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Resourceful Renters

Derek Erdman/Bucktown



Space about 2,000 square feet | Rent $1,525

The walls of Derek Erdman's apartment are covered in an ever-changing display of his own art: bold, graphic paintings of ice cream cones, comics characters, sports legends, 80s TV stars, politicians, animals, and other pop culture ephemera. There are also letters he fashioned from scavenged wood to spell out I LOVED YOU; a transparency of a photo of a young child (not his) stuck to a huge interior window; and a pair of baggies containing a link of sausage from a Denny's in Los Angeles and a piece of bacon Erdman fried himself in Chicago.

A year and a half ago the lease on Erdman's Pilsen apartment was ending, and he was looking for a space that could function as a combination home and showroom. In the rear of this storefront building, a onetime bakery, he got even more: besides the huge open-plan apartment, there's a warren of basement and sub-basement rooms, accessible by stairs as well as a massive dumbwaiter that still (sort of) works. One of those rooms, which gets a lot of light for being below grade, functions as his studio. There's even a hidden room--with a dirt floor--under a trapdoor in the kitchen.

The spaces someone else might turn into a living room have been outfitted in a strangely inhospitable fashion--no sofas, no TV, just some frame chairs, plants, and a Wurlitzer organ Erdman bangs on now and then. "I went out of my way to not make them comfortable--they're rooms for putting things in, as opposed to people," he says. The space with the Wurlitzer is walled off in part by a painting of a clean-cut guy giving a topless woman the Heimlich maneuver as a bald man in a bow tie remarks, "He is helpin' her." The apartment's only natural bedroom, separated from the Wurlitzer room by sliding glass patio doors, is occupied by Erdman's roommate, Julia Rickert; Erdman himself sleeps in a "room" he created using the metal shelves that hold his massive record collection as walls. Nearby, painted canvas partitions hide his small office area from view.

The kitchen, big enough for two different dining areas, is Erdman's favorite room: "It's got the best light and it's where everyone hangs out." Kept in disturbing proximity to the dining area is a grotesque pair of shellacked toads locked in a seemingly amorous embrace--$6 on eBay.

The apartment could be rather gloomy in the wrong hands--much of it is dark, and even though Erdman keeps the temperature chilly, his monthly gas bills can go as high as $600. "It's not for somebody who couldn't deal with the dust or rickety things," he says. "But the aesthetic here lends itself to the things I want to sell."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Leslie Schwartz.

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