In Partnership withState Farm®

A Plant-Filled Apartment in a Former Mansion

published Jul 3, 2019
Credit: Sarah Crowley
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Kevin's home is in a former mansion that's been converted to rental units. He's filled the space with pieces he's refurbished himself...and all the plants.

Name: Kevin Foley
Location: Gold Coast, Chicago
Size: 1,000 square feet
Years lived in: 3 years

A few years after the Great Chicago Fire, millionaire businessman Potter Palmer filled in a swampy area on the shore of Lake Michigan and built his family a 42-room mansion. More Gilded Age families followed, and the Gold Coast was born. More than a century later, it’s still a ritzy ZIP code, but every now and then one renter stumbles on a miraculous deal. Kevin Foley is one of those renters.

Kevin works for a consulting firm that helps companies and cities reduce their carbon emissions to slow the impacts of climate change. Three years ago, when he was ready to leave roommate life behind and rent his own apartment, his search took him to one of these former mansions, which had been converted to apartments. As soon as he found out the rent was less than $1,400—”a steal for this neighborhood in Chicago,” he says—he rushed to sign the lease.

Since moving in, Kevin has given the mansion—or at least his small piece of it—a style he calls “urban jungle meets rustic antique.” He’s filled the apartment with pieces that he’s refurbished himself (like his buffet which he found for free on Craigslist and then DIYed into the beauty you see above) and plants. Lots of them. “I love the outdoors and nature,” Kevin tells us, “so I try to bring that love indoors with my numerous plants (50+ and counting).”

Kevin loves the flexibility that comes with renting his little slice of the Gold Coast, but he knows certain liabilities come with it—especially in a 100-plus-year-old building. For instance, if the stuff in your apartment is damaged from a problem in the building (like an electrical fire or a burst pipe), you may think your landlord is responsible. They’re not. For that, you need to take a cue from Kevin and get renters insurance. State Farm® will cover your refurbished buffet (even if you originally sourced it for free), your grandmother’s old camera (even if it will never take another picture), and your plants (even if there are 50 of them). Renters insurance is cheaper than you think, and it covers more than you realize. For pennies a day, it protects all your stuff—which you probably have more of than you realize. The average renter’s personal property is worth more than the average car!

With the security of renters insurance, Kevin can think about more important things—like, you know, saving the planet. To learn more about how State Farm can help ease your mind as a renter, talk to an agent today.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My home’s style: I’d describe my home’s style as rustic antique meets urban jungle. The first thing guests notice when they walk into my apartment is the abundance of plants. Furniture-wise, I have filled my apartment with antiques that I have restored myself, giving them a rustic feel with lots of distressed edges and refinished bare wood.

Inspiration: My inspiration is the outdoors. I used to go camping a lot when I was younger and still love being surrounded by nature, so I tried to bring the outdoors indoors with my apartment. The many plants helped me fulfill this vision, accompanied by earthy tones and lots of wood furniture around the apartment. The combination of all of these has also made my home feel cozy and welcoming.

Favorite element of the home: My favorite element of my home is all of the personal touches I’ve added throughout the years. The majority of the furniture in my apartment I’ve either custom made or restored myself, so they all have a special meaning to me. Many of the items on my shelves are family heirlooms, e.g., my grandmother’s camera. The majority of the pictures on my gallery wall I took myself. By adding so many personal touches throughout my apartment, I’ve been able to create a space where I feel comfortable and truly feels like “home.”

Biggest challenge, and how you overcame it: The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is dealing with my bland rental kitchen. I’m unable to replace the old appliances and the countertop is cheap white laminate. I recently discovered contact paper, and turned the laminate countertop to beautiful faux marble using contact paper I purchased on Amazon. I also added a rustic faux tile backsplash using contact paper as well. I highly recommend using contact paper to help spice up a rental.

What friends say about your home: The first thing my friends say about my home when they walk in the front door is that it’s directly out of Pinterest. Friends usually ask if I decorated my apartment by myself (I did) and if I can decorate their apartments/homes!

Biggest Embarrassment: A medium once told me my apartment is haunted.

Proudest DIY: I think my proudest DIY is my black buffet restoration. I received it for free off Craigslist and turned it into a beautiful piece that fits perfectly in my living room. I also really like my custom kitchen table. I wasn’t thrilled about my prior kitchen table, so I decided to design one with a rustic and modern look. I had the metals legs custom made to my specifications by a blacksmith who I found on Etsy, I bought the live edge wood on eBay, and found the glass top on Craigslist.

Biggest indulgence: My couch is my biggest indulgence. It is actually the third couch I’ve had in my current apartment, but well worth the wait. It is quite large, very comfortable, and is well made with quality leather. I believe comfortable seating is a necessity in making a home feel cozy and welcoming.

Best advice: I always tell new renters to take their time when decorating their new apartment. Don’t feel like you have to make your apartment perfect right when you move in. Take your time and find pieces that have special meaning to you and make your apartment feel like home.

Dream Sources: Craigslist (free section), Facebook Marketplace, Flea markets, Random Chicago antique stores.


Living Room:

  • Black buffet – restored from Craigslist
  • Couch – Facebook Marketplace
  • Coffee table – Craigslist
  • Bar cart – refinished from IKEA
  • Kitchen table – custom made
  • Gallery wall – photos I took
  • Art above bar cart – Desenio
  • Rugs – eBay
  • Plants – mainly Home Depot


  • Equipale chair – Facebook Marketplace
  • Headboard – custom made
  • Dresser – refinished from IKEA
  • Nightstands – refinished from IKEA
  • Painting above dresser – Facebook marketplace
  • Plants – mainly Home Depot

Thanks, Kevin!