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An interior designer transforms a former tavern into a home

Aleks Furman's Bridgeport home was once an Elvis-themed bar and a notorious gang haunt.

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When interior designer Aleks Furman's parents began struggling with health issues, she needed to find a place they could all call home so she could help care for them. She and her sister bought a former tavern in Bridgeport, but the purchase was hardly glamorous. "This building kept dropping in price because it was terrifying," she says. "I was desperate enough to buy it, and the owner was desperate enough to sell it."

Home to an Elvis-themed bar in the 70s, the building became overrun by members of a street gang when the business went bankrupt. The address became a hive of criminal activity, including dog fighting. "Every police officer told me that they've either shot at a dog here or arrested somebody here," Furman says. "This building is [infamous] in this neighborhood; this was the reason the neighborhood was bad. People told me they wouldn't even walk on this side of the street."

Today the space is a gem, thanks to Furman's vision and design expertise. After evicting the gang members, she converted the bar area into a one-bedroom apartment for herself; her parents live in the unit behind her; she rents out the other four units. "Now I have really sweet tenants that are these young punks; they help fix everything and they're just really nice to the neighbors," she says. "So it's me, my older parents that don't really speak English, and a bunch of punks . . . just makin' a home."

The original structure has its charms—high ceilings and a glass-brick wall that lets in brilliant light—but Furman replaced the plumbing and electricity, and reused wood from the walls to build a kitchen island, a bedroom wall, and a window frame. A sculpture that resembles a Pac-Man maze, made by Furman's friend Edie Fake, hangs in the living and dining rooms, and skyline sculptures by Paul Erschen adorn surfaces throughout the home. Furman designs showrooms in the Merchandise Mart, and she acquired most of her furniture as castoffs from clients. "A little perk of the job," she explains as I admire her futuristic white couch.

The pro's design advice: "Just knowing how you want to live your life, what your routine is, and what makes you feel relaxed is important," Furman says. "Then just do whatever you want. It doesn't matter—it's your house."

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