I miss the White Elephant. When Children’s Memorial Hospital moved to Streeterville, leaving a second abandoned hospital site in Lincoln Park to spur NIMBY debates about density, the loss of the ninety-three-year-old thrift store was the greatest casualty. Over the years, I scored tons of amazing things there including a fuchsia velvet sofa with elegant curves and a Walter von Nessen swing-arm table lamp for fifteen bucks.
Finally, there is a new Elephant in town. On a recent visit to the new Webster Avenue location, I scored a copy of Terence Conran’s 1974 interior design classic “The House Book” for $3.50. It is my new favorite thing. The book is an explosion of color and pattern. Rugs are layered, walls are painted in reds, yellows and greens, and rooms are full of acrylic furniture and Kartell storage cubes. My two-year-old and I both drooled over every page. I imagined a cocktail party accompanied by Steely Dan’s “Aja.” It is striking how comfortable and family-friendly it all looks in “The House Book”: people are hanging out at home, with martinis and children everywhere.
I was born in the seventies, a decade that was a dance party free-for-all that kids were invited to attend. My parents entertained in their suburban Milwaukee ranch home every weekend. My father designed our house as an ultimate party pad, combining his interests in architecture and emergency responders into a fire-station-themed rec room that he built in our basement. The bar was shaped like a fire truck. The front cab was made out of a red shelving system where we stored liquor. It was topped with a working red light and siren. An L-shaped bar extended out from the cab, forming the side and back of the truck. There was a Goodyear tire on the side that completed the illusion. My father also outfitted the basement with a real fire hydrant, spray-painted red, and a brass pole that ran floor to ceiling (though not all the way up to the first floor). On Saturday nights, we would move the furniture to the edges of the room and crank the stereo. We rocked out to Styx all night until dad attempted to do the splits. It was totally cool and the whole family—from cocktailing adults to teetotaling toddlers—loved it!
Sometimes, the best way to live with kids is to be one yourself. Parenting can become a complex negotiation between my past identity and my present one, as a parent. Our culture tends to reinforce the break between identities with a lot of rules, spoken and unspoken, about where kids do and don’t belong. A social identity and a social life in Chicago is segmented in a million different ways that prevent intergenerational fun. Heaven forbid you might make a misstep, incurring Grant Achatz’s outraged tweeting about your crying kid. Hey, this isn’t Europe. Nor is it the seventies.
But it still could be, if we get back to partying at home and let the kids entertain themselves. My parents are still at it. We visited their house recently and, after offering me a cocktail, my mom pulled out the CD of Marshall Crenshaw’s album debut and started dancing with my daughter. Dad walked in, Manhattan in hand, as if no time had passed at all. “This is just like when you were a kid, Krissy,” he said. He’s right. My kid and I are ready for our rec room. I’ll start combing through “The House Book” for ideas. (Krisann Rehbein)