When asked about the style of her Hyde Park apartment, artist Laura Letinsky says it represents “lots of desires with limited means.” Inside the sunny home, where she lives with her husband Tony and two children, designer furniture is mixed with pieces acquired by trade and on eBay.
Next to a modern dining room set is a kitchen where ingredients are left on the counter and Letinsky is wont to make a mess. There are projects in the house she wants done but aren’t. But the stylish and bright apartment feels lived-in and personal.
Letinsky, an artist known for her still-life photos who is a professor in the department of visual art at the University of Chicago, bought the unit in 2001 when her first child made a shorter commute necessary. Besides a closer proximity to the university, Letinsky was looking for a place big enough to accommodate a home and workspace, and that could be “something I could imagine living in for a long time, I guess,” she says. “Something that has good bones, as they say.”
Letinsky’s love for cooking and entertaining informed two of the home’s biggest renovation projects. The kitchen got an extensive makeover with a new stove, storage, floor, countertops, and cabinets. For a bigger project that involved collaborating with neighbors in the three-flat, Letinsky enlisted the Chicago design and architecture firm Range to update the building’s back stairs and balconies—which were in sore need of structural updates—with larger balcony spaces and a contemporary steel frame. The end result ended up earning the architects an award last year from AIA Chicago.
When it comes to furniture and decor, the space is an amalgamation of styles and eclectic finds, where high-end finds coexist with knick-knacks and overgrown plants.
“I end up getting attracted to things that aren’t really totally coherent. I know one person who would do his entire place like a ‘50s kind of place, or contemporary, and he just thought my design sensibility was abhorrent,” Letinsky says. “I’ll try—it’s like my pictures—I’ll try and make something that looks a certain way but i’ll end up really getting attached to something goofy, like a piece of ceramic my kid made or a plant that’s out of control, and then that’s a part of it.” Letinsky has found pieces at the Chicago modern furniture marketplace Wright Now and Pegboard Modern, but she’s also acquired pieces through trade and in one case, an eBay adventure.
“I bought it through eBay from someone in Kentucky,” she says of the gray leather sectional in the living room that sits across from a kidney bean-shaped marble coffee table whose legs have fallen off several times. “I had to hire two guys to drive down and back to pick it up, but I do love it even if it’s not a famous designer.”
Letinsky says the place in the house most representative of her style is the kitchen. It’s functional for an avid cook—part of the kitchen renovation included getting a six-burner, Five Star range stove—and it looks like someone actually cooks there, too. An admittedly messy cook, ingredients are out in the counter, and spices, mortar and pestles, and other objects are on display instead of hidden in cabinets.
“I accept stains and marks and bumps that happen. I mean I totally want my house repainted right now—it’s driving me crazy—but the place is lived in. It has a feel of people that move around it and use it, and I like houses that are like that as as opposed to places where you feel like you can’t sit or put your glass down because you might make a mess or something.”