewe, who live in southern Togo and Ghana, best known for their textiles and these wooden figures. Ronnie says he has seen them referred to as both "venovi" or "venavi," and they are apparently used like the nearby Yoruba people in Nigeria use Ibeji twin figures - for protection of the survivor after the death of a twin. Also, some scholars believe that the figures are sometimes used as children's dolls, and sometimes as fertility dolls by women who keep these dolls under their mattresses or wear them under their clothes.
My/Our style: Eclectic, idiosyncratic, stream-of-consciousness, acquisitive—an accretion of detail.
Inspiration: That’s a tough one. Don’t know if anything’s really been a true inspiration, though I’ve been influenced by contemporary art and art museums in general, by the rise of comic culture, by the intertwined graffiti/skateboarding/rap aesthetic, by the ever-increasing availability of cool, cheap stuff, by working in a flea market as an 11-12 year old (and discovering a love of ephemera), by Rotofugi, by the Renegade Craft Fair, by some parts of some issues of Vogue Australia, by walking around New York’s East Village, Bowery, Chelsea, etc.
Favorite Element: Probably any/all. Not sure I have a real favorite, other than, maybe, my art books (my walls of art books). And part of that involves the fact that my dad was able to replicate the 100-year old wood moldings to such a degree that these new floor-to-ceiling bookcases look like they’re original to the house.
Biggest Challenge: Small bedrooms, a desire to work within the house’s existing layout to the greatest degree possible, primarily to ensure that the next owner isn’t too hampered by “remuddling” (I think that was (or is) Old House Journal’s term for absurdly poor remodeling).
What Friends Say: Hmmm. I don’t think our house is most of our friends’ cup of tea. I’d really have to fish for compliments ….
Biggest Embarrassment: This one’s easy to answer: I loathe the bed in our “master” bedroom. Got it through the classifieds in The Reader a long time ago, with matching bedside tables and a trunk that goes at the foot of the bed. I have no idea what to call it, even after years of watching Antique’s Roadshow, so I’ll just call it modern rendition of a traditional/colonial poster bed. I think I could live with it if I can find a way to torque it a bit. Maybe have it painted gunmetal grey or olive green or cadmium yellow with auto paint? It’s a perennial to-do list item.
Proudest DIY: At the moment, I like—and I think I’m the only one in the family who likes—my “banner” headboard. My wife and I had disagreements about a guest room headboard. She wanted something more upscale and fabric-covered. I wanted something downscale and more two-dimensional. I suggested that I provide a temporary headboard, went online, found whosalebannerz.com, and discovered that I could get a banner, sized to my exact specifications, super-cheap. I read a lot, and I have this habit of sticking 3M post-it flags next to any part of any page that floats my boat. I picked the very next post-it flag-worthy text I saw, and used it for a headboard banner. I dressed up the banner edge by glue-gunning some ridiculously inexpensive trim from Hancock Fabrics (where everything always seems to be on sale).
Biggest Indulgence: We were debating this at breakfast. This is my answer (Viktoria’s is different). I think the renovation that we did 2-3 years ago was our biggest indulgence. We got an architect and he prepared plans, but then we chucked them in favor of our own ideas, which in our view would do more to retain the character of the building and would cost a lot less. We refinanced, taking some equity out of the house. The remodel cost about $200K. A lot of the budget went toward the cost of the kitchen remodel—in which we combined a super-teeny kitchen, a rear bedroom that we were using as a computer room, and a back porch. All considered, it was a great adventure and the contractor Best Results, is highly recommended.
Best advice: Experiment. Don’t take anything too seriously. Juxtapose. Delight in unplanned and unexpected affinities.
Dream source: Too many to list. I’d love a set of plates from MM-BC (mm-bc.org). Discovered them at a Renegade Craft Fair a couple of years ago. I’d love lots of exotic orchids—way beyond what you get at Home Depot—from Orchids by Hausermann (N134 Addison Rd., Villa Park, IL 60181-1191, 630/543-6855 (it’s worth going out there just to look around and breathe the air in the greenhouses)). I’d love to go on a buying spree at The Golden Triangle (330 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610, 312/755-1266 (a gorgeous store devoted to antiques and home furnishings from China and Southeast Asia, including British Colonial pieces)), Quimby Bookstore, 1854 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60622, 773/342-0910), Chicago Comics, 3244 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60657, 773/528-1983), and Zolla/Lieberman Gallery (325 West Huron, Chicago, IL 60610, 312/944-1990).
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- Rotofugi Designer Toy Store & Gallery, 1953 W. Chicago Ave. (at Damen), Chicago, IL 60622, 312/491-9501 (rotofugi.com). Also, Giant Robot and Toy Tokyo (in New York, in the East Village), and Kidrobot (in New York, in Soho).
- fairfaxrug2b0w store on ebay (search.ebay.com/_W0QQsassZfairfaxrug2b0wQQhtZ-1).
- Old House Lights at oldhouselights.com. Greg Lyons in Minnesota has terrific antique lights at fabulous prices and I purchased and installed a bunch of them.
- Hemingway African Gallery, The Manhattan Art & Antiques Center, 1050 Second Ave., Gallery 96 & 97, New York, NY 10022, 212/838-3650 (hemingwaygallery.com).
- Powell’s Bookstores (particularly their stores at 2850 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL 60657, 773/248-1444, and at 1501 E. 57th St., Chicago, IL 60637, 773/955-7780) (powellschicago.com).
- Stickergiant.com for stickers.
- Best Result’s Remodeling (John Kriho, 773/588-3409).
- Horton Brasses for cabinet and furniture hardware (horton-brasses.com).
(Thanks, Ronnie & Viktoria!)
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