Walking into musician/guitar repairman Geoff Benge's Lakeview home was what I imagine it would be like to drop by Don Draper's place. That is, if Don Draper were a rocker instead of an ad man.
Benge greeted me in the foyer of a dentist's office and led me up a long and winding stairwell walled with Mondrianesque Formica paneling. ("Obviously, some madman designed every bit of that," Benge commented.) Several blue-shag-carpeted steps later, I arrived in a midcentury-modern shrine: a living room with floor-to-ceiling windows, the "curtains" large paneled mirrors hanging on tracks; a soffit ceiling done in white and baby-blue paneling; and blue-and-gold-patterned carpeting that could make a HoJo interior designer blush. I couldn't help but breathe out a slightly audible "WTF?"
Legend has it the apartment was designed and decorated in 1958 by a swinging bachelor dentist. "We imagine he owned the dentist's office downstairs," Benge said. "[Living here] is like being a caretaker of a museum. A lot has been done to maintain this." Benge has added several touches of his own, although he's careful to keep his furniture period-appropriate to maintain a cohesive aesthetic.
It's no surprise that this musician's apartment is also full of vintage organs, miniature pianos, a tiny drum kit, a shit-ton of records, and more guitars than I could ever hope to own in a lifetime. Oh, and a gigantic shark next to the fireplace. "You gotta have a shark," Benge said.
After a tour of the main floor ("tour" more accurately described as "acid trip") I asked about the music that had been filtering down from the floor above. We headed upstairs into Benge's rehearsal/recording space, originally designed to be a separate apartment. Local band King Apathy continued rehearsing as Benge showed me the Pullman kitchenette and revealed a fridge from behind a lit sliding glass door. "There's a very James Bond-style, push-the-button-fridge-pops-open-thing goin' on. It still works great."
This time capsule holds more than just the decor of a bygone era. The space previously has been inhabited by local legends Leroy Bach (formerly of Wilco) and Scott Bennett. Even Liz Phair recorded a jam or two there. When it was handed over to Benge 16 years ago by another musician, he had a vision: "I moved in here with the idea to be creative and have a space where you could make some noise and not have to spend half an afternoon dragging around drums. We created a space where everything was just ready to go. We had a lot of people come and play."
In addition to fixing guitars and playing in the band Grand Prixx, Benge is beginning a monthly video webcast, "'Live from the Honeycomb Hideout," against the backdrop of this retro pad. "Since I live in the Merv Griffin set, I might as well use it," he said.
Why "Honeycomb Hideout"? Turns out, my Mad Men vibes weren't far off; framed on a panelled wall is a vintage print ad featuring a baby-faced Benge with a bowl of Honeycombs cereal. Turns out his father was a real-life ad man, working on the Honeycombs account at Chicago advertising agency DDB Needham in the 60s. "I liked Honeycombs and they had these commercials that said 'Come to the Honeycomb Hideout.'
"Honeycombs lead to bigger and better things," Benge said. "It's a gateway cereal."