Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Logo
Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Blog
Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Blog

Angela Valavanis and Colvin House

Saturday, February 17, 2024

By Donald G. Evans

Even before you enter Colvin House, the beauty stops you. At least that was the way it was for me. Elegant doesn’t quite do it justice, although it is that. Interesting, for sure. Stately. A certain Chicago character reflects off the yellow bricks and symmetrical trimming. Your eyes seem to take it in at once, but then as you scan from chimney to chimney, and down to the street level, you discover details and intricacies that belie its simple façade. It’s like a blue-collar worker that is way smarter and stylish and accomplished than you assumed. It’s on a large corner lot with plenty of light. That brightness, or gleam, carries over inside the house.

Once you cross the threshold, you wish you’d brought an overnight bag. Or even a steamer trunk. There is so much to see, so many comfortable places to be, that it inspires envy and admiration, all at once. It’s big. It’s stylized without being ostentatious. There’s a decadence that contrasts nicely with the exterior design. It’s set up as a shared workspace, and people respectfully move about the house. Rooms are being used to meet, or chat, or break for coffee. The activity makes the place seem more home than palace.   

Angela Valavanis made this house happen, or at least resurrected it from its state of disuse and disarray. Thirteen years ago, Angela left her career as editor to become a businesswoman. A Fresno, California native, Angela had earned an English degree at a university near home before moving to Chicago to pursue a Master’s Degree in Literature at DePaul University. Even then, Angela considered herself a “generalist,” preferring to read a wide array of books rather than concentrate on any particular category of literature. She transitioned from full-time editorial staffer to freelancer when she was a casualty of her educational publishing company’s severe cuts. She discovered that she really liked the freedom of being her own boss, but she disliked working from home. She needed a dedicated space. Others like herself must, too, right?

Thus was born Creative Coworking, which now has three locations: the Evanston space was first, then Colvin House, and finally West Town. Angela soon gave up her freelancing career to focus on her new business. Colvin House was Creative Coworking’s second site, and with it came an expansion of Angela’s vision. Such a lovely home, Angela knew, must also be used for events. Over the years, Colvin House has hosted an array of special events, including those with a literary bent, which align with Angela’s own passion. Literature for All of Us was one of Colvin House’s first tenants. Poems While You Wait has participated in several events at the home. A poetry group hosted a reading. In partnership with Bookends & Beginnings, Colvin House has been the site of many book signings. Suzanne Clores launched her The Extraordinary Project here. Artists Book House is using Colvin House as its home base while it searches for their own permanent space. And now, on Saturday, February 24, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame will host its the Great Gimlet cocktail party at the house.

Angela has now lived in the Chicago area 27 years, longer than she lived in California. She started downtown and kept moving north: Wrigleyville, Lincoln Square, Andersonville, Edgewater, then Evanston. She works almost daily at Colvin House, which she calls her “happy space.”

DGE: We just met not even two months ago. I was plotting the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s annual cocktail fundraiser, and we’d landed on a Great Gatsby theme. We were set to go back to Rita Dragonette’s condo on Lake Shore Drive when somebody said I needed to talk to you. That led to me looking at the space. My guess is that if you can get somebody to visit the Colvin House—just see and experience its splendor—you’ve got a new fan. That’s what happened with me.

AV: I have to agree that this house really does sing her own song. Photos give you a taste, but it’s even better in person.

DGE: We’ll get to the house soon enough. First, I want to know what your life was like before you embarked on this project. What were you doing?

AV: Well, the Colvin House is the second location of my coworking business—we’re also in Evanston and West Town. Before I opened my Evanston location 13 years ago, I was in the educational publishing industry for about 15 years, working on textbooks and library books.

DGE: You told me you liked the party’s theme and the literary elements we intended to bring to the event. What is your relationship with literature, especially here in Chicago?

AV: I have a Master’s Degree in Literature from DePaul University – so I’m very excited to be hosting an event for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame!

DGE: Let’s start with the most recent history of the Colvin House. When and why did you buy the house?

AV: I was loosely looking for a second location for my business and had narrowed the search to Edgewater. When I saw a listing for Colvin House, I fell in love.

DGE: What condition was the house in when you bought it?

AV: I often joke that I accidentally fell in love with a dilapidated mansion. The house had been neglected pretty severely for at least ten years before I bought it. The roof had been actively leaking and there was water damage throughout. I worked to get it healthy again while also modernizing the electrical, plumbing, and such. I did lots of work inside the walls while having a gentle touch on everything you see, because I wanted to preserve as much as I could of the historic interior.

