Charles' Cozy, Family-Inspired Chicago Condo

Charles' Cozy, Family-Inspired Chicago Condo

Kristan Lieb
Oct 24, 2015
(Image credit: Kristan Lieb)

Name: Charles Hafner
Location: Bowmanville — Chicago, Illinois
Size: 1,700 square feet
Years lived in: 9 years; Owned

Most people's apartments are decorated in a way that is personal to them, but Charles Hafner brings this idea to another level. Different rooms in his big yet cozy Chicago apartment are dedicated to different members of his family. The living room, for example, is an homage to the way his parents' living room was decorated in the '70s, both in style and in the fact that he has several objects that were actually in their living room.

(Image credit: Kristan Lieb)

Charles hired decorator Gina Valenti to help decorate his apartment, but Gina is quick to point out that Charles had a lot of ideas and was very hands-on. He had several family-owned pieces that he wanted to be featured, and Gina helped his ideas come to life. For example, the master bedroom is dedicated to his maternal grandmother and features some of her original furniture. His paternal grandmother's meat grinder is displayed in the kitchen. Together Gina and Charles mixed these pieces with new and thrifted ones to create the space.

Charles is very proud of his cookbook collection, which has its own dedicated room. Many of the cookbooks were purchased for a couple of dollars at the local Brown Elephant thrift store. He frequents this store and likes to imagine the stories that accompany the items he buys. Objects with stories, whether his own or a stranger's, are what makes his apartment feel like home.

(Image credit: Kristan Lieb)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: A little eclectic, but definitely trends toward mid-century modern. I love clean lines and well-designed objects, particularly ones that have a story. Most of the objects in my home either are ones that I have some personal connection to or were purchased at a thrift store, which I like to think means that the object meant something to someone.

Also, plants — I like having something alive and green in every room. I come from a long line of fairly serious gardeners, so houseplants have always felt homey and comforting.

Inspiration: I’d have to say my history. Every room in my place is built around some object or theme that speaks to a time or place in my past that was important to me. The master bedroom, for example, is all about my maternal grandmother – I have many of her old furnishings in that room and the new pieces are ones that remind me of others she had. The hexagon table with interior storage is new, but similar in shape and function to a table she had that I used to store my crayons and coloring books in. For another example, the living room is full of objects and furnishings that remind me of the way my parents’ living room looked in the late '70s – so much so that I eventually just took a few things that actually were in there as hand-me-downs.

Favorite Element: I love my cookbook library. It’s a real extravagance to have a whole room devoted only to my books, but it makes me happy just to look at it.

Biggest Challenge: I mostly love the flow and space in my condo, but since I have a northern exposure, buildings on both sides, and mature trees in the front, I don’t get a lot of light.

One caveat: I hate that the layout of my kitchen occasionally forces me to turn my back to my guests if I’m trying to cook. It’s made me a better host, since I always try to cook as much as I can in advance so as not to spend too much time disengaged from my guests, but it’s still irritating that I can’t converse and use my cutting board at the same time.

What Friends Say: A friend of mine said my place effectively captures a “dusty groove” of mid-century American design: the period in between the jet-age modernism of the mid '60s and the disco glam of the mid-to-late '70s. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I took it as a compliment.

Biggest Embarrassment: Over the years, I went through four or five different design schemes in the guest bathroom to find something that would complement the former vanity top, which was a peachy-colored marble that I disliked. I was too reluctant to just replace the stone, fearing it would be too expensive, but probably ended up spending a lot more than the cost of a new one by trying to work around the old one with a new paint color every year or so. Finally, when Gina got involved, she told me that a new stone wouldn’t be that expensive if we could find a remnant, which she did rather quickly. And, in the span of about a month, the room went from a space I’d always hated into one of my favorites in the house. Lesson learned.

Either that or the fact that I can’t seem to keep the staghorn in there alive. I’m on my third one.

Proudest DIY: There are two. The first is the way I’ve concealed the thermostat, which was rather inconveniently located right in the middle of a broad expanse of wall. I thought about having it moved closer to the corner, but couldn’t justify the hassle and expense of doing so. So I tried to think of a way I could minimize or conceal it. The gallery wall of matchbook covers from favorite restaurant meals was a design element I had in a prior apartment, and I was hoping to incorporate it into this place as well. Two disparate ideas thus converged when I figured out that the standard-sized mat for the IKEA frames I use fit snugly around the thermostat. Most people never even notice it hiding in the wall until I point it out to them – and the Chiquita banana sticker only adds to the joke.

