Category Archives: Knock, knock

Knock, knocking in Wicker Park

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Who lives in this well-guarded Queen Anne in Wicker Park?
Knock, knock . . .
Who’s there: Nick and Carol Sommers, Chico, their Havanese pup, and two cats, Sasha and Peaches.

Funny, I was drawn to this Queen Anne because of its warm mustard paint, meticulous detailing, leaded-glass windows and eyelet-trimmed curtains. It wasn’t until I was walking through the front gate that I spotted the huge cannon in the front yard. Honest.

The 1912 artillery, still owned by the U.S. Navy, is a hint at one of this home’s several lives (it had been an American Legion hall from 1927 to 1972). The Sommers – a Renaissance man and woman in the truest sense — can tell you about each of these lives in fascinating, fact-filled detail. (Please don’t skip The Snoopster’s slide show at the end of this post!!)

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But back to the home’s cannon-ization: In the late 1920s, Nick tells me, a Polish-American American Legion Post bought the house to serve as its Legion hall. The Post brought the cannon to its current roost in 1934, and there it has remained (except for a brief tour of duty at Navy Pier during World War II) ever since.

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What’s inside this Highland Park home where birds always greet you and billiard balls bloom among greenery?

 knock crispell welcome
Knock, knock . . .
Who’s there? Collage artist Linda Summerfield Crispell and Gar Crispell and their beauteous offspring, the lovely Lulu (her nom de Web), and her delightful bro, Deke (ditto on the alias). Oh, and I must not forget their ever-obedient Mssr. Buddy.

knock crispell exterior

Putting on a stoic front:  The Crispells’ ivory-colored home with red-brick chimney of a spine and neat, black shutters tell only part of the story that unfolds inside. That part of the story is about strong foundations and handsome and serene backdrops to a colorful life filled with rich tales, creativity, collections (yes, the collections which, more than the house’s face, drew me to this house) and a lot of love.
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Knock, knock: A Viking ship sails by the Kennedy

I was so lucky today to meet Susan Thomsen when I knocked at the ivy-draped home just west of the Kennedy. The one the retired Whitney Young High art teacher shares with her husband, Finn. She waltzed me right in and started showing me around their home and studio.

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Both of them are artists and seem to see beauty and potential in just about everything (and everyone) around them.
Take a peek first at my slideshow. Then we’ll talk some more . . .

 

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So what’s to know about this Viking ship of a home just west of the Kennedy?
Knock, knock . . .

Who’s there? Finn and Susan Thomsen (and sometimes their visiting grandchildren; when I visited, it was Jake Madigan)

 

Finn sculpted wood to adorn the bathroom door, expanded the bathroom and lined the shower with salvaged teak wood he got from Bob Sirott.

Finn sculpted wood to adorn the bathroom door, expanded the bathroom and lined the shower with salvaged teak wood he got from Bob Sirott.

The back story: Finn Thomsen had sailed around the world 17½ times over 14 years with the Danish Merchant Marines (he joined when he was 14; “school wasn’t really for me,” he says) before anchoring in Chicago. It would be several more years before he would marry Susan and move into this “little cottage” of a house (Susan) filled with “possibilities” (Finn).

"Man with a Porpoise" by Julian Harr, a birthday gift for Finn from Susan.

"Man with a Porpoise" by Julian Harr, a birthday gift for Finn from Susan.

Over the years, the couple, both artists – Finn doing mostly sculpture and Susan teaching at Whitney Young High School – also filled it up with photographs, art and furniture made by Finn, turtle skulls and a revolving door of visitors.

knock honore kitchen

So what else is inside? The kitchen is what greets you when you first enter the Thomsens’ home. There, deep-hued wood that could probably tell as many tales as the Thomsens dresses the floor. A long, thin table holds court and swirly metal, wood-topped stools line up on its either side. Finn made them all. The table in 1973 (he didn’t have to pause to whip off the year). The stools from remnants of countertops and culverts used in a restaurant he helped decorate. Soto Estella was its name.

This, I call, the magic trunk. I love its colors and promise of surprise.

This, I call, the magic trunk. I love its colors and promise of surprise.

Everywhere you turn, your eye is nabbed by something that sparks questions. A mannequin. Doll heads. Six-foot-tall sculptures. A wasp nest (a wedding present from Susan’s mother. Finn and Susan each got one of their own).

A young Finn, feathers and turtle skulls.

A young Finn, feathers and turtle skulls.

But when you pass a spot for a second time, you realize there are other curiosities you missed before. While examining a lovely sculpture that looked like it might have roots in Oaxaca (but actually was made by their niece), I finally realized that table it was sitting on was a street floodlight. Something Finn “sorta found.” OK, let’s just move on here.

 

The end of our Viking tale.

The end of our Viking tale.

Parting shot: When I finally walked out of the Thomsens’ home, I walked around the end of the house to get a closer look at the large piece of art that adorned the exterior wall and that made me want to knock in the first place. The spools, the dragon’s head. Ah, a Viking ship. Of course. Finn was born in Denmark, near Copenhagen. And he’d sailed the world many times over. Yup, just as the inside matched the outside, the outside matched Finn.  

 

 

 

 

 

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First “Knock, knock” stop: Palatine

knock min front hallHow can a house be so full of light yet have no windows??? Check out my first “Knock, knock” visit on the “Knock, knock” page, won’t you please? It’s a look into the Dennis Stevens-designed house in Palatine (Ill.) that Min Pak calls home.

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