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February 17, 2009

Chicago Manual of Style—February 17, 2009

As much as I love mega home-décor chains like IKEA and Crate and Barrel, there’s something to be said for decorating your place with unique items that feel more distinctly personal. Though you often can’t beat chain-store prices, their mass-produced items tend to feel sterile and ordinary. Likewise, though I like accessories from stores like Forever 21, I wish I could personalize the baubles and charms that go on my bracelets and necklaces to reflect certain things that mean something to me. With this in mind, I traveled to Wicker Park to find some one-of-a-kind, whimsical items to add some warmth and personality to my space and wardrobe. When I stopped by the eclectic Elevenzees boutique (1901 West Division Street) on Valentine’s Day, I was greeted with a slice of cake and a glass of champagne. Though this celeb treatment might be reserved for special occasions, the shop’s specialty spices, adorable home accents, and comfy, casual clothes are available every day. The store also has great gift items that will add creative flair to any room, such as a citrusy, spicy candle infused with the scents of pineapple and cilantro ($14) or eco-friendly canvas totes with silkscreened drawings of owls and elephants. I fell in love with a set of salt and pepper shakers shaped like owls ($26 for the pair) which would make great hostess gifts for a dinner party.If you’re in the market for crocheted cushions or other knit knick-knacks, look no further than Renegade Handmade (1924 West Division Street). This diverse DIY emporium started out as an offshoot of the Renegade Craft Fair, an annual Wicker Park event since 2003. Today, the shop stocks a wide selection of playful housewares, jewelry, posters, prints, plush items, clothing, and stationery made by more than 300 Chicagoland artists. My favorite items are the witty wall décor, like a hand-sewn deer bust mounted on a wooden plaque ($90), a tongue-in-cheek homage to outdoor living. Anyone who is afraid of the dark will sleep easy with the fused-glass nightlights embellished with sketches of animals ($40). Cute canvas pouches ($16 each) with silkscreened birdcages, hedgehogs, and bicycles are whimsical alternatives to a wallet. Because they are sold on consignment, these sweet, sassy items are a little on the pricey side, but I’m happy to help support Chicago crafters and score some one-of-a-kind creations. Next door is Coco Rouge (1940 West Division Street), a chic café that puts the haute in hot chocolate. Classic cocoa gets a twist when it’s paired with flavors like pistachio, almond, or chili pepper ($4–$5). The gourmet drinks cost the same amount as the ho-hum hot chocolate at Starbucks but offer much more deliciousness for the dollar, and the ambiance is incomparable. The place serves up creative confections in an elegant industrial space accentuated by exposed brick walls, visible wooden ceiling beams, silver chandeliers, and red light fixtures that are reminiscent of Dan Flavin’s installations. This seductive café is a wonderful place to relax and refuel during a day of serious shopping, and the creative, unconventional interior design is a reminder of the fun of shucking tradition of decorating your space with things that you love. If you’re in the mood to get crafty yourself, stop by Beadniks (1937 West Division Street) to create your own unique piece of jewelry. From teeny seed beads to big baubles and stone Buddha charms, Beadniks has it all. Browse the huge selection and take your choices to one of the tables, where the helpful staff can offer some nimble fingers and help you finish your piece. This shop isn’t your mom’s craft store, but more like a hip boutique, complete with East-meets-West furnishings and trendy tunes. If your creative juices aren’t flowing, browse the selection of pre-made earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. Wicker Park is a wonderland for fanciful, quirky items that can make your space and closet feel fun and unique. My new owl salt and pepper shakers add a lot of personality to my stark Ikea kitchen table, and my new bracelets—a joint beading effort with my mom—reflect things and people that I care about. I want the place I live and the things I wear to be special and meaningful, and the offbeat Wicker Park boutiques help my surroundings feel more like me.