Mark & Ania's Warm Neatnik Style

Mark & Ania's Warm Neatnik Style

Heather Blaha
Mar 1, 2010

Name: Mark Frankel and Ania Grzesik
Location: Rogers Park, Chicago
Type: Owned 2 br, 1 bath gut rehab in a 30's era building; 900 sq. ft.
Years lived in: Owned for 3.5 years, lived there a total of about 1.5 years (rented it out for the other 2 while traveling for work)

Beginning as Mark's first owned home, then becoming a full-of-perks rental unit, and finally solidifying itself as a cozy home for two, this apartment has seen many changes during not so many years. Mark and Ania now live among reminders of their pasts in New York and Europe, continuously finding ways to improve upon the complexities of limited space, a lot of at-home work hours, and the need to accommodate out-of-towners...

With a layout quite typical of Chicago condos including a narrow hall, small closets, and modest room sizes, Mark and Ania have discovered maximum benefits through color experimentation, scaling furniture sizes, creating closet organization, and the daily reminder that everything has its place (truly their best method of avoiding clutter). These self-described "art-nerd neatniks" are happy when home, something that's reflected in the casual yet careful details. While tidy and organized, you won't find Mark and Ania concealing the things they use or the ways they live. Records are out, board games visible, and instruments and engineering equipment ready for music making.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: It's hard to pin down any one style. We're obviously both into art and music, but we're also science nerds, so you see quite a bit of natural history elements. We've traveled extensively and have picked up a few things along the way, from a pillow made of Portuguese cork to Israeli Dead Sea salt crystals. And, we really like to keep the place neat, so we're constantly moving things around and de-cluttering. Maybe art/nerd/curio/neatnik?

Inspiration: There are certain things that when we incorporated them, the room suddenly came together, or gave us a starting point for what direction we should head. Ania: One is a landscape painting on a slice of birch that was painted by my great uncle in Poland. When I was moving in, I pulled it out of a box and had no idea what we were going to do with it. We found a corner in the living room where it perfectly catches the up-light from a lamp beneath it. It felt like it instantly transformed our living room into a cozy, comfortable space. Another inspirational piece is the painting hanging in our bedroom above the bed. It's by a friend of mine, Jill Simonsen, an artist in NYC. When we hung it up, it felt like it was made for that room (I had purchased it before moving in with Mark). It's a focal point around which we based everything else in the bedroom. We've avoided putting anything else up on that wall and otherwise kept the room pretty sparse, which lends to the tranquility of the room.

Favorite Element: Light! During the day we get a lot of natural light throughout the home. On a sunny day, we usually won't need any artificial light until after sunset. We find lighting from the ceiling strange and cold, which is a common issue. So, we've put lamps throughout the home, including a bamboo shade in the living room which lights up the turntable as well as throwing a warm upward glow. Also, Mark put dimmers on almost every switch in the home, including the bathroom, so when we do need overhead light, it can be controlled. Plus, everyone looks more attractive in low light.

Biggest Challenge: Space. A big project for us was to try to maximize space in a home that's a little on the small side. We installed shelving and drawers into all of the closets to maximize every inch. The leaning bookcases in the hallway (not pictured) allow us to store all of our books and media without making the hallway feel too much more narrow than it already is. We're still working out how best to utilize the space in the office, since it performs triple duty as a guest room, office, and an area for Ania to work on her art projects. For such a small room it seems daunting, but we know it can be done!

What Friends Say: They say they feel really comfortable and relaxed in our place, which makes us feel like we succeeded at what we were going for. We get compliments on the artwork we've accumulated from our travels. Also, "is your place always this neat?"

Biggest Embarrassment: Ania: The mini-blinds in every room. I'm trying to convince Mark that they are only acceptable in an office.

Proudest DIY: The fully tricked-out closets! As mentioned before, Mark installed closet organizers in all of our closets, but he also installed a power outlet in the hall closet; an under-appreciated convenience. Also, an air plant display that we worked on together. It's made from a piece of wood rescued from a barn that dates back to 1890 that has old graffiti carved into it.

Biggest Indulgence: Ania: Unreasonably expensive pillows from various boutiques. Mark: The large KISS rock poster over his desk (not pictured on purpose).

Best advice: Clutter is our enemy. We like to keep it pretty neat, so as we accumulate more stuff, we are constantly looking at what needs to go. We have things that are in storage and not on display just to try to keep it uncluttered. Hopefully at some point they will get pulled out and find their rightful spots. Also, dimmers on lamps and switches are an easy way to get a warm cozy glow and are fairly easy to install.

Dream source: Parisian flea market


Thrift and antique stores, craft fairs, flea markets in foreign countries, specialty boutiques, art from our travels, Ania's paintings and DIY projects, and occasionally the alleys of Chicago and the streets of New York on garbage days.

A few places we've found some great stuff:
Urban Nest - "gallows" lamp and side this place!
Calypso Home - pillows, sheepskin rug
Lenny & Me - blue "Thrasher" mirror in living room
Roost - accessories
Roy's - couch, armchair
Swallow - accessories
American Barn Company - repurposed barn wood
Clark Devon Hardware - these guys are great!
Urban Outfitters - bird lamp in living room
West Elm - accessories
CB2 - bird pillow, duvet cover/shams
Crate and Barrel - leaning bookcases

(Thanks, Mark & Ania!)

Images: Philippa Djemal

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