One Sunday Morning in a Chicago Loft with Wilco Merchandise

Installation featuring Wilco’s home office accessories.

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Wilco are the Henry Dreyfuss’s of Music Merchandise, designing practical things. Just as Dreyfuss designed telephones, vacuum cleaners, typewriters & thermostats, in the middle of the twentieth century, Wilco’s merchandise includes practical things, pencils, erasers, cutting boards, calendars and the personalised musical equipment of the band’s musicians with a Chicago late moderne aesthetic that embraces equally machine made and rustic rural inspirations. Wilco has become a landmark in the way that mid-century modern Chicago architecture has believes Lawrence Azerrad, who created the album cover the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album in 2002 that featured Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina Towers building.

This downtown Chicago loft — pulled from a real estate listing — is a perfect Wilco environment. It has the industrial aesthetic of the famed Wilco loft and this particular space reflects their design world. The armchairs look as if they might have been designed by Charles Pfister when he was with Chicago architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in the middle of the 20th century. I’d switch out the Arne Jacobsen Egg chairs for a couple of Eames chairs  and their Ottomans… much more fitting, considering their connection to the creative process, personified by film director Billy Wilder, a friend of Charles and Ray Eames … much better for sitting back and listening to Louis Armstrong’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man album, which contains recordings made when he was part of the Chicago jazz scene with King Oliver’s band and his own Hot Five and Hot Seven, that sound as wild and fresh as if they were recorded today. It would be played on a Shinola turntable (proudly made in Detroit). Wilco’s poster featuring the Marina Towers as the farmer couple from American Gothic would be hanging on the wall between the windows.

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The anonymously sleek steel surfaces of the appliances … refrigerator, dishwasher etc. here are an excellent touch. They remind me of quieter, more minimal versions of Henry Dreyfuss’s designs for the famed train the 20th Century Limited that ran between New York City and Chicago (it’s the train that Cary Grant catches in North by Northwest). Although Dreyfuss was pretty restrained himself. Architectural Digest said of him that he worked with an “almost pathological restraint, transcending the mindless fashion for streamlining, mixing images of the Machine Age and the Stork Club as only he could.”

The bench table here, made with rustic wooden log stacks, relates to the woodsier cartoony Yogi Bear quality of the forest scenes often pictured in Wilco’s posters. The rug patterned with pumpkin and cinnamon shards fits well with the aesthetic. And on the table would be the Wilco desk accessories … a set of pencils printed with their album titles … a pink Wilco eraser … the Chicago Field Notes notebook. On this Sunday morning the loft’s owners would be barefoot, Wilco Marina Towers socks stuffed into a pairs of grey Mahabis slippers slid beneath the table. And as they drank coffee from a Wilco One Sunday Morning coffee mug (designed by the Silent P), that has the heft and character of an antique diner mug, they’d be listening to the kind of soulful spiritual album that Sunday mornings demand, Jeff Tweedy & Mavis Staples’s album One True Vine.

 

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