The Volcanos' Cozy Coach House

House Tour

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Name: Rosie and Kara Volcano
Location: Wicker Park, Chicago, IL
Size: 1,000 square feet (2 bedroom coach house)
Years lived in: 1; rented

Volcanos are fiery and dynamic, leaving ribbons of blazing light in their wake. Kara and Rosie Volcano certainly fit this bill. Warm, welcoming, and downright radiant, they are an on-the-go-couple who are just as fearless in their home design as their personal pursuits.

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When I first asked Kara and Rosie about their occupations, their rejoinder was "professional lesbians, hair stylist, massage therapist, yoga teachers, lesbian tag-team tarot readers, vintage camper rehabbers, and yoga pants designers." It's this creative eclecticism, candor and openness, and a willingness to tackle it all (and to do it well) that has made their home such a fun, energizing, and comfortable space. The house is as varied as its occupants, with inspiration ranging from natural history, Catholic paraphernalia, mid-century modern, 70s chic, Southwest influences, and witchcraft. It houses, not only Rosie and Kara, but also their two cats (Cherry and Gandalf), their dog Chicken-Willow, and a yoga studio/massage room/art gallery.

Their friend Claire has described it as their "crystal moon house," a name that seems perfectly suited to the Volcanos' highly approachable style. Their home is casual, calming, a little bit fantastical, and a little bit wild, all at the same time. Yet Rosie and Kara manage to strike a cozy balance between kitsch and cool, making a heartfelt space full of beloved objects. A daring aqua floor greets you upon entering their home, and this vibrant color is carried throughout the whole space in accents and trim, keeping the two floors connected and harmonious. The unique architecture of their carriage house means that there are only a few flat walls, and consequently, Rosie and Kara have converted several of these into galleries filled with diverse, quirky, and evocative art. It's clear that they are both collectors with a deep passion for art, inspiration, and precious objects, each of which carries its own memories. With scattered candles flickering, the soft glow of lamps, and the sound of Françoise Hardy on the turntable, their home is the perfect place to daydream, unwind, and create.

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: If I had to narrow it down, I’d say it’s Vintage Eclectic Southwest Witchcraft Homestead with a dash of Catholic Kitsch. Our house was originally a creation of dynamic design duo and dear friends Claire Tibbs and Sierra Berquist. One year ago we nomads moved into this coach house with nothing but an absurd art collection, some tarot cards, a papasan chair, a cat, and a bed. We went on vacation and while we were gone, these two gnomes unpacked our belongings and furnished our house for us within our very modest budget. We owe all our compliments to their extremely resourceful and competent handiwork. Claire now has her own store, Humboldt House, if you’d like your pad to look like ours! And Sierra has began making mid-century inspired furniture. In the last year, we’ve added our own bits and pieces (mostly magic crystals and more tarot cards) and now it’s become a perfect little sanctuary for us, tucked back in a quiet alley, away from the craziness that can sometimes be Wicker Park.

Inspiration: Magic, love, living and/or previously living creatures, southwest patterns, mid-century furniture, 70‘s ski-lodge porno, hand-made art and furniture, reclaimed wood, bright colors, succulents, anatomical curiosities, wigs, and the house spirit animal: the white horse.

Favorite Element: It changes from day to day. At the moment: the bathroom because we have a bidet, and we love our bath time. It’s also where we feed our dog Chicken-Willow because she’s too afraid to go upstairs where the cats rule.

Biggest Challenge: Lack of non-slanted wall space. Upstairs is vaulted so we can’t hang art, and that’s what we have the most of.

What Friends Say: “Oh my god is that cat real or fake?” We love our fake cat, Sassifrass, and we love that he confuses all our guests. They also enjoy our closet of costumes and our food. Sometimes we pull out an old papasan cushion and we all cuddle on it. As far as our decorating goes, they all approve, and like our style. If Claire disapproves, she doesn’t say anything, and just moves things around and hides the things that offend her (such as the previously mentioned papasan cushion).

Biggest Embarrassment: The carpet. Since we rent, we are only willing to tear up so much carpet and replace it with acceptable floors. We put laminate down in the healing studio, but everywhere else we just painted the floors. The carpet we have left isn’t so nice to look at, but we just aren’t willing to invest in more floor expenses.

Proudest DIY: The healing studio/art gallery/office. We tore up the carpet, put down laminate floors, hung drapes, painted, and built custom shelves all in 3 days for less than $300. It now serves as a massage, yoga, and gallery space for our business The Little Volcano. We both have a passion for art and the healing arts. We get to combine both passions by having semi-regular art shows as a way to build a community around our business and our space. We don’t take commission from the artists, and they bring wonderful new people into our life by way of the shows we have for them. We are also coming out with a new line of designer yoga pants with our favorite artists designing the print for the fabric.

