ANDERSONVILLE — When Julia Thiel moved from Germany to Chicago 12 years ago, she was more fascinated by the "melting pot" of architecture she saw in her new neighborhood than the giant skyscrapers lining Lake Michigan.
She saw little houses right next door to big houses. There were bland houses with Greek columns. She saw Asian and Victorian influences on the same block, she said.
"The architecture here is just so different from European architecture," Thiel said. "It’s a collage of all these architectural styles."
In Europe, the blocks feel a little more organized as far as architecture, but the history of Chicago create a much different aesthetic, in part because of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, which brought a bunch of architects "with all these different influences" together to rebuild, she said.
Now, the graphic designer is turning those homes into a business by sketching designs of the homes that have been printed on eco-friendly throw pillows in her NeighborHauser collection released last week. (Hauser is houses in German.) The works feature her favorite homes from blocks in Andersonville, Lakeview and Wicker Park, she said.
"To me, the residences are more interesting than the typical skyline of American cities because houses are where the people actually live in, not the big corporations. And they are as diverse as the people who live in them," she said. "Somehow they all seem to be just thrown together. Not necessarily matching, but because they’re all like that it looks cool."
The idea began about three years ago when Thiel first moved to Andersonville and starting turning the homes into fabric patterns.
She started by walking her block in Andersonville which had "a mix of single-family wealthy homes" [and] "ramshackly little buildings." She took pictures of them with her phone then illustrated her favorites on her computer by hand with an electronic pen.
"In a way, it's an immigrant story about a German designer who was happy to find such a diverse and creative community here in Chicago and was encouraged by that same community," she said.
Each house takes her about 30-60 minutes to sketch depending on how intricate the design is. Each pillow features 30 different homes, she said.
For fun, she started putting the fabric patterns on aprons and towels. Everyone she showed them to said "this is cool, you should do all the neighborhoods."
But making it into a business became difficult because she wanted to find a local shop that did everything she needed, so she could keep designing and not have to worry about sewing, she said.
"I looked for two years and got so many different prototypes. I had bad printing I had people who wouldn’t do a label, or people who wouldn’t do the hang tags," she said.
Until she found The Apparel Agency, 2023 W. Carroll Ave., "a full-service development and production management agency, bringing success to apparel brands" through comprehensive plans and private labeling, according to its website.
"They helped source everything," she said.
The pillows are all made from eco-friendly material: The fabric is organic cotton, the inserts are made from recycled plastic bottles and the hang tags are made from recycled paper, she said.
Each pillow features five colors of homes. The color scheme for the Andersonville version pays homage to the neighborhood's Swedish Heritage. For Lakeview, she gave a nod to the Chicago Cubs with some red, white and blue, she said.
For Wicker Park, she used colors seen in the building materials like an "oxidized copper teal color," dark wood, brick and gray, she said.
Each pillow is $79 and available here. They can also be purchased at Transistor, 5224 N. Clark St. in Andersonville, and Wolfbait, 3131 N. Logan Square Blvd. in Logan Square.
Thiel also hopes to illustrate more neighborhoods such as Ravenswood and Logan Square, then suburbs such as Evanston or Oak Park. She's also planning to illustrate lower-priced items such as tote bags, tea towels, greeting cards and prints.
If you happen to live in one of the currently featured neighborhoods, you may be surprised by some of the homes on the pillow.
"People living in those neighborhoods might find their house on the pillow," she said.
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