The second is the master bedroom closet doors, which are an IKEA hack. The closet originally came with some very cheap, louvered bifold doors, which were fine, but I wanted something a little more tailored and custom-looking. The doors are for an IKEA freestanding wardrobe, but they had the look that I wanted and fit the opening almost perfectly. Getting the track to work was a bit of a challenge, since it was designed to screw to the top of a freestanding wardrobe, rather than the bottom of a lintel, but I made it work with a little re-engineering and added trim. Once that was in place, all I needed was some little millwork pieces on the floor to keep the casters from sliding inward.

Biggest Indulgence: Other than the library, I’d have to say my bed – both the frame and mattress. It was a serious upgrade from my prior one, which is now in the guest bedroom, but worth every penny.

Best Advice: Hire a designer if you can afford to. It’s certainly an expense, but there is no substitute for a designer’s training, experience, and knowledge of materials. For example, the living room as I had designed it was full of negative space that wasn’t being used effectively, which she promptly and easily changed simply by reorienting the sofa. And, as noted above, I hated everything about the guest bathroom, but, in the span of about a month, she turned it into one of my favorite spaces in the house.


(Image credit: Kristan Lieb)


All rooms: Benjamin Moore colors in Thybony (an independent shop in Chicago) brand paint

(Image credit: Kristan Lieb)


I didn’t set out with this goal, but as the living room came together, it occurred to me that I was unintentionally trying to capture the look and feel of my parents’ living room in the late '70s. Initially, that surprised me, but I decided to just go all in with it, which is how I ended up with their old Sansui receiver and the same artwork that hung above their fireplace.

  • Sofa: IKEA
  • Coffee table: Room and Board
  • Media credenza: Design Within Reach
  • Artwork above credenza: a hand-me-down from my parents
  • Vintage Sansui receiver: was my parents’
  • End table and console table: hand-me-downs from my aunt and uncle- they were originally a honey oak finish, but I spray-painted them silver.
  • Arc lamp: CB2
  • Table lamp (on console): West Elm
  • Book credenza: West Elm
  • Orange “teddy” chair: Control Brand
  • Large artwork: from Brown Elephant, unidentified artist
  • Gallery wall: a mixture of landscapes painted by my paternal grandmother and other works I’ve found at thrift stores that I was able to determine (or, at least, hope) were also painted by little old ladies who presumably started taking an oil painting class at their local senior center.
  • (Image credit: Kristan Lieb)


  • Table: CB2
  • Side chairs: Poly & Bark
  • Artwork: Seattle-based artist Brian McGuffey
  • Framed matchbook covers: from memorable restaurant meals, in IKEA frames
  • Captain’s chairs: salvaged from my dad’s old waiting room — he is a retired dentist. I always loved those chairs for their lines and solid construction, so when he closed his office, I immediately wanted to repurpose them.
  • (Image credit: Kristan Lieb)


  • Bookcases: Room & Board
  • Lounge chair: Crate & Barrel
  • Floor lamp: Arteriors
  • Side table: Global Views
  • Console table: Studio A
  • Chair: authentic Eames molded
  • Rug: West Elm
  • Table lamp: Arteriors
  • Artwork: an old print that hung in my grandma’s house
  • Photograph: a picture of me and my grandfather in his backyard in Chicago
  • (Image credit: Kristan Lieb)


  • Bed: Room & Board
  • Sunburst mirror: West Elm
  • Bedside tables: Precedent for Dwell Studio
  • Lamps: my maternal grandmother’s, with new shades from Target
  • Long mirror: my maternal grandmother’s
  • Hexagon table: Precedent for Dwell Studio
  • Vintage camera: a Brown Elephant find
  • Wall clock: George Nelson
  • Taxicab lamp light: I found it discarded in an alley.
  • Artwork: IKEA
  • Side chairs: my maternal grandmother's — the upholstery is original and in such excellent condition because she had them covered in plastic for 50 years.
  • (Image credit: Kristan Lieb)


  • Bed: CB2
  • Pendant lamp: George Nelson
  • Side tables: West Elm
  • Table lamps: Crate & Barrel
  • Chair: also one of my dad’s old office chairs
  • Artwork: by my friend (and Great Lakes surfer – yes, really) Jack Flynn
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