Ana and Chad Davis and their two sons were looking to move to Oak Park from Chicago when they stumbled across a home unlike any other they had seen.
“We looked at many, many houses, and this house was just so unusual,” said Ana.
Originally used as a chicken coop, enlarged to become a squash court and updated to become a single-family home (see more on the history of this home at www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/5-24-2016/The-curious-history-of-711-Superior-St./) this unique home in Oak Park can now claim another title: artist’s residence.
The home at 711 Superior St. once was part barn, part hen house when it was built by the Paul Blatchford family behind their home on Elizabeth Court and Forest Avenue in Oak Park.
The couple moved to Euclid Avenue and had architects Pond & Pond construct a new home in 1887, but they moved over the hen house and barn from Forest Avenue for the rear of their property.
In 1909, they hired Pond & Pond to reimagine the structures as a garage, dovecote and squash court, and in 1921 the Blatchfords brought in the architects again to convert the space to a single-family home for their son, John, who had married the girl next door, Esther Roberts, the niece of architect E.E. Roberts.
The Davis family was immediately sold on the charm of the home and its tucked-away oasis of a back yard. The previous owners never moved into the house, and Ana said that the backyard was a bit of a project, which her husband Chad happily took on.
“Chad actually found about 400 antique bricks and dug them out of the yard and laid them out,” she said.
Today, the garden is unseen from the street but lush with green plants. Ana says of the house, “It lives from the back.”
Arguably, it also lives from within. With bead-board walls from the barn in the family room, and an antique fireplace in the living room, the house boasts loads of original details, and while a dog, a cat and two young boys keep things bustling, so does Ana’s eponymous business, Ana Davis Design.
Artist in the making
A native of the Chicago area, Davis studied fine art in college only to face the age-old question when she graduated: “What do you do when you get a degree in fine art?”
For her, the answer was move back to Chicago and take a job in mass market publishing. She found it was a way to incorporate art into a professional job that worked for her while gaining exposure to a world of licensing of big names from retailers, to movies and cooking departments.
“The people there really mentored me,” Ana said. “I moved up to creative director in the gift division.”
While there, she got to know a lot of the smaller artists doing the work behind the products, and thought it would be interesting to be in their shoes. After years in the field, she built up her portfolio and took the leap to go out on her own.
Right off the bat, she scored two large successes when she partnered with Anna Griffin, a maker of paper goods and fabric lines, and International Greetings, a gift wrap company. Those two connections got the ball rolling but she continues to work at getting her designs licensed by others.
“I’ve been slowly building my business ever since,” Ana said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Part of that is that there is a very long lead time in retail.”
She created a spacious studio surrounded by windows in her new Oak Park home. Chad built her a work table that also doubles as a craft table for the kids, and most days find her doing some sort of design work in the studio.
“I truly draw, paint and create artwork in my studio,” Ana said. “I usually do that first and then play with the designs on the computer.”
Then, she puts together project proposals that she or her agent can send out to companies. Her designs end up on a variety of items from textiles to glassware to ceramics to paper products. For instance, one recent project is set of ombre-colored glasses covered with intricate gold patterns. After partnering with a manufacturer of glassware and ceramics, the design turned into reality.
Davis says that typically manufacturers have distribution channels already in place and they determine where and how the product will be sold. She also works with some companies that have licenses that get her work into big retailers like Nieman Marcus, Cost Plus, Meijer or Dillard’s. Locally, Two Story Farmhouse carries some of her designs.
“I’m super excited to have a local place to send people to,” she said.
Her own store
Davis says that through it all, she has sought to create a recognizable brand.
“I wanted to present the product in a way that shows the thought and care that went into it,” she said.
Ana decided that a logical next step was to open up her own online store at www.anadavisdesign.com to showcase some of her work and offer direct-to-consumer sales. She wanted her online shop to keep her less removed from the end sale and says that in the changing world of retail, having her own shop keeps her closer to the people who connect with her vision.
“It’s important to have an on-line destination so that when people discover the work, they can buy it,” Ana said.
Hours in the studio on top of fueling her tank with inspiration from visiting museums, looking at vintage fabrics, and studying architectural details, keeps Davis busy enough, but as the doorbell rings for her first post office pick-up of on-line orders, it’s clear her newest venture is taking off.
“I love that I’m able to curate it,” she said. “If I’m going to do it, the time is now.”