Sanja’s Modern Art-Filled Chicago Apartment

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(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

Name: Sanja Kerr
Location: East Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois
Years lived in: 2 years; Rented
Size: 550 square feet

Clean lines and a feast for the eyes are what you get when you combine cool mid-century simplicity and an eclectic art collection. Sanja Kerr’s charming one bedroom Chicago apartment in the Lakeview neighborhood is full of striking, well-executed design decisions that took careful planning and multiple attempts to get perfect- you can’t use black paint on just any wall! Her serendipitous finds at auctions and resale stores play well with her personal touches such as charming wooden puzzles and throw pillows handmade by Mom.

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A black door opens to reveal a clean and curated apartment with lots of light. (Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)
(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

At just 550 square feet, Sanja’s apartment didn’t have much room to work with, which is why she chose a clean, simple approach that allowed for plenty of uncluttered space juxtaposed with areas empowered by an expert use of light. The neutral palette of wood tones, grays, blacks, and whites sets the stage for her colorful and dynamic art collection. It’s a charming example of a home full of warmth, memories, and interesting points of study that at the same time is able to feel relaxed and at peace. Combining the two aspects is no easy task, but she has managed to design a seamlessly impressive experience throughout her home.

Despite being small in scale, Sanja’s home is full of style with a little bit of sass; it’s the perfect reflection of her personality. As a guest in her home you can’t help but want to sit back on the sofa and spend hours gazing up at the black-painted wall, getting lost in her colorful gallery. Oh, and when you do visit, take the lid off of the beautiful little dish on her coffee table — there’s a little sweet treat waiting for you!

(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Eclectic Mid-Century Modern

Inspiration: My goal was to create a space that mimics my personal style, but I am a Chicago designer after all and I wear black 99% of the time; the other 1% I wear a shade of it. Art is truly my inspiration and all of the work that has been selected dictates the color scheme, mood, and the overall direction of the design in the space. The way I see it, all case goods, seating, and accessories around the art are muted but support the art nonetheless. Colors are toned down, the lines are clean, and the art brings it all home.

Favorite Element: The two mid-century modern arm chairs are definitely at the top of the list because I actually bid on them (lucky number 13) and won them at an auction.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge was deciding on the paint for the gallery wall in the living area. I went through 4 different colors and finally landed on black which ended up being the perfect choice to let the art pop out but make the TV disappear.

What Friends Say: My friends come inside and are overwhelmed by the amount of art in the space. There is a total of 34 pieces in the entire apartment. I was very selective about what type of art goes where, a product of my mild OCD, so there is a method to my madness. The gallery wall is mainly women: different cultures, interpretations, and media. Bathroom is all Andy Warhol. Picasso and similar work all throughout the entry/living/dining areas.

Biggest Embarrassment: I don’t have a “no-shoe policy” even though I was raised in an Eastern European home, but this all changes as soon as friends approach my cowhide. “If you want to step on the hair, you gotta lose the pair.”

Proudest DIY: The gallery wall without a doubt. From simple things like paint colors to more complex things like layout and content of the frames, gallery walls are no joke. I believe I finally achieved REM sleep after completing the wall and it only took a little over a year.

Biggest Indulgence: Since most of the case goods and accessories have been purchased through Craigslist, markets, and re-sale stores, I allowed myself to “splurge” on some of the larger pieces like the bed frame, dining table, and side chairs. Most of the pieces have a very versatile look and weren’t purchased on impulse – except the CB2 Alpine Gunmetal Bed Frame. But I did sit on the bed for about 45 minutes to an hour in the store before getting it so I guess it’s not a true impulse purchase.

Best Advice: Not everything in your new place needs to be new! I am on Craigslist all the time even when I am not looking for anything (if that is ever possible). Re-sale stores have so many hidden treasures and you just have to have the time and patience to find the valuable pieces. Also, never settle for a suggested price at these places – it’s called bargaining for a reason and you can really get some neat pieces for a fraction of the price.

Dream Sources: I would love to own a true conversation piece that is bid out at the Wright Auction House. Having something authentic that comes with a whole storyline is truly lovely. I also would really love to have a few pieces from Luminaire since they house so many great furniture and lighting designers. One particular dream piece is a lighting fixture by Ingo Maurer.


(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)


  • Gallery Wall in Living Area: Behr Carbon
  • Bedroom Bed Wall: Berh Spun Cotton
  • Bedroom Adjacent Walls: Behr: Mined Coal
  • Doorways Accent: Martha Stewart Living Polished Silver Metallic Paint
  • (Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)


    • Tea light holders: CB2
    • Runner: TJ Maxx
    • Art: both pieces (Picasso’s Old Guitarist and the Leo McDowell piece) were gifts from my brother
    (Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)


    • Full-length mirror: IKEA via Craigslist
    • Lamp: Amazon
    • 2 Danish teak chairs: Johannes Andersen for Uldum Mobelfabrik via Auction
    • Sofa: IKEA
    • Pillows on sofa: custom with Pierre Frey fabric- my mother sewed them for me
    • Square chrome and glass tables: CB2 via Craigslist
    • Square rusted metal side tables: Brown Elephant
    • C-shape sofa table: Amazon
    • Blanket basket: Home Goods
    • TV console: IKEA via Craigslist
    • Bookshelves: CB2
    • Acrylic console – CB2
    • Ottomans: TJ Maxx
    • Cowhide: IKEA
    • Curtains: Home Goods
    • Plants: Home Depot
    • Cactus: Gethsemane
    • Cactus pot: Home Goods
    • Art above console: Goodwill in East Harlem, New York
    • Gallery wall above TV: collected art from street fests,, etsy
    • Rothko replica piece: found in building stairwell
    (Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)


  • Dining chairs: West Elm
  • Lambwool hides: IKEA
  • Dining table: CB2
  • Console: Ikea; Cinder blocks under console from Home Depot
  • Art:
  • Frame: Mount Sinai Hospital Resale Shop
  • Wine rack: Target
  • Accessories: TJ Maxx, Michael’s
  • (Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)


  • Roy Lichtenstein-inspired piece: found in building stairwell
  • Clock: Target
  • Accessories: Target
  • (Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)


  • Bed Frame: CB2
  • Bedding: Macy’s
  • Shams: TJ Maxx
  • Throw: TJ Maxx
  • Dresser: IKEA
  • Accessories: Nate Berkus for Target, Brown Elephant
  • Mirror: Gift
  • Art above bed: Frames from Michael’s, art is wrapping paper from Four Sided in Lakeview
  • Sconces: IKEA
  • Wood square side table: Craigslist
  • Aluminum round side table: Craigslist
  • White vase: IKEA
  • Sheers – Kohl’s
  • (Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)


    • Art:, framed Perrier water bottle wrapper
    • Accessories: street fest in Chicago

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    Thanks, SANJA!