Name: Karie Leonardo
Location: Pilsen — Chicago, Illinois
Size: 1,500 square feet
Years lived in: Owned 5 years
All around Chicago, there seems to be a residential rehabilitation of once-commercial spaces on a massive scale. But rarely does a single person attempt it with a sole commercial property. Five years ago, restaurant manager and event coordinator Karie Leonardo purchased a shuttered hardware store in her Pilsen neighborhood and began the ambitious process of converting this old commercial space into a permanent home, maintaining as much of its original characteristics as possible.
The Pilsen neighborhood has historically been a port of entry for the Irish, Germans, Czechs, a number of Eastern Europeans groups, and for a half century now, Latinos primarily of Mexican descent. Karie is a native Chicagoan and long-time resident of Pilsen where she also works, witnessing its gradual changes over the years. "It's a double-edged sword," she remarks on its economic prosperity of late. "My friends can sustain their local businesses a bit better. At the same time, some of Pilsen's community resources and village feel are quickly dwindling."
Karie coordinates and furnishes fifty-some weddings every year at Pilsen's Secret Garden, an outdoor venue that was once a convent for the 19th century church across the street. For her event design business, Royal Wolf Events, she acquires hundreds of vintage trays, tins, pitchers, and any and all milk glass. She has a penchant for preserving storied pieces, like the "Jackson" sign in her kitchen, saved from the demolition of the first black-owned funeral home in Chicago, or the original watchmaker's desk in her living room.
Step into Karie's apartment and you can imagine how its sprawling space and high ceilings once enabled it as a shop. Converting it into a home is a renovation story rooted in a reality many of us can relate to. It's been incrementally budgeted for (five years and still going), electrical-fired (just days after getting the keys), and water-damaged (tin ceiling tiles along the back half had to be scrapped). Although it is now a living, breathing residential being, it will never quite be a conventional home by curation. There's the unimaginable existence of a mid-sixties fiberglass love bug camper in the back that guests sleep in. Or open up the massive garage doors in the back and you'll find a vintage rickshaw just chilling among the rest of the storage.
For Karie, years in the hospitality industry has made her comfortable in the acquisition of many things — dishes, records, prints, and books — for the very purposes of enjoying and sharing them with others. Guests come and go. Things come and go. "Don't forget to take something on your way out," she says whenever someone leaves her home.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: Mid-century bohemian
Favorite Element: Sixties Love Bug Camper that is my second bedroom
Biggest Challenge: Not enough wall space
What Friends Say: Stop buying art and records! Can I sleep in your camper?
Biggest Embarrassment: My dogs (just kidding). But I'm always having the furniture covered because of them. I've got two dogs.
Proudest DIY: I poured my own epoxy for the kitchen countertops.
Biggest Indulgence: Art
Best Advice: Try to buy handmade things. They have energy! And every home needs plants.
Dream Sources: ANY estate sale.
Wallpaper mural — Anthropologie
Smoked tulip chairs came off the set of The Playboy Club television show…
I have always been in love with vintage tableware of any kind
My home is always full of flowers and dishes from recent events, for over ten years I have been renting them out and doing full service vintage events..
Cabinets — I got them direct from the warehouse T2 Cabinets
It is an actual love bug camper
Open loft style room old wooden painted bed.
American flag larger than my king size bed
Light from West elm
All the curtains in bathroom are from Pier1