Lauren's Bold Chicago Apartment Bursting With DIY Projects

Lauren's Bold Chicago Apartment Bursting With DIY Projects

Julia Brenner
Jan 5, 2016
(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Name: Lauren Svenstrup of Studio Sven
Location: Andersonville; Chicago, Illinois
Size: 650 square feet
Years lived in: 2 years

When Lauren's House Call was featured this summer, readers were intrigued by her wonderful mix of vintage and modern, so I was thrilled when Lauren gave an enthusiastic "yes" for a full tour. On my recent visit to Lauren's home, I was inspired by the distinct yet harmonious moods and tones she's achieved in one relatively small space. And speaking of inspiration, guess who has Rudolf Valentino in her bedroom? Lauren Svenstrup, that's who.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

After earning a fine arts degree and working her way up to become Design Director at one of Chicago’s top high-end residential firms (fun fact: Lauren was featured on HGTV's White Room Challenge), Lauren recently launched her own business, Studio Sven, which focuses on design consultations for a variety of budgets and spaces.

In terms of her own space, Lauren beautifully combines garage sale and high-end finds, and I love how so many of her pieces have fantastic and funny stories to accompany them. Her space is smart and well-designed, but it is also uniquely her, with a dash of Rudolf Valentino. When I asked Lauren about how she acquired Rudolf, she said the following, which I think perfectly sums up her approach to designing her space: "As soon as I saw him I knew I had to have him... and I would figure out the rest." Words to live by, friends, words to live by.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: I have an affinity for vintage finds and bright bold colors, mixing the old with the new. I love the hunt. I love the history. I don’t know that I have a style so much as I find something, fall in love with it, then figure out a way to incorporate it into my space. Years of working in the interior design industry make me want to plan out every single detail of my home, like I do for my clients, but it's not so simple when it's your own home. I have to find that one magical piece then everything else seems to fall in place around it.

Inspiration: I have always had a love for retail design, especially Anthropologie displays. You can create such impactful designs by taking simple materials and applying them in unexpected ways.

Favorite Element: Definitely the dining room, the ceiling specifically, it makes me smile. The room is such a dramatic contrast to the rest of my place; the dark walls provide for a very intimate atmosphere. When you are sitting in the living room and look back into the dining room, all of the faces from the portraits reflect onto the mirrors on the ceiling. My table may only seat 4, but there is always a party of at least 15 stoic guests in my dining room, 30 if you count their reflections.

Biggest Challenge: Sunlight! I live in the cutest Chicago courtyard building around. My neighbors and I call it "The Palace" because it looks like a castle, turrets and all! But it is seriously lacking in the direct sunlight department. I guess it doesn’t help that I painted my dining room the darkest shade of blue I could find and uninstalled the sconces in my living room, but my plants and I would love a little more light. I have not one, but two UV lights aimed at my tree in an attempt to keep him alive... Yes, I know I should just move it closer to the window, but he just looks so nice right where he is. I used to have draperies in my living room and bamboo roman shades in my dining room, but one by one they all came down to let in more light. My dining room plants are now thriving and have grown so high they provide a little bit of privacy.

What Friends Say: Oh my, I’m not sure I even want to know. My style, like my personality, is apparently an acquired taste: you either love it or you don’t get it! The most common response is that my home fits my personality— loud, bold and a little unexpected. After that it's probably, “Does your landlord know what you have done?” Surprisingly, he has seen it and loves it.

Biggest Embarrassment: I hate having window units, they are the worst. What I wouldn’t give to have central air just magically appear, oh and in-unit laundry too, please. You have to get a little creative in concealing that eyesore while still allowing air through, so I bought a macramé hanging and used it instead of sheers in my bedroom. It hides the hideous big white box, lets plenty of light in and still allows air through. Now if I could just figure out a way to block out the noise.

Proudest DIY: When all is said and done, I love my living room yarn installation, but boy did I ever hate the process. I needed to come up with some way to cover up the jbox locations on my living room wall where I uninstalled two sconces. After scouring Pinterest and elevating my wall a million different ways in AutoCAD, I decided to do a yarn installation. This over-ambitious weekend project sat unfinished for two months. I finally got bored enough over Christmas vacation that I decided to finish it. Eleven spools of red yarn, a few dowel rods, some hot glue, and four seasons of Breaking Bad later, I made what, some friends have pointed out, looks like a ten-foot self portrait of my hair.

My DIY chandelier and mirrored ceiling medallion in the dining room were surprisingly simple in comparison to the yarn art, although both required considerable time on a ladder. I had been eyeing the Ikea hex mirrors forever, but just couldn’t figure out where to use them. My dining room was so dark that any reflective surface would help, so it was decided...they were going on the ceiling. They ended up being the perfect addition to the chandelier. Of course, my OCD kicked in when planning the layout and I drafted up a few different variations before I committed to a pattern. I ended up installing them with industrial strength Velcro in case I needed a little wiggle room, fingers crossed it will make for an easy removal as well.

