While visiting France a few years ago, a friend and I checked into a posh hotel. The concierge showed us to our room, which was fabulous save one quirk—the bathroom was in a clear glass cube in the center of the room. My travel buddy and I weren’t even on pee-with-the-door-open terms, so a glass-box shower show was out of the question. With an exasperated eye roll reserved for prudish Americans, the concierge escorted us to another room. This bathroom still had glass walls, but at least they were frosted. I began to think the see-through bathroom was a forward-thinking design element distinct to French libertines, so I was surprised to see this concept again on a recent visit to a Humboldt Park town house designed by Chicago native Liz Klafeta. One wall in her second-level bathroom is transparent floor-to-ceiling glass. It’s subtle in comparison to the French version, so it wasn’t until after flushing that I realized I had a clear view of people milling about below. Frantically, I replayed the bathroom visit in my mind, hoping I hadn’t done anything embarrassing.
“I want people to walk in and be like, ‘What the heck?!'” says Klafeta, 32, the founder of the boutique apartment rental company Bangtel. With the two-year-old startup the designer applies her over-the-top style to furnished rental properties currently available in Chicago and New York. The business began with the first house Klafeta ever designed—her own.
In 2007, she rehabbed her town house from top to bottom, tearing down walls to open up the space, replacing a dated Formica countertop with a giant slab of concrete, and revamping the roof with commissioned graffiti to create an outdoor lounge. In big block lettering, the phrase “Oh man . . .
Oh geeze . . . ” stretches across a hallway wall; print on a bedspread says we should probably cuddle now; a neon sign reading “thug” glows in the living room. A giant street-art-style drawing of a handgun graces the wall of a guest room. In the master bedroom, a “floating bed” appears to hang from the ceiling by thick rope. (A support beneath it aids the illusion.) When Klafeta moved to New York City in 2013, she decided to rent out the pad on Airbnb. “I got such a positive response from so many people I thought, Let’s just keep rolling with this.”
Having spent 13 years as a wardrobe and prop stylist, Klafeta says the transition into home design felt natural: “It’s all related—trying to make things look good, fitting things together.” Experience creating custom looks on a small budget has served her well. By using rejected pieces of reclaimed wood, for instance, she was able to floor her second level for $600. The bathroom wallpaper is actually gift wrap coated with vinyl plastic. She often re-creates her own DIY versions of fixtures and other household items she sees in stores. “I see things and think, ‘I could do that better—or different, or a little more funky.’ It’s just doing a little more research, a little more legwork,” she says. “Most of the time it ends up being less expensive, and more meaningful because you put it together.”
Klafeta also works with artists and businesses, outfitting her rentals with products and artwork that are all for sale. CB2, Flor, and several local artists are collaborating with Klafeta on her next project, a Lincoln Park bed-and-breakfast happening in partnership with the developer New Era Chicago. “We get excited when we think something’s cool and we can showcase it,” she says. “It’s all about sharing and community.”