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How a typical Chicago apartment became an in-demand Airbnb rental

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Kara Thorstenson had a dream of filling her Lincoln Square home with original art, though she thought she could never afford it on her school librarian's salary. But the 33-year-old found a workaround, acquiring works from friends and repurposing found art. The charming decor has turned what was once a no-frills apartment into a sought-after Airbnb rental.

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"There are little treasures everywhere," Thorstenson says, like a hanging origami chain crafted by a friend visiting from Japan and the landscape paintings made by her best friend's father in Australia. A friend's painting of a 90s-era Diet Pepsi can commemorates a personal bit of history: "I used to drink a lot of Diet Pepsi. A little reminder there: the sodas of my past."

Painted chair with flowers and Diet Pepsi can painting
  • Andrea Bauer
  • Painted chair with flowers and Diet Pepsi can painting

Thorstenson filled a living room wall with several framed drawings of monkeys, which she appropriated from the pages of a found 1950s coloring book. "When I moved in here, it was really obvious that I needed to frame as many monkeys as I could and hang them up," she says.

Framed monkey drawings from a 1950s coloring book
  • Andrea Bauer
  • Framed monkey drawings from a 1950s coloring book

She scored with furniture, as well. A teal midcentury-modern kitchen table from Etsy became a great deal when the seller offered to drive it to her. ("It was free shipping just 'cause he was bored," she says.) She's also added a creative touch to a glass-top coffee table from Ikea: "I filled up the little boxes with different junk—like my old phones from the presmartphone [era], a variety of pills that I found, and old photos from my friend who cleaned out her attic."

When Thorstenson temporarily relocated to Hyde Park last summer for a six-week teaching gig, she needed to cover two rents; Airbnb seemed the obvious solution. She priced her Lincoln Square pad low for the neighborhood and got bookings right away. Hosting houseguests has given her the chance to make some new acquaintances—and has provided her with a few new pieces of art. "People leave me gifts. That, I didn’t expect," she says. "In the bedroom is a beautiful print of the Chicago skyline that someone left."

Embroidered animal head from IKEA; Chicago skyline print from an Airbnb guest
  • Andrea Bauer
  • Embroidered animal head from Ikea; Chicago skyline print from an Airbnb guest

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