Jim’s Earthy Garden Apartment

published May 7, 2010
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Name: Jim Williams
Location: Andersonville, Chicago
Size: 1,000 square feet
Years lived in: 2

Garden apartments in Chicago can often be dark, cavernous spaces. They are — after all — a few steps below street level. By keeping his wall colors and furniture in light earth tones, Jim has managed to make this garden apartment seem bright and open.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

A garden unit condo comes with its own decorating challenges. If not careful, it can feel like living in a basement. Jim has employed a few tricks in his garden apartment that keep it feeling light and airy. It’s not until you see a pair of feet walk past the living room window that you remember you are below street level.

The best trick Jim used to brighten up his space was his choice of neutral paint colors. All the walls are variations of earth tones. The open living/dining room is light tan, providing a calm backdrop for the mix of wood and fabric furniture. In a few of the smaller, narrower spaces, Jim used a coordinating darker earth tone on the walls. This works particularly well in the little hallway off the kitchen, where the portraits of his collection of Star Wars figurines are displayed. Used sparingly, the deeper tones are great accents without darkening the overall space. And whereas a color may have overwhelmed this small space, Jim’s earthy palette lends a sense of openness to his home.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My/Our style: My style is somewhat eclectic. I see connections between a lot of different styles that I like, and I bring a lot of those elements together in my space: contemporary, natural, industrial, Victorian. Some of those seem like contradictions, but I think the combination is unexpected and fun.

Inspiration: Because we live in an urban environment, I like my private space to resemble something of the more natural spaces near where I grew up. That means I use a lot of earth tones, but I also incorporate antiques and other found objects because they remind me of the abandoned objects I would find in the woods near my parents’ house.

Favorite Element: I’m fascinated by animals that people consider urban pests (especially pigeons), and I have been collecting antique pigeons for a while. The last time I was in Alabama I was very happy to find a cool antique birdcage that I really love and it complements the statues well.

Biggest Challenge: Both of the last apartments we’ve lived in have been new units that were added to older structures, so we’ve been living in modern spaces constructed inside otherwise vintage buildings. This means that some of the spacing, especially in the living rooms, has been very odd, and it’s been tough to figure out how to arrange the furniture so that, for instance, you can see the TV from the sofa. The seating arrangement of the living room is something I’ve struggled with design-wise.

What Friends Say: I spend a lot of time looking for unique objects that I really like, so a lot of my conversations with friends involve them asking me where I found something and if there’s a history behind it. This may be because my décor includes a few odder pieces, like a bottle of Grigsby’s Liv-Ver-Lax (for habitual constipation; still full, if anyone wants a taste) from the early 20th century and a Victorian stereoscope viewer. People often ask what the significance of the large photo over the bed is: This photo is a picture of the statue of Vulcan taken at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis representing my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. I love it because it’s comes from a period I’m interested in, and it reminds me of home where Vulcan currently stands overlooking the city.

Biggest Embarrassment: My unfinished guest room. I have a really great color on the walls, a light blue, but I really haven’t figured out what to do with the room since it’s a combination office/library/bedroom. It’s jam-packed with books (my partner’s an English professor), and I feel like I haven’t quite been able to turn it into a space that’s both usable and attractive.

Proudest DIY: I’m really not much of a DIY person, but the thing that I had the biggest hand in is the succulent garden. Since it’s just getting warm, I need to do a little work to make it look lush for the summer, as maintaining plants in a garden apartment is always a challenge. I really think that succulents have a lot of personality, and I’m really drawn to their interesting shapes.

Biggest Indulgence: The reclaimed teak pedestals. I saw some like these in a restaurant in Philadelphia, but it took a long time for me to actually find some for sale, so when I saw them I snatched them up without really considering price.

Best advice: Buy stuff you like rather than things you think go with your room. I have trouble following this myself, because I fall into the trap where I see something and think, “That goes with my living room!” but when I get it home, I feel kind of indifferent to it or don’t have a place for it. I’m trying to buy things that are special and meaningful.

Dream source:I love a lot of the cool refinished pieces at Scout in Andersonville, but they’re often outside of my price range. I love how they modernize antique and reclaimed furniture, and they have a lot of interesting office and industrial pieces that make you think about them aesthetically as opposed to pragmatically.

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Resources: FourSided, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Jayson Home and Garden, Broadway Antiques Market, Edgewater Antique Mall, Overstock.com. I found a lot of the smaller Victorian objects on eBay. I shop at a lot of antique shows, and I love to visit the antiques stores back home in Alabama because they always have great stuff that gets overlooked by local customers. I also bought a lot of great pieces at the now-defunct Intaglia in Lakeview East.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Thanks, Jim!

Images: Jason Loper

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