Biggest Indulgences:

Rosie: my taxidermy hawk, Roger. He came from the most magical place on earth: The Bookman’s Alley. It’s an epic Charles Dickens-esque labyrinth of a book store in Evanston, Il. It’s closing this month after at least 35 years of business (so go check it out)! I’ve worked across the alley from there for five years now and been lusting after the hawk the whole time. The owner finally sold it to me for $100. I know you’re thinking, “That’s not an indulgence!” but believe me, according to lesbians it is. We’re notoriously cheap.

Kara: My Liz Nielsen photograph of the white horse. Liz is a good friend and one of my favorite artists. When she moved from Chicago she had a blow out sale and my business Barbara&Barbara bought a bunch of her work for the shop. A year later I wanted to have something of my own and I fell in love with the horse. I love having her work in our home.

Best Advice: When you’re moving in with a significant other, pay your friends to unpack for you. That way you don’t have to have the uncomfortable “talk” about where you’re going to hang the framed Harry Potter poster. Your friends have unanimously decided for you that it should hang in the closet. And you’ll thank them for it. If you’re lucky, you’ll not only come home to a beautifully blended house, but also a charming display of your combined sex toy collection.

Also, if your place doesn’t always look picture perfect, neither does ours. You should see how much shit we shoved in our closets for this photo shoot.

Dream Sources: Our friends, and all the things they bring to our home— be it building skills, a knack for arranging everything perfectly, pagan energy cleansings, good company, or sneaking in when we aren’t home and drinking all our soda water and eating the leftovers that we won't even touch.

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Resources of Note:

ENTRY

  • Couch: Barbara&Barbara hand-me-down
  • Cowboy box: Neighboring hoarder
  • Turquoise and wood bench: Hand-built by Sierra Berquist
  • Vintage volcano kit: Thrift store
  • Bird skull: We found this in the Redwoods during our wedding celebration earlier this year
  • Turtle with boobs painting: Corinne Webb
  • Koala and babies piece: Rosie Volcano
  • 60s spun plastic blue and green light fixture: Inherited from a friend
  • Virgin Mary feather boa lamp: Lost Eras Antique Store in Evanston, IL

OFFICE/ HEALING STUDIO/ ART GALLERY

  • Art: Various artists from our opening show, "It's the Little Things"– Shaina Hoffman, Brett Manning, Shawn Roberts, Brent Houston, Ross Martens, Janie Stamm, Celia Rose Marks, Sierra Berquist, Cheri Charlton, Josh Davis
  • Chair: hand-designed and built by Sierra Berquist
  • Red desk: yard sale
  • Little stumpy wood side table: Hand-crafted by Sierra Berquist
  • Drawers: IKEA
  • Cream chair: Inherited from a friend

BEDROOM

STAIRS

  • David Bowie in Glitter Frame: Print was a gift, framed at the Alley Gallery
  • ET: Lost Eras Antique Store
  • White horse photography: Liz Neilsen
  • Butterfly on the collarbone painting: Kara Wabbel Volcano
  • Hipster Jesus: Found in the dumpster
  • Lesbians fisting on graph paper: Alexander Coggin
  • Lint and matches: Allison Milham
  • Flower on mushrooms: Corinne Webb
  • Bedazzled can opener: Liz Clarkson

LIVING ROOM

  • Couch, rugs: Humboldt House
  • Black Leather Daddy Chair: Craigslist
  • Yellow arc lamp: World Market
  • Tiny table with turquoise drawer: Junk shop, re-purposed by Sierra and Claire
  • Custom bookshelves: Wood from Rebuilding Exchange
  • Vintage tripod lamp: Post 27 (closing sale)
  • Antique cedar chest: Estate sale
  • Crystals, sage, and magic things: Spirit Dreamer Healing Studio
  • Record player and receiver: Decibel Audio
  • Credenza: The Ark
  • Coffee Table: Brown Elephant
  • Mandala Tapestry on the couch: Spirit Dreamer Healing Studio

DINING AREA AND KITCHEN

  • Table: Originally from IKEA, found at a thrift store
  • Chairs and vintage chandelier: Post 27 (closing sale)
  • Bar: Custom built by Claire Tibbs and Sierra Berquist
  • Reclaimed wood shelves: Rebuilding Exchange
  • Jars: Ace Hardware
  • Butcher block island: Custom built by Claire Tibbs and Sierra Berquist
  • Handmade pottery: Kara Wabbel Volcano
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Thanks, Rosie and Kara!

(Images: Carolyn Purnell)

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Carolyn is a freelance writer and photographer, as well as a lover of all things colorful and quirky. She grew up in Texas and settled in Chicago by way of L.A., England and Paris. Currently, she is a professor at Illinois Institute of Technology.

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