Biggest Indulgence: I can pretty much validate any purchase when it comes to my home, which wasn’t necessarily a problem until I ditched the steady paycheck and made the jump to start my own design firm. So, I have made a new rule for myself when it comes to vintage: If I will regret not purchasing something more than I will regret the money I spent, then that thing is probably coming home with me!

Case in point: Rudolph Valentino, I was out with my sisters on a Sunday afternoon walking through Andersonville when I stumbled upon the most amazing 6’ tall vintage poster at Brownstone Antiques. I immediately fell in love. I had no room for him in my place and my sisters repeatedly told me I was crazy for wanting him, so we left and went about our day. On Monday morning I got to my studio and I was still thinking about Rudolph, so I impulsively called and paid for him over the phone and he was delivered a few days later. After moving him from room to room, I finally decided that with a few alterations, the bedroom would be the perfect spot for him. Fortunately, I have a storage unit full of furniture, bedding, and accessories (from years of hoarding) to choose from, so in the entire redesign of my bedroom the only purchases I made to make this Latin lover work, were Ikea draperies and sconces, a macramé hanging, and a fur pillow. Now Rudolph Valentino has a home and I love my new bedroom.

Best Advice: Love the things your buy and take your time.

Dream Sources: I pretty much love everything from Julian Chichester, but it’s a bit out of my budget, so for now I am stuck shopping their warehouse sale in High Point, NC. Locally: Scout and Architectural Artifacts.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Resources of Note:


  • Dining room: Sherwin Williams, Dark Night
  • Foyer Stripes: Sherwin Williams, Dorian Gray


  • Floating console: West Elm
  • Wall eggs: Gold Leaf Design Group
  • Hey Y’all: Etsy, SlippinSouthern (A throwback to my Texas years)
  • Small art: Handmade gold leaf print, Natural Curiosities


  • Sofa: Craigslist, painted and reupholstered (My first “adult” purchase after college!)
  • Coffee Table: Arteriors Home
  • Media Cabinet: Ikea
  • Eames Lounge: Trade source
  • Side table by Eames: Julian Chichester warehouse sale
  • Accent table by sofa: Found table base, attached wooden slice to top
  • Stacking ottomans under console: Vintage, Good Deal Garage
  • Arch Lamp: Garage sale in 2005 for $2
  • Yarn Installation: DIY
  • Rug- Antique, eBay
  • Mirror behind tree: Vintage, Brownstone Antiques
  • Wooden art over console: Garage sale, originally from West Elm
  • Dog Sculpture named Christopher: Vintage, Julian Chichester warehouse sale (The salesperson would only knock money off of the price if I named the dog after him!)
  • Tree Basket: Home Goods
  • Sofa Pillows: South African street vendor + CB2


  • Desk: Ikea
  • Desk Chair: Y living
  • Sheepskin: Ikea
  • Wall planters: West elm
  • Striped rug: Ikea
  • Juju Hat: Outpost Original
  • Desk accessories + Lighting: Mostly vintage


  • Dining table: Belonged to my great grandmother
  • Dining chairs: Hive
  • Window box: Vintage, Good Deal Garage
  • Chandelier: DIY
  • Ceiling Mirrors: Ikea
  • Hide Rug: Sunland Home Décor
  • Portrait Art: DIY using non-copyrighted images of vintage oil paintings and Ikea frames
  • Easel: Vintage, Four Sided
  • Portrait on Easel: Vintage, Mode
  • Blue screen print: Made by a friend, Ben Myers
  • Table runner + Mask: Street vendor in Cape Town, South Africa
  • Centerpiece: Horn- Asia Loft, Bowl- West Elm


  • Rug: antique, purchased from a friend
  • Stool & Wooden Cabinet: Vintage, Good Deal Garage
  • Light Fixture: Vintage
  • Abe Lincoln Ice Chest: Family heirloom/ white elephant gift exchange treasure
  • Floating Ledges: Ikea
  • Art + Accessories: Vintage


  • Bed frame: Found in my college boyfriend’s family barn, it has been painted 3 different colors in the time I have owned it.
  • Bedside table: Noir
  • Dressers: Vintage, Craigslist
  • Rudolph Valentino Poster: Vintage, Brownstone Antiques
  • Mirror: Global Views
  • Sconces: Ikea
  • Lamps: Designer warehouse sale
  • Rug: West Elm
  • Bedding: West Elm
  • Throw Pillows: West Elm + Ikea
  • Draperies: Ikea
  • Macramé Hanging: Urban Outfitters
  • Brass Chapati Boxes: Antique store for $15 each (CB2 recently listed them for $119)


  • Cart: Vintage Asian street vendor noodle cart
  • Art: Vintage, assorted
  • Shower Curtain: Urban Outfitters


  • Chair + Rug: Ikea
  • Wall planters: West Elm
  • Red side table: Home Goods
(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Thanks, Lauren!

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