Two Explorers Pursuing a Life in Chicago with Small Riches & Big Adventures

published Oct 5, 2016
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Globe-traveling, curio-collecting, working professionals by day and co-creators of an animated series by night. They’re building a life together rooted in a love of travel and exploration, fueled by intellectual curiosity and creativity. They’re smart and warm and possess Jedi-level cocktail making skills. Here’s life with Mark and Noelle…

Mark and Noelle live in a flat in Chicago’s Avondale/Logan Square neighborhood. Their home is a vibrant reflection of their shared experiences and passions. The furniture is largely vintage, the artwork is mostly original, and small collections and treasures from their life together are neatly displayed throughout their home in a way that feels like snippets from the pages of a beloved storybook.

(Image credit: Mark Cruz)

What was intended to be a two-hour interview and photoshoot turned into an afternoon talking about everything from music (Noelle and I are both huge David Bowie fans), art, travel, pop culture, Wes Anderson, pandas, Ghostbusters, good cheeses, vintage artwork, and Godzilla, to name a few topics. And we laughed a lot. I mean, a lot. Mark and Noelle remind me that there is time for all of us to pursue a life filled with small riches and big adventures.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Mark and Noelle Cruz

What do you do?

(Image credit: The Lost Land of Yehey)

Mark: I work as a graphic artist for Jellyvision.
Noelle: I work as a marketing associate for the American Bar Association.

Mark and Noelle are also producing an animated web series called The Lost Land of Yehey:

As co-creators of The Lost Land of Yehey, Noelle writes the episodes and Mark animates them. They also have a close friend in L.A. who composes the series’ score. The animated series is a result of Mark and Noelle’s individual projects melding into one. It’s the story of a young boy and girl who embark upon the unfinished quest of their deceased grandfather, a once-great explorer, to find a mythical land known as The Lost Land of Yehey. For Mark and Noelle, producing the series has been a labor of love for the past few years, and they are very close to releasing the first episode.

(Image credit: Mark Cruz)

What brought you to Chicago?

Noelle: After living in South Korea for two years, we wanted to live in a thriving metropolis that wasn’t fast-paced. Mark was born and raised in Chicago and it felt like the perfect fit.

Mark: I have really fond memories of growing up here before moving to Florida. So after returning from teaching overseas, Chicago seemed like our best bet, and I was excited to get back to my roots as an adult. I have to say, my love and appreciation for this city has only grown since we’ve moved here… so, good decision!

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Favorite local spots to eat or drink?

Noelle: Lula Cafe and Longman and Eagle. Lula has some of the best brunch foods. Longman has special doughnuts they put out every weekend, I gotta have those weekend donuts!

Mark: Longman & Eagle is not only a great place for food, but also the place for great whisky and killer cocktails. Fat Rice is another favorite, where brunch is especially amazing.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

How long have you lived in this apartment?

About 2 years.

How did you find your place?

We found it randomly on Zillow or some similar site. It was right in our price range, but there weren’t that many pictures posted online, so we weren’t sure what to think of it. However once we did a walk-through in person, we fell in love with the space and immediately snatched it up.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

What do you like most about your living situation?

Noelle: I love the area that we live in. It’s in the more family-centric area of Logan Square, but it’s still close enough to the action and our favorite haunts are only a walk or short drive away.

Mark: It’s perfectly sized to our lifestyle. It’s big enough to give us an office/workspace for our side projects, but small enough to not be a pain when we have to clean, upkeep or re-decorate.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)
1 / 20
Mark and Noelle spent two years teaching in South Korea and traveling the world together. (Image credit: Mark Cruz)

What do you wish you could change about it?

We’d love to have more natural light and more storage space. Old buildings like this are very charming, but more often than not, they are built for economy rather than functionality.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

What’s a typical night at home?

Mark: Usually we’ll eat dinner in our favorite room, the living room, and watch whatever strikes our fancy on Netflix. Afterwards we’ll both settle into our spots on the couch or in the office, throw on some vinyl records, and work on The Lost Land of Yehey for the rest of the night.

Noelle: If I’m not working on Yehey, I’m editing photos from our travels for my blog, Ganda-Ganda. Even though Mark and I have 9 to 5 jobs, we’re constantly working on our series or towards a mutual goal. That’s why we’ve made our living room the most creatively stimulating and exciting part of the apartment.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

What do you love to cook at home?

Noelle: We love to cook up cocktails! Since Mark refinished and rehabbed an awesome bar in our kitchen, I tend to make drinks for us and all of our guests. I’ve been infusing honey and simple syrup with herbs to make more complex cocktails. For my birthday, Markus bought me a bottle of St. Germain and I’ve been using it in all our favorite drinks. It’s a lovely addition to a gin and tonic and even an old fashioned (Author’s note: Noelle made one for me and it was incredible!).

Mark: If we’re talking the path of least resistance, then it’s a nice red wine and a selection of aged cheeses and charcuterie. Otherwise, replace the wine with an Elderflower Old Fashioned and we’re talking business.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

What are some of your favorite belongings?

Noelle: One of my favorite spots in our apartment is our portrait wall. All five portraits are original oil paintings that we’ve picked up from vintage shops around Chicago. Our friend Keith, who owns Vintage Quest, sold us our first oil painting. I lovingly named him Bradford and he was the catalyst for the wall. The rest of the paintings were bought with the intention of becoming the rest of the family. Each photo has been named and is a bit of a story!

Another cherished belonging would be my vinyl collection. I’ve always wanted to collect records, but my parents were too technologically advanced when I was a kid and we only had cassettes and cds. I’m a huge Bowie fan and our friend Keith gave me my first record, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. This is my favorite Bowie album and ever since then, I’ve been on a quest to purchase every Bowie record. So far, I have seven and hopefully the collection will keep building.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)
(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Mark: I love our bar. It’s the main attraction of our kitchen, but it definitely didn’t start that way. We bought it from a great shop called Vintage Quest, and it was originally a pea green color from someone trying to make it look shabby chic. So it sat in a corner of the shop for months, and I kept a close eye on it for a while. I really wanted to buy it because despite its color it was really cool, and I figured if I could just get the paint off and refinish it, it would be amazing! However Noelle was not too keen on the idea of buying furniture that doubled as another project. Finally after a few months of me negotiating with her, she relented and the rest is history. Now we’ve got a sweet James Bond style bar with a teak finish, and we love serving drinks from it to all our guests.

Thank you, Mark & Noelle!