Tim's Cabinet of Curiosities

House Tour

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Name: Tim Naus
Location: Albany Park, Chicago, Illinois
Size: 600 square feet
Years lived in: 4 years; Rented

Tim had to rescue the model building from being demolished, so he found his way into the abandoned school and grabbed the plastered to-scale model of Independence Hall. A similar one rests in the Smithsonian American History Museum, but this one was completely original, a true treasure. He placed it upon his library mantel, along with busts and chalices, hookahs and chandeliers, altars, paintings and masks. It’s a storied collection that even he finds hard to categorize. The objects are beautiful, and the stories of how Tim acquired them are just as intriguing.

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They chronicle his previous life in Pennsylvania, where he worked at a metal shop and as an upholsterer, and his current life in Chicago, where he designs charming and elegant homes for some of Chicago’s most successful residents. When he moved here in 2009, he agreed to rent this apartment sight-unseen, but his treasure-finding karma rewarded him with just the space he needed: cozy, filled with sun and hidden spaces, and full of details that complement his cabinet of curiosities.

While Tim’s treasures tend towards the ornate, detailed and storied, the apartment feels very clean and crisp, and has a modern flair to it. The palette upon entering is soothing, with cool grey walls, a lovely geometric rug, and an enormous circular light fixture above that Tim salvaged from a previous installation, and which gives off a warm glow that lightly bounces off of all the gold, bronze and glass surfaces. Turning into the living room you see the centerpiece of the home, an actual cabinet of curiosities. Tim has three large bookcases busting at the seams with beautiful objects, each object in some way indicative of his past, or a step in his development as a designer.

The dining room and kitchen received a darker color treatment, and are perfectly poised for hosting dimly lit late evening dinners. A reproduction of an unfinished Rubens centers the room, all the more interesting since Tim personally put the piece together – selecting that work as one of personal interest, having it printed and decoupaged onto a canvas with a varnish to simulate brush strokes. It adds to the almost religious experience of the room, further enhanced by the Gothic throne and altar fragments.

Tim's eclectic collection continues into the hallway leading the bedroom, where he created a gallery of paintings and prints reminiscent of Sir John Soane’s Museum. Even in the bedroom, every space is given the opportunity to showcase something beautiful and interesting, from the sculptural figures on his secretary desk, to the modern chandelier, and even the gilded deer head above the antique headboard.

Tim’s home left me with a feeling of wonder and amazement. While the collection he's put together is certainly visually striking, what stood out most was how meaningful each piece is to Tim. It starts with the history of how he acquired each piece, which is usually an exciting story, and then the history of the piece itself, which Tim usually knows backwards and forwards. And finally there's the history of how he’s traveled and moved with them. As Tim’s journey takes him to new places and on new adventures, this collection will continue to define and inspire him.

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: No style in particular. While proper styles certainly have merit, following a certain style can leave a space without a soul. I draw elements from many: the joy of Gothic, the sensuality of the Baroque, the humanism of Classical, the glamour and luxury of Art Deco, and the optimism of European Mid- century design.

Inspiration: The color scheme of the public areas was actually drawn from my cat, Astor: the three shades of gray in his coat and the vivid acid yellow of his eyes.

Several sources gave me guidance, particularly Ogden Codman's design Bible “The Decoration of Houses”, decorators Elsie de Wolfe, Miles Redd and the greatest of them all, Stanford White. What really drove the design though, was the idea of “Wunderkammer” or a cabinet of curiosities. These rooms, typically assembled by gentlemen of the leisure class in the late Renaissance and Baroque periods, were collections of precious and bizarre objects whose relationships to one another were difficult to define. They could consist of historical objects, religious relics, geological specimens, and ethnographic artifacts. Above all, they were meant to demonstrate to a visitor the breadth of the owner's worldly knowledge and interests, and inspire the viewer to further exploration.

Favorite Element: There are two: The tombstone rubbing from Westminster Abbey of Eleanor de Bohan, Duchess of Gloucester. I bought it at the estate sale of an artist who was suffering from dementia and had to downsize her collection to make the transition to a nursing home.

The second is that ridiculous headboard. I always imagine it being in some awful, over the top Atlantic City hotel in the 60's, but it also is a pretty good copy of a Venetian Baroque headboard housed at the Met.

Biggest Challenge: Getting past what the place used to look like. My aesthetics took an abrupt turn recently. The place use to be full of Victorian furniture with big heavy drapery and even more clutter, if you can image. That look had been part of my identity for as long as I can remember, and it was very hard to abandon, but a change was needed and I forged ahead through two near panic attacks during an editing session early in the process.

What Friends Say: “Wow! You have lots of stuff!”

Biggest Embarrassment: The kitchen countertops and appliances. But that's the charm of a vintage apartment, right?

Proudest DIY: The painting in my dining room. It's a reproduction of an unfinished work by Rubens. The painting is just printed on banner sized paper and glued to a canvas I found in the trash and varnished over to simulate brush strokes. There's even still a painting underneath.

Biggest Indulgence: The colors. While the paint is probably the least expensive element in here, it was what I most desperately wanted to do and what made the biggest difference.

Best Advice: If you like it, do it! It's your home: if people don't like it, they don't have to come over!

Dream Sources: Kentshire Galleries, Newel, Clarence House, Dessin Fournir

The best source I can give isn't a dream, it's a reality: estatesales.com. Open it on your smart phone and it gives you GPS coordinates of estate sales nearby.

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Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

  • Living Room: Behr “Intellectual”
  • Dining Room and Kitchen: Behr “Elephant's Foot”
  • Bedroom: Behr “Quiet Storm”
  • Bathroom: Benjamin Moore “Black”

ENTRY

  • Clock: Estate sale
  • Umbrella vase: Pier 1

LIVING ROOM

  • Sofa: White Elephant (custom made and donated by Leslie Hindman Auction House)
  • Bookcases: Ikea
  • Light fixture: Preciosa Lighting (used in a Dining by Design installation and then salvaged)
  • Curtains: Fabric from the trash and then hand died and sewn.
  • Torchere: Estate sale in Winnetka, IL
  • Directoire Chair: Estate sale and reupholstered in a Fortuny print.
  • Independence Hall model: rescued from a school about to be demolished.
  • Tulip Table: Estate sale in Chicago and topped with glass from Pier 1's trash
  • Blue glass vase: Marshal's
  • Marble topped table: Rolling Mill antiques, Lewisburg PA
  • Rococo clock: street market in Yalta, Ukraine

DINING ROOM

  • Table and ladderback chairs: my grandmother's estate
  • Gothic Throne: discarded by my church in PA
  • Louis XVI chair: alley in Chicago
  • Gothic altar fragment: Estate sale in Old Town, Chicago
  • Chandelier: gallery84.com
  • Candlesticks: CB2

BEDROOM

  • Headboard: Red Barn antiques, Danville PA
  • Desk: Great aunt's estate
  • Gilded deer head: DeerHeadDen on Etsy.com
  • Map collection: various estate sales and auctions
  • Vintage Monkey Automatons: Blackstone Antiques, Chicago
  • 18th cen. Gilded Brackets: antiques shop in Carlyle PA
  • Vintage Italian mirror: antiques shop in Carlyle PA
  • Light Fixture: Jonathan Adler
  • Curtain Fabric: Scalamandre
  • Headboard Fabric: Vervain

BATHROOM

  • Shower Curtain: CafePress.com
  • Artwork from various estate sales
  • African Guru Mask: Africa Direct on Bryn Mawr Ave. in Chicago
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Thanks, Tim!

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(Image credits: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

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