Rooms of one's own
A modern Wicker Park condo gets a vintage makeover.
After years of living in charming, classic-Chicago vintage apartments, moving into a brand-new, bare-bones condo in Wicker Park wasn’t exactly what Glorily Velez imagined for her first space as a homeowner. Except for the alluring espresso-stained wood floors and the 16-foot-high ceilings, “it was totally everything that I’m not into,” recalls Velez. No interesting molding, no arched doorways, no built-in hutches. What it did offer, she realized, was a blank slate—an opportunity to make the place her own.
“I wanted to elevate it above the developers’ box,” she says, “make it seem that it’s more than it is.” One glance at the potpourri of colors and textures—from the Flokati rug to the dramatic swath of peacockgreen curtains in the living room—as well as the mix of old and new decor, and it’s obvious she’s succeeded.
Sitting at the table, dangling a glass of wine between her long fingers, the 33-year-old Puerto Rican characterizes her approach to decorating as impulsive. She points to the Bertoia Bird Lounge Chair, her biggest splurge to date, purchased on a whim at a midcentury-modern furniture expo last year. Similarly, she picked up the dresser that serves as a buffet while shopping for lamps with a friend at the Edgewater Antique Mall.
“I think the reason I’m so impulsive is because I went to thrift stores when I didn’t have the means to furnish my house,” explains Velez. “It’s really easy to buy something [in thrift stores] because you like the shape, style or scale.” While she now does more of her shopping at boutiques, such as Scout and the Broadway Antique Market, a sizable collection of pieces from her days thrifting at places like the Ark adorns her apartment, from the collection of old wood and plastic frames above the fireplace to the eerie paintings of little boys in the downstairs bathroom.
When it comes to actually laying out the space, however, Velez requires weeks, if not months of pre-visualizing. Using live-in boyfriend Jeremy Stuart’s skills as a graphic designer/animator, the couple snap a photo of each room and then deck out the space on the computer (using Photoshop to drop in elements such as paint from Benjamin Moore and curtains from IKEA) to get a sense of how it will look.
Every aspect of their home reflects an impeccable attention to detail. For instance, two boxy upholstered Crate and Barrel chairs sit on one end of the living room, so the couple made sure to balance the space by filling the opposite side with light, delicate pieces featuring thin legs, such as the previously mentioned Bird Chair, a wooden magazine rack from Post 27 and a Jonathan Adler standing lamp.
Velez’s mindset as an editor of TV commercials influences her design personality as well, training her to exercise restraint and eliminate the fluff. “My gut instinct would be to fill that credenza with tchotchkes and white milk glass vases, but really two lamps, a picture from when Jeremy and I went to Mexico, a wine rack and some nice fresh flowers are all it needs,” she says, referring to the decor on the buffet.
That’s not to say that she prefers everything to appear perfectly stylized. “The ultimate vision is not for it to look like a well-curated collection of vintage pieces,” she explains. Details, such as the symmetry of the lamps flanking the buffet and the proper dining area, affect a traditional, if not old-fashioned, sensibility (unsurprising, considering that Velez looks to images of rooms from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s and the Victorian period for inspiration), but she still infuses her sense of humor into the place. Case in point: the extra bathroom upstairs, a Francophile’s fantasyland, with a black-and-white parasol shading the light, velvet curtains partially covering the bath and a collection of framed postcards of Parisian call girls. The center of the gallery features Velez’s report card from fourth grade—replete with straight A’s.
“I’ll literally move stuff around, grab a glass of wine and look around,” she says. “It helps me focus. But I do wonder, what does this say about me? Am I going to be happy when I walk in tomorrow?”