Looking south, Von Hartz's living room is illuminated by the large skylight.
Looking south, Von Hartz's living room is illuminated by the large skylight. Credit: Melissa Klauda

At the northwest corner of Addison and Wolcott, the storybook-like “mushroom house” appears to grow out of the sidewalk. Squat plaster walls, dotted with abstractly shaped windows, are capped with a steeply pitched shingled roof.

“Some of my friends call it the Smurf house,” says William von Hartz, owner of Bucktown’s Flipside Cafe, who’s rented the second-floor apartment since 1997.

Erected in 1895, the building originally sat on a family farm, back when North Center was referred to as “Bricktown.” (Fun fact: When Abe Lincoln would come to town, he’d borrow a horse from the family’s adjacent stable.) The whimsical remodel didn’t happen until the mid-1960s, when artist and designer Charles Moelter turned it into his personal plaster fantasia, designed to entertain women. It’s no wonder the residence typifies the look of the swinging bachelor pad; Moelter was applying the same style in building the interiors of the executive suites at Playboy‘s Michigan Avenue HQ.

A massive cylindrical skylight dominates the circular living room, and the apartment’s low ceilings are studded with dozens of recessed lights. “It’s all mood lighting,” von Hartz says. “You cannot read in here.” The ‘shroom also has a small stage (“I had a talent show there once,” von Hartz says) and a midcentury-modern kitchen with the original cabinetry and appliances. Von Hartz’s furniture furthers the MCM aesthetic, down to the omnidirectional speakers from Daniel Queen Laboratories he scored at a yard sale. A charcoal grill that sits atop a huge brick island now functions as extra counter space for the restaurateurs’s culinary experiments.

Von Hartz has become a sort of caretaker for Moelter’s mushroom, unchanged since the 60s and showing its age. “I think Charlie has very fond memories of being here,” he says, “and wants to see it kept intact.”

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