House call: John and Frank Navin of Aluminum Group

Two brothers achieve dime store designer decadence.
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John and Frank Navin, the two brothers who make up pop outfit the Aluminum Group, say a good relationship with their landlords enabled them to redesign their adjacent places true their individual visions and whims.
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John's artist friend Mark McGinnis custom-created the dining room's adorably dark "Bird Flu" stencil, featuring a ring of dead birds under a tree.
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This bright red heart painted on the back door was inspired by designs John saw in the ladies' locker room on a visit to Sea Ranch, a 1960s coastal housing development in northern California.
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John got an incredible deal on his metal-framed Florence Knoll couch—but it was trashed. "I found it at the Furniture Shop on the South Side (4259 S Western Blvd, 773-376-2525) and had them reupholster it; the fabric's from an Italian company that manufactures train-car seating," he says.
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London-based artist Martino Gamper created the "Farfalla" butterfly chair by modifying one of the brothers' Salvation Army-thrifted Thonet chairs with slats cut from an art gallery's shipping crates.
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Frank's design aesthetic is simpler than John's and makes more references to family and the past. "I started making this series of shadowboxes a few years ago, after a major paring down," Frank says. "I had all these beautiful little things I collected and loved but didn't know what to do with."
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The bold geometric arrows painted on the coatroom walls are also a reference to the Sea Ranch development.
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Artist Mark McGinnis, who custom-created the "Bird Flu" stencil for John's dining room, also created a stencil work titled "Nation Building" for his kitchen.
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Frank also wanted to find a way to incorporate some pilgrim drawings his mother created in the 1950s into what he calls the poetry of his environment. A set of three drawings—originally created for a grade school class his aunt taught—now hang framed in a neat row in his bedroom.
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John says he stole the look of the gauzy middle curtain from a picture he once saw of Andy Warhol at a New York ice cream parlor. "It's a nod the apartment's history as grandma apartment," he says.
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John ebonized the 100-year-old wooden floors using black paint mixed with paint thinner. "Ebonizing lets some of the wood's natural grain show through, but it helps hide the wood's imperfections and helps unify the entire apartment."
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Frank�s design aesthetic is simpler than John�s and makes more references to family and the past. �I started making this series of shadowboxes a few years ago, after a major paring down,� Frank says. �I had all these beautiful little things I collected and loved but didn�t know what to do with,� he says.
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To add pops of color to the dining room, John reupholstered his thrifted Thonet chairs with bright ostrich.
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John covered the bedroom closet doors with fabric for a more interesting finish.
By Martina Sheehan. Photographs by Jeremy Bolen. |
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Many renters live in as-is limbo, but for John and Frank Navin, the brothers who make up pop band the Aluminum Group, muting their colorful personalities in their adjacent apartments was never an option. “Our landlords are like brothers to us,” says John, whose apartment underwent the most dramatic aesthetic shift. “We knew we were going to be here awhile.” Since moving in seven years ago, John, who is a sixth-grade teacher by day, transformed his 950-square-foot “grandma apartment” into a stylish but budget-built modernist pad, filling the space with salvaged designer furniture and gallery-worthy art created by friends, and adding simple but dramatic color treatments on doors, walls and floors. Word of the brothers’ knack for design has since spread; last spring, they were hired to redesign Schwa restaurant’s interior.





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