Katherine & Jem's Haphazard Collectedness

House Tour

Name: Katherine Raz & Jem Hilton
Location: Albany Park — Chicago, Illinois
Size: 900 square feet
Years lived in:

One occupational hazard of owning a vintage resale business is resisting the temptation to keep many of the most fabulous pieces. Katherine and Jem do bring a lot of their work home but they've managed to keep it well edited.

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Katherine and Jem’s apartment in the Albany Park neighborhood is a reflection of their passions for collecting mid-century furniture. Katherine has a knack for searching out the best pieces at the lowest prices. And while in the past they would bring everything home and carry it up to their second floor apartment, they've now rented a garage to store most of these great finds. Well, all except the pieces they can't pass up for themselves.

In the back of the apartment, in a room off the kitchen, is the hub of Katherine’s resale business. Overlooking the Brown line train, Katherine sits at her computer listing pieces on her etsy page — BackGarage. A couple of shelves help her organize the pieces that have been listed and those that have sold.

On the day that I visited for the House Tour, Katherine was busy preparing for the upcoming Vintage Bazaar, a flea market at the Congress Theater that she is organizing. So I am especially grateful that she took the time to show me around her inspiring home.

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our style: We try to keep it comfortable and we second-hand source everything. The reselling business inventory seeps into our living space (my fault) and then Jem helps make sensible edits. So what is that? Well-edited, haphazard collectedness. Mix and match. And I try to source unique items — things you don't see everywhere that are a little quirky.

Inspiration: I love clean, high-ceilinged lofts with painted white floors. And dark Victorians with loads of bizarre specimens (the "new antiquarian" style). I recently visited the Saarinen Miller house in Columbus, Indiana and loved, loved, loved the way the stark and bright mid-century furniture mixed with older, primitive antiques and textiles. So I'm really into clean lines peppered with lots of texture and textiles right now.

Favorite Element: We love the typical big, old Chicago apartment features this place has — dark wood doors, built-in bookshelves flanking the fireplace, hardwood floors. But it also has new windows and fixtures, which is great.

Biggest Challenge: Our living room is an awkward T-shape, so it took us forever to plan a natural layout that worked. You know that thing you do when arranging furniture in a space and you and your living mate are like, "And when we have parties, people can sit over here and talk to each other," but it's like, what? Why are we putting two chairs in a corner? We did that about 29 times until we finally had a breakthrough and got the right elements in place. There's also an absurd amount of neck-high marbled beige tile in the kitchen. Which is awesome for spaghetti fights but sets me into an occasional beige rage.

What Friends Say: One friend said she loves that whenever she comes over something has changed. (We rearrange our space about once a month, I estimate.) Another friend said she loved that there was so much to look at — that we have something interesting in almost every corner.

Biggest Embarrassment: Cat tumbleweeds. White walls (laziness).

Proudest DIY: We made the dining room table out of IKEA scratch-and-dent — although now I'd like to find some more industrial-strength legs that match the wood and look better with the carpet.

Biggest Indulgence: Getting a three-bedroom apartment so we could have a bedroom, office, and guest room. And now I rent a garage space, too, to store the furniture we buy and sell.

Best advice: Don't expect your apartment to come together overnight or even over a month. Your living space is a constant work in progress, just like your life. Don't obsess over every detail, live with flaws, and by all means, don't spend a ton of money to try and keep up with some unattainable ideal. Buy used. It requires and therefore instills more patience.

Dream source: It would be nice to cruise Andersonville, or the antique malls in Edgewater, or Fulton Market, or Randolph Street, with someone else's credit card. But I can't help it: I see a chair or a table I like for $1,200 and I think, "Okay, I'll probably find that in 24 more estate sales for 10 times less."

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Resources: Estatesales.net, Craiglook.com, PicClick.com, junk stores and antique malls on the outskirts of Chicago, thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales.

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Thanks, Katherine and Jem!

Images: Jason Loper

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