Arts & Culture » Space

Nineteenth-century weirdness meets Hawaiian flair in Ukrainian Village

There's something old and something tropic in Laura Moeller and Todd Hembrook's eclectic apartment.



"If I had a superpower, I would love to see into people's homes and know the history of their stuff and who has lived there," Laura Moeller says. As an art conservator at the Chicago History Museum, she's actually pretty close to attaining that power.

"I've been able to research all the people who have lived in this place," she tells me about her Ukrainian Village apartment, which she shares with musician/boyfriend Todd Hembrook (Deal's Gone Bad, Todd Hembrook & the Hemispheres). "The professions reflect the neighborhood. People were tailors, clerks, drivers. In the 1917 census, a stenographer was here."

Built in 1909, the apartment has all the original woodwork, built-in hutches, and a stunning archway between the living and dining room. The space is decorated with remnants of the past—Ouija boards, circus relics, an original Otis Redding photo restored by Laura, a kitchen table at which Laura's mom ate her meals as a kid, a 19th-century photo album found in a thrift store in Sabula, Iowa. Books overflow off shelves and are neatly stacked on vintage chairs. "Anytime I see something about works of art—it's my vice—I gotta have it," Laura says. Todd has a penchant for books about serial killers. "I go straight for the true crime."

Laura hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, and the capital's influence imbues their home with displays of Hawaiian fans, lanterns, posters, and, of course, a grass-skirted hula dancer figurine. On a recent trip, the pair bought reminders of the tropics. Five or six boxes came back to Chicago, most packed with aloha shirts.

Laura explains that in Hawaiian culture, aloha shirts aren't kitschy or ironic: "Locals embrace it. It's our shirt." As a mainlander, though, Todd fought the urge to wear an aloha shirt while on vacation. By day two, he was rocking a loud pink-and-green print. A local approached him and said very seriously, "That's a great aloha shirt!" The dude happened to be Garrett McNamara, Guinness world record holder for the largest wave ever surfed. The aloha shirt: when you wear it, mean it.

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