A clever coffee-table centerpiece: vintage eyeglasses (all under $5)
A clever coffee-table centerpiece: vintage eyeglasses (all under $5) Credit: Dean Fisher

The second you step into the apartment of Stevie Baka and Emily Knies, you become aware of the presence of some serious collectors. In just ten months, the couple has transformed their two-bedroom Ukrainian Village two-flat from a blank slate into a home where your eyes can’t help but wander midconversation. Nestled among the shelves are collections of everything from taxidermy to old art supplies to childhood memorabilia.

These girls take thrifting to the next level.

Emily Knies and Stevie BakaCredit: Dean Fisher

Baka, 27, and Knies, 23, hail from Detroit and the Bay Area, respectively, but they met in Seattle at an ice cream parlor. They were immediately struck by their shared love of vintage, and eventually decided to hightail it to the thrift-rich midwest. Though they both had spaces full of rad secondhand scores, Baka and Knies left most of their larger items behind so they could start anew in their Chicago digs.

You’d never know they’d only been in their space for less than a year. I could have spent hours in each room, listening to stories about how they acquired their oddities. The gorgeous pull-down school map was found at the garage sale of a retired teacher for $15. They hauled the colorful vintage sofa set home from the Arc in Wicker Park, which is a regular haunt; Baka works right around the corner, as a barista at the Wormhole.

The plentiful taxidermy is one of the most fascinating (and enviable) aspects of their collection. The pair of pronghorn antelopes were less than $200 each and came from a dentist who displayed plaster casts of his patients’ mouths. Baka asked if he’d save some extracted teeth for her, but she moved before being able to add them to her menagerie, which includes a baby duck, a badger (also from the dentist), a wolverine hide, a horse tail, a ram’s skull, turtle shells, and I’m sure many other things I missed.

Baka and Knies use the “divide and conquer” method when on a thrifting mission. They split up, scour different sections, and meet in the middle to sort through their treasures. One thing I love about their apartment is how they display common items. A vintage eyeglass collection (found at various thrift stores, all under $5) becomes a charming coffee-table arrangement, and a set of enameled pots ($1 each at a garage sale) has been cleverly turned into wall-mounted planters. These girls know how to repurpose most anything.

Baka and Knies offer these words of wisdom: get outta Chicago! You’d be amazed at what sits on thrift shop shelves just outside the city. Rent a car, take a day trip, poke around in small towns. And if I may add my suggestion: take some time at estate sales and flea markets to ask about the history of whatever you’re buying. Having a collection is fun, but knowing the story behind each item is what makes it truly unique.