This 750-Square-Foot Chicago Nook Is Filled With Over 1,000 Books
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Name: Jamie, Mike, and Queso
Location: Andersonville neighborhood — Chicago, Illinois
Size: 750 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment
Years Lived In: 6.5 years, renting
Mike is an academic tutor and writer and Jamie has worked at a local university for the last decade. Their cat, Queso, keeps an eye on the neighborhood birds. They’re a family of three that’s been sharing this small but cozy rental in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood for over six years. “Our building was constructed in the early 1900s and still has many of its original features, including beautiful woodwork, a fireplace with built-in shelves, and hardwood floors,” Jamie describes. “It also has lath and plaster walls, which has forced us to get creative about storage since it’s challenging to anchor anything heavy to the walls.”
“We moved to Andersonville nearly seven years ago because we wanted to live in a neighborhood that had quick access to the lakefront as well as ample walkable amenities,” Jamie explains. “We fell in love with this apartment as soon as we saw it: it’s a corner unit at the back of a U-shaped building and it has north-, south-, and east-facing windows. That alone would make it a well-lit space, but we have the added bonus of having an apartment that more or less rotates in a circle around a central closet, which gives us a solid stream of light from every window at once. It’s a magical and rare find — we’ve never seen another apartment quite like it. Structure aside, what has kept us in this unit for so long is our neighbors. This building is full of long-time residents and we’ve had the opportunity to get to know them well in the time that we’ve lived here. It’s not often that you [have this] and it’s what has kept us here for so long.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: A colorful, bookish nook.
Inspiration: I’m not sure we have a point of inspiration so much as a need to eke out as much storage and function as possible from our 750 square feet. We have nearly 1,000 books between us, a large collection of baking/cookware, enough dinnerware (most of it inherited) to comfortably serve 15 people multiple courses at a dinner party, and a bevy of art supplies. Our goal is to own these items without it looking like we own these items.
Favorite Element: The natural light and the cross breeze the apartment gets from its large windows and room flow really win the awards for best element. The coziness of the fireplace/built-ins are a close second, though!
Biggest Challenge: Space is our perpetual challenge, especially when it comes to work. Mike works from home full time, and Jamie works from home a few times a week, so carving out separate work spaces has been a challenge. We’ve tucked away a desk for Jamie in the corner of the dining room, and a collapsible desk makes it possible for Mike to set up a work station in the bedroom. The one upside to a highly visible desk and a desk that has to be put away every day is that our work spaces are virtually always clean.
Proudest DIY: It’s difficult to choose just one! We both really love our coffee counter, which was made using a piece of walnut cut and planed by Jamie’s dad. We also really love the butcher block counter we built (more wood/help from Kansas) for the kitchen — it’s slightly taller than a regular counter to make it more accessible to Mike who is 6’8”. Both items have made our slightly awkward kitchen far more functional.
Biggest Indulgence: Our Joybird sofa (a sleeper sofa with a memory foam mattress) was definitely a splurge, but it was SO worth it. It is extremely comfortable for guests, and we’ve even used it a few times in the summer when the bedroom gets too hot to sleep in (we don’t have central AC). It was the first brand new piece of furniture we ever purchased together, and it has held up so well over the years.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? We often joke that our dining room is more of a maker space than anything — the room is used for music practice, exercise, reading/projects, work, and eating. The anchor of this room is the large storage unit we built. We’re really proud of this DIY — it was made using re-purposed kitchen cabinets from a friend’s home renovation. The cabinets and drawers store everything from glassware to art supplies. It gave our small space some much-needed closed storage, while also providing some extra shelving for records and books. You may be wondering about our collection of mythical heads… those are homemade Halloween costumes we loved too much to get rid of (Polyphemus and a dragon head). The frames above my desk display a rotating selection of art made by our niece and nephew and by our friends’ children.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? An impossible question! Functionally, we really do love our Joybird sofa. And the IVAR shelves in the pantry make us smile every time we see them —they really turned a previously awkward and minimally functional space into a really excellent pantry for us! And the thing that was purchased purely for delight: our haunted house print by Ryan Duggan.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: We go through all our books, cupboards, and drawers (seriously, all of them) once every three months and get rid of anything we haven’t used in awhile/things we no longer need. We’ve attempted to institute a one in one out policy to keep the books under control — Mike’s very good at it but Jamie, so far, has had very mediocre success.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Don’t let the internet tell you you can’t be a maximalist in a small space. If you like stuff, you like stuff, and that’s okay.
PAINT & COLORS
- Entry — Benjamin Moore’s Cedar Green
- Living Room — Benjamin Moore’s Conch Shell
- Dining Room — Benjamin Moore’s Conch Shell
- Bedroom — Clare’s Meet Cute and Behr’s Vine Leaf
- Kitchen — Clare’s Meet Cute
- Kitchen — Behr’s Ancient Ivory
- Kitchen — Behr’s Vine Leaf
- Bathroom — Benjamin Moore’s Spring Purple
- Bathroom — Behr’s Ancient Ivory
- Bathroom — Benjamin Moore’s Sunburst
- Sofa — Joybird
- Ottoman — Article
- Side Table — West Elm
- Highboy Dresser — Vintage, District Chicago
- Small Green Chair — Vintage, Mercantile M
- Large Green Chair — Thrifted, Brown Elephant
- Bookcases — Made by Jamie and her father
- Dollhouse — Built by Jamie’s grandfather some 30 years ago
- Mantle Mirror — Thrifted, Brownstone Antiques
- Magazine Rack — Vintage, Mercantile M
- Rug — IKEA
- Plant stand — IKEA
- Pendant Light — Color Cord
- Art — Don Widmer; Krista Franklin; Charlotte Goldspink; Jamari Taylor
- Picture Ledges — IKEA
- Cabinet — DIY from repurposed IKEA cabinets
- Desk — Vintage
- Plant Stand/School Desk — Vintage
- Table — DIY by Jamie and Mike
- Chairs — Thrifted, Brown Elephant
- Dining Table Bench — IKEA
- Window Seat Bench — Thrifted, Marketplace
- Pendant Light — Color Cord
- Haunted House Art — Ryan Duggan
- Plant stand — IKEA
- Butcher Block Counter — DIY by Jamie, Mike, and Jamie’s Dad
- Coffee Counter — DIY by Jamie & Mike
- Cabinet — IKEA
- Pantry shelves — IKEA
- Pegboard — IKEA
- Spice Racks — IKEA
- Botany Print — Madison Memering
- Contact paper (transom window) — Etsy
- Cicada knobs — Etsy
- Bed — IKEA
- Dresser — Vintage
- Mirror — Thrifted, Brownstone Antiques
- Lamps — IKEA
- Wall planter — District Chicago
- Art — Aaron Wooten
- Bird Prints — Vintage, Andersonville Antiques
Thanks Jamie and Mike!
This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
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