Ellenkate & Tim’s Clever DIY Loft

updated Feb 20, 2019
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(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Name: Tim Speicher, Director of Marketing and Communications at Victory Gardens Theater in Lincoln Park, and Ellenkate Finley
Location: Lincoln Square — Chicago, Illinois
Size: 900 square feet
Years lived in: almost 9 months; Rented

You know a tour is going to be different when you’re warmly invited to check out a cozy crawlspace/adult fort underneath a completely DIY lofted bed! Ellenkate and Tim have created a truly unique space in their apartment, and provide inspiration for renters who seek to defy conventional uses of space.

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

It becomes apparent fairly quickly that Ellenkate and Tim share a special synergy. They met while working together on various theater projects, and when they moved into this space, they sought immediately to create an environment in which they could live and entertain to their own taste within the limitations of a rental.

There are so many remarkable features to this apartment: the decal windows that serve as privacy shields as well as decor; the television wall and bar area created out of pallets and hand-distressed by using apple cider vinegar and steel wool*; the overhead light shade that obscures ordinary track lighting; the “painted” walls that are actually paint on wallpaper; the lofted bed area with “secret” crawlspace underneath. Ellenkate and Tim approach each element as an opportunity to create a desired effect, problem-solving and keeping everything up-to-code along the way. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility. I was truly in awe of their creativity and ambitious vision!

*Note: this process is very abrasive! Ellenkate and Tim suggest exercising caution if undergoing any distressing projects this way, and definitely always use gloves!

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Unfettered, industrial, versatile and evolving.

Inspiration: The wrought candle holder on top of the dresser inspired our style even before we moved in. Tim picked it up at a thrift store, and we both loved it immediately. It’s helped dictate our criteria for bringing things into our home — it’s beautiful, it’s useful, and it has a story. We like tough, post-industrial spaces that have been converted into trendy places. Some of our favorite bars (like Half Acre Tap Room) or performance venues (like Metro) have this aesthetic, and I think we subconsciously drew from there.

Favorite Element: The bar area. It says a lot about us: We built the wall ourselves, we re-purposed something old, it has recessed lighting (Tim’s favorite), and it’s useful… both because it functions as a bar and because the sewing machine still works. It’s also versatile — we use it as a coffee bar much of the time, and an alcohol/drink mixing station when we’re entertaining. It’s also one of our most recent DIY efforts, and shows how far we’ve come in our planning and execution skills.

Biggest Challenge: Putting up the long light shade. It’s one continuous piece, 27 feet long and 2 feet wide. It was really unwieldy and we were afraid of breaking it during the installation… which happened at 3am the night before our NYE party.

What Friends Say: “Whoa! You built this all yourselves?” Also, diplomatically, “You must have a laid-back landlord.” (Because of all the installations) Which is partially true, but more importantly, we could restore the apartment to its pre-Tim and EK condition in about 18 hours, if necessary.

Biggest Embarrassment: The kitchen countertop. It’s a shade or two away from the cabinets, which just makes it look dingy. The kitchen cabinetry also lacks any real sense of design. We’d love to add some color on there, add new drawer pulls (we’re on the fence about the leather) and just generally make it feel more intentional and welcoming.

Proudest DIY: It’s gotta be the lofted bed. To design it and build it all in secret was a big challenge, and it was hard to make it look finished. Still, we wanted something that looked and felt like a permanent installation without overwhelming the space, and we couldn’t be happier with the results.

Biggest Indulgence: The wood paneling on the lofted bed. All the rest of our wood was reclaimed and inexpensive. That stuff is the real deal, and was very expensive for our limited budget. We splurged on the dining room table, too, but Ellenkate is so in love with it that it feels like a steal.

Best Advice: When you’re estimating how long a project will take, add 40% to your best guess, and recognize ahead of time that you’re going to need to make at least one extra trip to the hardware store. Design and decorate your space to be lived in rather than simply looked at.

Dream Sources: Scout, Brimfield.

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Resources of Note:


  • Back wall: Behr: Graphite
  • Dining Area: Benjamin Moore Maple Syrup
  • Herb garden: Behr: Red Tomato mixes with Behr: Graphite
  • All doors covered by plain white Tempaper, then painted


  • Room and Board Sofa, Navy: Craigslist
  • Grey Loveseat and Matching Chairs: Craigslist
  • Entertainment Center: DIY- pallet wood treated with an apple cider vinegar/ steel wool mixture.
  • Coffee Table: Left by previous tenant, origin unknown!
  • Teak and white Chair: Baan Home
  • Stool: acquired at photography studio yard sale
  • 1977 red Zenith television: from Plymouth, Indiana Salvation Army
  • Dressing shade: Acquired when friend discarded
  • Lamps: Home Depot
  • Benches: Salvaged from Victory Gardens theater set
  • Speakers: Klipsch
  • Window Clings: Printed by Chicago Event Graphics. Left was Cosmonaut by Victor Ash. Right was anonymous street art in Bristol, London.
  • Big old light shade thing: Custom built using 1×1 wood, hardboard, chain, and track lighting hooks. Materials from The Crafty Beaver, and Mega Fabrics. Track lighting hooks from Crest Lighting.
  • Large Indonesian Teakwood dresser: Dania
  • Candle stand: Village Discount Outlet (thrift)
  • Candles: Alapash


  • Table and Bench: Broken Buckle Antiques
  • Blue Leather Chairs: Craigslist
  • Lampshade: The Brown Elephant Resale Shop,
  • Coasters: Chinese concrete artisan Kalki’d
  • Growlers: Half Acre Beer Company (logo/design by Phineas X. Jones)
  • Singer Sewing Machine: Basement of one of EK’s clients.
  • Wall behind sewing machine: constructed by Tim and EK using pallet wood treated with an apple cider vinegar/ steel wool mixture. Recessed LED strip lights from HitLights.
  • Burr Grinder: Zassenhaus
  • French Press: Bodum Chambord


  • Copper kettle: Barnaby Jack, Etsy
  • Pitchers and lemonade jar: Target
  • Herb garden: Tim-constructed out of plywood and pallet frames. Herbs from the wicked helpful folks at Gethsemane Gardens
  • Drawer pulls: cut from leather scraps, Mega Fabrics in Pilsen
  • Bug Artwork: Fort Pitt hotel furniture liquidators
  • Cast Iron skillets: Lodge


  • Octopus: Stock photo, altered by Tim. Printed on Canvas byChicago Event Graphics
  • Headboard: homemade.
  • Giant lofted bed: constructed by Tim and friend. Materials from Home Depot. Wood Paneling from The Crafty Beaver.


• Pallets acquired from messenger company via Craigslist. 20 pallets at $3 each.

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Thanks, Ellenkate and Tim!

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