A Shared, Real-Deal Artist’s Loft in Chicago
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Name: Heidi Unkefer (left), Brittany Meyer (right) & Jess Manning
Location: Wicker Park/East Village; Chicago, Illinois
Years lived in: 3 years (Brittany), 1.5 years (Heidi), 0.5 years (Jess)
This is no brand-new condo made to look like an industrial space with high ceilings and exposed ducts; this is a paint-on-the-floor, full of history, open and raw, ever-evolving space, one that has changed in size and configuration over the years depending on whomever was living there at the moment. It has morphed from warehouse to studio to artist’s collective, and it has been passed down from artist to artist until now, when the talented Brittany, Jess, and Heidi have found themselves all living here together.
In true artistic form, the members of “The Babysitter’s Club”—everyone who’s lived in the loft lately has had a super ’90s girl name—have each used their bedroom as a canvas on which to express themselves: a polished gallery, a bohemian mélange, and an edgy boudoir. Meanwhile, the communal spaces speak to all the roommates who have ever lived there; their art dots the walls, their furniture still resides there, and their patches and fix-ups keep the place together. Imagine a mix of Eclectic Chicago Alley, High-End Thrift Store, and Retired Punk House Show Venue styles, and you’ll get a sense for what it’s like in there: a modern bohemian space that keeps its lofty artistic history alive and well.
The building itself began its storied history as an artist studio collective and later evolved to an artist residential living collective. Artists have been working on their craft in this space for years, and you can tell: there are splatters of paint everywhere, artwork from previous tenants has been put up around the house, and you can even see some of the damage from indoor bouts of bike polo. It’s a great space for art—the windows are big and let in light from two sides, the open spaces are huge, and the place can take a good beating and still hold up. You enter into a long, long room, entirely open, that contains the entry, kitchen, dining room, living room, and lounge. Off of this are three bedrooms: first Heidi’s bright and warm space, then Jess’ punk and playboy room, and finally Brittany’s elegant and sophisticated bedroom.
Brittany was the first to move in and resided in several rooms before landing on the one she’s in now. It’s long and wide, with tall windows, a sitting area, office area, and room to spare. The space is polished and clean, with the contrast and curation of a gallery, and serves as a sophisticated refuge from her eclectic and busy life doing stand-up comedy, producing shows, arm wrestling, and even designing theatre sets, ballets props, and storefronts. But her room wasn’t always that way; it started, in fact, as a glorified garage full of all the artwork, objects, and knickknacks she had collected over the years. “This room needs more cohesion… there’s just too much stuff everywhere,” she thought, so out went almost two-thirds of what she had. What remained was a wall full of delicate, colorful scarves, a desk area that doubles as a make-up and hair-prep area, and a charming seating area with a luxe blue sofa and framed animated scenes from well-known movies. The best decision she made, she says, was to paint the floor a beautifully deep black. She complemented that choice by painting the walls an artist’s white, which wasn’t such an easy task in this old loft where each and every brick had to be scrubbed and cleaned beforehand.
Heidi was the next to move in; her room is long yet narrow and feels the warmest of the three, due to its south-facing windows and yellow-painted walls. Her experience with designing her space was quite different from Brittany’s. Heidi, you see, is super impulsive. Her decisions come at the last moment, as when she picked her paint color: Cheesepuff by BEHR, a warm yellow that’s just… cheesy and oh so warm and delicious. It makes the room the most cheerful of the three. There are colors all over, which give the space a child-like relaxed and joyous feeling. A lot of that color comes from screen prints, many of which Heidi designed herself—they are awesome! I was struck by how familiar the work looked, until I learned that she was the artist behind one of the street murals on the Wabash Arts Corridor in downtown Chicago, one that had just gone up! There’s so much to experience in this room: prints, art supplies by the tons, even a newspaper stand for The Onion (it’s cool, Heidi works for them).
Jess has only recently joined the club, but her style is dramatic and fully expressed in her small room and expanded closet/office. Hers is the smallest room, so an antechamber was fashioned just outside to give her enough room for a closet and small office space. There’s an edge to Jess’ room. The Mid-century undertones combine perfectly with punk rock colors and details. Chicago’s own Playboy Club plays a large role in here—that’s clear right away when you notice the actual stuffed playboy bunny doll, completely decked out in smoking jacket and bow tie. But there are also exposed hanging rods and light fixtures and a curvy ebony credenza, the bed is low to the floor, and above it a bull’s skull is crowned with flowers and strung with Polaroids.
The best thing about this space is its ever-changing quality. Today’s rooms, designed by their talented dwellers, add one more layer to the already dense fabric of impressions left by the many artists and freethinkers who have come before. Brittany, Heidi, and Jess are headed for amazing careers, and it’s only a matter of time before they pass this space on to the next generation of artists. I’m certain that those future artists will feel these three women’s presences, even if subconsciously, in the shuffle of left-behind artwork, fascinating forgotten objects, and paint splatters.
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PAINTS & COLORS
- Brittany’s bedroom walls: Glidden Silver Screen, eggshell
- Brittany’s bedroom floors: Glidden Onyx Black, high-gloss
- Heidi’s bedroom walls: BEHR Cheese Puff
- Heidi’s bedroom floors: BEHR Intergalactic
- Clothing rack: left from previous roommates
- Her painting: left from art studio
- Dottie: left from art studio
- Aqua sideboard: left from art studio
- Red sideboards: left from previous roommates
- Screen prints: Screwball Press in Chicago, IL
- Corner chair: thrift store
- Display cubbies: IKEA
- String lights: Target
- Molded plastic chairs: a friend
- Glass table: a friend’s yard
- Random art: left from art studio
- Table: IKEA
- Chairs: IKEA
- Placemats: IKEA
- Eclectic dishes: thrift stores
- Duvet: IKEA
- Sheets: Target
- Grey throw: Fred Segal
- Yellow throw: Target
- Body pillows: Bed Bath & Beyond
- Curtains: IKEA
- Large mirror: IKEA
- Couch: Create & Barrel
- Wood side tables: found in alleys
- Yellow leather pillow: Edelman Leather
- Fringed yellow throw: thrift store
- Tables: IKEA
- Desks: IKEA
- Ghostbusters print: Mark Englert
- Breaking Bad print: Mark Hammermeister
- Annie Hall print: Anne Benjamin
- Lucha prints: street artist Radah
- Scarf hanger: copper pipe from Home Depot
- Headboard: repurposed window frames
- Hanging plant holders: West Elm
- Screen prints: Delicious Design League, Jay Ryan, LandLand, Heidi
- Couch: the trash?
- Record player: gift via Urban Outfitters
- Art prints: Jessica Checkeroski
- Moss carpet: Shaw Carpeting
- Boomerang table: IKEA
- String lights: Target
- Orange chairs: a friend’s trash
- Black futon: a friend’s trash
- Pillows: Target
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