For this special issue on home and design, we’re focusing on renters, because making someone else’s space your own takes a particular kind of ingenuity. We’re not just talking good taste or deep pockets: the eight Chicagoans who live in the six apartments featured here have strong ideas about how a home should feel and function, and they’ve found some pretty creative ways to express them using their own time and money. Some of these spaces are huge and some are tiny, some are still raw and some are finished–and in accordance with the immutable rules of city living, at least one is about to be passed on to a tenant who’ll pay the landlord handsomely for the work the current occupant has done.

We’re on the lookout for other special spaces, so if you know someone who’s done something cool to an apartment–or condo or co-op or house or garden or garage–please let us know at

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photograph/Robert Murphy.