Home: Aleksandra Furman

In the debut edition of Home, a VOA designer tells us about the local art and reused materials in her one bedroom place on Chicago’s South Side

Ukraine-born VOA Interior Designer Aleksandra Furman purchased a former tavern with her sister in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. We loved the unique look Furman achieved from her budget gut-rehab of the space and wanted to find out more so we asked her. 

For those that don’t know Chicago, what’s Bridgeport like and what drew you to the neighborhood?
Bridgeport is a really unique little neighborhood that embodies the Chicago spirit. Historically, it’s been home to stockyard workers, police officers and city officials (specifically the Daley family). Now it’s starting to develop an art and design community. There’s a lot of character and historical charm here. For me, it’s a hidden gem that is centrally located and affordable.

Why did you choose this building?
This building chose me in a way. I had been looking for real estate in Pilsen and as prices started to creep up, I realized that I was no longer able to afford it. Coincidentally, the price of this building kept dropping because it was completely run down and occupied by gang members. Around the same time, my parents got sick and were unable to support themselves. In buying the building, my sister and I figured out a way to take care of them (they live in the adjacent space) and we both have the quality of life that we want.

What was the space before?
Some of my neighbors told me that my house used to be an Elvis-themed bar called Adele’s Pub in the ‘70s. The upstairs of my building may have been a bed and breakfast at some point, too. When I bought the building, it was pretty much a slum. I demo’ed the first floor and found 100-year-old beer cans hidden inside the walls. It seems like since 1887, this place has been patched together by drunks who didn’t know what they were doing—myself included, to a degree.

How long did it take to renovate your place? It sounds like a huge project.
It took me a few months to gut and rehab the first floor. I made it livable as fast as I could and I’m still adding finishing touches. I had every friend I knew help me build this place. Nothing is perfect or professionally done, but I barely had to spend any money on labor. Also, I lucked out and found handy tenants after I finally evicted the Latin Kings from the second floor. My new tenants rebuilt their whole unit and continue to help me with everything in the building. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

How did you reuse materials from the original in your new space?
I covered an entire wall with lath. I also used the leftover lath for all my wall base and to frame a small window. Everything is covered in lath. Oh yea, and I built a small kitchen island out of the building’s original 2×4’s.

How did you acquire some of the slick furniture?
Previously, I did interior design work for clients in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Often, when they would get rid of things from the year before they would hand off the older pieces to me.

Do you think it exemplifies your approach to design? How so?
I hope not. I didn’t have much time to resolve all the details. Nothing aligns and everything is put together in the most basic and crude way. I would rather think of my place as a tale of survival than anything remotely “high design.”

What’s your favorite aspect of your place?
I love the glass block wall. It lets in so much natural light and lets me fill my house with plants. I think I love everything about it because it’s mine.

Where did you get the artwork for your space?
I asked a few friends [Chicago artists Edie Fake, Paul Erschen] if I could display some of their work when the Chicago Reader asked to photograph my place. They just ended up letting me keep everything!

Leave a Comment

Write your comment