Our city’s towering skyline is the subject of all the press, but for the husband and wife artist duo behind Wonder City Studio, it’s the vernacular styles that make Chicago a place worth calling. at home.
“We’re transplants in Chicago,” ceramic artist Katie Lauffenburger said. “But when we met, we would just walk around the neighborhoods and look at all the houses and buildings that we felt we were impressed with the architecture here.”
“With Chicago, it’s like the whole city, from border to border, is just beautiful,” said illustrator Phil Thompson. “I think gray stone is sort of my favorite type of house for me. You have the bungalow, you have the workers’ house. These particular styles, especially the ones that are somehow unique to Chicago, really make the city sing. “
Many have been charmed by the bungalows, three apartments, and cottages that line Chicago’s neighborhoods, but Thompson and Lauffenburger have made immortalizing that charm their business. And they say that Chicagoans’ particular admiration for the city’s history and architecture makes Wonder City Studio a business that could only be set up here.
“I feel like the reaction we get to our work here is so special that you can just tell it really resonates with people,” said Lauffenburger.
The couple, from “opposite corners” of Pennsylvania, met in 2006, while they were both in college. Lauffenburger was studying fine arts and Thompson was studying international relations. Thompson credits Lauffenburger with inspiring him to take the plunge and make art his business.
“Drawing has always been something I’ve loved to do since I was a kid, it never felt like a good career path,” said Thompson. “So I think meeting Katie opened my eyes to like some possibilities. We would have a gallery. [shows] ensemble and art exhibitions, things like that. And so she kind of put me back on the art path.
Thompson began doing commissioned illustrations under the name Cape Horn Illustration. This year, Lauffenberger has taken the plunge herself. She quit a job in digital media and returned to art full time, creating custom ceramic planters for Chicago homes.
“It really seemed like a common thread that I could start doing architectural ceramics as well, because we both love it so much,” she said. “And I just find people really like functional pieces that are beautiful and identify with, but also serve a purpose in the house for them to enjoy.”
“I think she has a much harder job than me, as finding out, because I don’t have to worry about the back of the house,” Thompson added.
They honored the combined business with one of Chicago’s many nicknames.
“I think it’s one of Chicago’s lesser-known nicknames, but that feeling of awe is how we felt like we were getting involved with the city and it really resonated with us,” said Lauffenburger.
As Wonder City Studio, Thompson and Lauffenberger – with help from their dog Vincent – deliver prints that capture not only the city’s house styles, but Chicago landmarks and neighborhoods, and even a few selections from the city. ‘other towns of lesser importance. But their main activity comes from orders for portraits and planters at home.
“It could be for a family home, it could be for a young couple moving into their first home,” Thompson said. “It is very touching to know that you are helping to commemorate someone’s memories and that they are potentially going to have this piece in their family for years to come.”
“What you almost always have is they tell you a story, like it’s my grandmother’s house, and it’s been in the family for generations,” Lauffenburger said. “Sometimes it’s just overwhelming when you feel like you’re connecting with someone like that and that’s really what art is, isn’t it?” It’s just really special.
Note: this story will be updated with a video.