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Resourceful Renters

Erin Hogan and Rod Northcutt/Pilsen


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Space 1,200 | Rent $1,395

Erin Hogan describes the day she moved in with Rod Northcutt two years ago in a footnote to her first book, the art travelogue Spiral Jetta (due next year from the University of Chicago Press): "As we unpacked our boxes, every carton of his turned into a clown car that held an improbable, unending array of objects: hat stretchers, antique razors, skulls and jawbones, trivets, clocks and watches, arcane kitchen gadgets. I cried for days."

Hogan, the director of public affairs for the Art Institute, is happiest in a spare, almost monastic environment. But Northcutt, a sculptor and woodworker who teaches at SAIC and makes furniture under the name Onesixtyfourth Design, finds inspiration in stuff. A lifelong scavenger, he admits he has a problem. "I'll find one thing that I think is kind of neat and then I'll feel obliged to finish out the set," he says. He has a particular fondness for old tools, and he's made art and furnishings out of many of his finds: 40 or so vintage plumb bobs hang from an Amish cane over the couple's bed, a kitchen corner shelf is mounted on an iron wrench, a spice rack is made from segments of a 12-foot maple ruler and some yardsticks.

Sometimes items will languish for months in his studio before he finds a use for them. A coffee table he made from an eight-foot-long toboggan picked up in 2005 at the Kane County Flea Market was inspired by necessity. "We were having a Super Bowl party, and we said, 'Oh my God, 20 people are coming over and we don't have any place for them to put their drinks,'" says Hogan. Northcutt put it together in a day, sanding and waxing the surface and fabricating legs from bits of an old hardwood futon frame and a bookshelf.

A kitchen storage unit is made from a Craftsman tool chest, and another table is built on legs from an old slop sink. "I feel like there's so much more creativity involved in trying to reuse materials," Northcutt says. Plus, "while I enjoy the craft, and I feel proud that I can contribute to our decor with my own hands, it's also about saving money." The sofa is Hogan's, reupholstered by a friend, and Northcutt bought the giant catfish pillow that adorns it at the new Bass Pro Shops in Portage, Indiana.

The two absolutely agree on some things: they both love the gnarled and burned floor planks, for instance, and they both love the view, which includes the expressway, huge old train trestles, and the downtown skyline. "To have a lot of stuff in a small space is hell for me, so I needed a place that felt expansive," Hogan says. "I find the Dan Ryan endlessly interesting."

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

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