DGE: Did you have a vision in your head for what you wanted the house to become? What in your background gave you confidence you could succeed at such a grand undertaking?

AV: This house was too grand to serve only as a coworking space, so we knew we would want to develop an events business here as well. And the house really does love a party! I think being the daughter of an architect kept me from being too intimidated by the restoration project.

DGE: You use Colvin House for space sharing and event rentals. Who are you clients and what is Colvin House like on a day-to-day basis?

AV: Every day is different here, which is part of the fun. Our members range from non-profit leaders and entrepreneurs to architects, lawyers, and software developers. Really, anyone who sits at a desk to do their work can find a spot here. Many of our members work here just a few days a week and use a home office or commute to work on the other days.

DGE: The house’s original architect, George W. Maher, was one of the most prominent and important architects of his time, which was the late 19th through early 20th century. He’s credited as one of the creators of the Edgewater neighborhood. What does it mean to preserve one of his masterpieces?

AV: I really consider it an honor to be a caretaker of a Chicago landmark, and I take it very seriously. Since purchasing the building, I’ve learned a lot more about the architect, and I’m a huge fan. I’ve taken a few trips to see houses he built in other cities, and hope to do more of that in the coming years.

DGE: Edgewater’s such a vibrant neighborhood. I know you welcome people from all across the city and beyond, but do you have a certain pride about being a part of this neighborhood?

AV: I’ve lived in a handful of different Chicago neighborhoods, and Edgewater is one of my favorites. The rich diversity of the community here is one of the best things about it, as well as our proximity to the lake. Our beautiful mosaic mural on Thorndale was designed to reflect that diversity and sense of community.

DGE: It takes a lot of vision, taste, and style to make and maintain a home like this. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, but more than that it’s filled with interesting details. Just twirling around the house inspires all kinds of questions and ideas. How do you hope people experience the home?

AV: I love it when someone walks in, looks up and around, and is rendered speechless or just keeps repeating wow, wow, wow. Because that’s how I felt when I first walked through that door, and I still feel that way, years later. This house is truly unique and I love to share it with people.

DGE: What is your ideal event?

AV: We love to host private events like weddings, birthday parties, and baby showers, as well as corporate events and nonprofit galas. But I have to say, events with an arts connection tend to be my favorites. We’ve had poetry readings, music concerts, ballet, and theater performances, and lots of photo shoots.

DGE: The Colvin House in-house team is making appetizers for the evening, and otherwise is working alongside the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame to make this a special party. What can we all expect when we arrive on Saturday, Feb. 24?

AV: We’ll be serving tasty appetizers and sweets to compliment the Gatsby-inspired cocktails, we’ll provide a full tour of our Chicago landmark building, which will be dressed for the occasion just as we are, and then you’ll get to make yourselves at home, settling into a lush velvet loveseat with your date! It will be a beautiful evening. We can’t wait to host everyone.

DGE: The party is just a little more than a week away. Give me some insight into what you do to get ready. What kind of behind the scenes work will you do that maybe nobody knows about?

AV: Our team gets really invested in everything we’re doing. We’re thinking about what the décor should look like that day, how should we arrange the furniture. We really all do get excited about our partnerships. The house has something special about it. Work doesn’t feel like work. It has a warmth and beauty that is unique to that building. The house sparkles with or without a party, but it sparkles more when a party is going on.

Donald G. Evans is the author of a novel and story collection, as well as the editor of two anthologies of Chicago literature, most recently Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry. He is the Founding Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, which will host its fourth annual fundraising cocktail party on Saturday, Feb. 4 at Colvin House (5940 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago), starting at seven p.m. The theme of this year’s party is The Great Gimlet, and scholar Michelle Moore will enlighten us with details about the relationship between Chicago and The Great Gatsby. Mixologist Ryan Prindle will make signature Chicago literary cocktails, including a French 75, a Gimlet, and a Sazerac. Registration is now open. We’ll close registration as soon as we reach our capacity, so don’t delay.

Share Facebook   Share on Twitter

The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s mission is to honor and preserve Chicago’s great literary heritage.
The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame is a federally registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible. © 2024 Chicago Literary Hall of Fame

Hannah Jennings Design