Justin Langenberg and Cary Barnette take the holidays very seriously. None more so than Halloween, which they celebrate with an annual bash at their 1,800-square-foot Logan Square apartment. “Halloween is a big Irish holiday and it’s always been huge in my family,” Langenberg says. “We’re continuing the tradition.”
Preparations begin in September when the couple start decorating, compiling their guest list and designing the invitations, which Langenberg, an illustrator and mixed-media artist, produces himself. By the night of the party, they will have stretched faux cobwebs across the original oak doorframes, illuminated the front yard with strings of lightbulbs and glow sticks, and hung jack-o’-lanterns from the ceiling of the staircase that leads to their unit on the top floor of a vintage two-flat. And then there’s the homemade pies, cupcakes and many, many plastic cauldrons overflowing with candy that are strategically placed throughout the apartment. (“All the bad food that you’d ever want to eat,” Barnette says.)
Langenberg and Barnette’s creepy Halloween accessories don’t necessarily look out of place in the pad. In fact, the decorations complement their everyday furnishings, which include a tufted Chesterton-style leather sofa and a similar pair of wing chairs. “We both like the idea of living in a big, dark leathery hunting lodge,” Langenberg says.
But even though it’s a little dark, the place isn’t super serious, thanks to Langenberg’s growing toy collection, which includes G.I. Joes, LEGOs and Star Wars figures. A Boba Fett doll perches atop a doorframe in the large bonus room/foyer; a very collectible Millennium Falcon hangs above an IKEA display case chock-full of toys in the office. “Toys have always brought me such quick and easy joy,” says Langenberg, whose father was a toy buyer who frequently brought home product samples from toy fairs. “A little shiny piece of plastic makes me just as happy as an expensive new game system.”
Although the toys are Langenberg’s, it was Barnette who encouraged him to display the pieces on a hallway shelf in one of their prior apartments. Over time, more and more items from Langenberg’s toy collection have been unpacked, and also occupy a large display case in the dining room. The toys send a signal to guests that Langenberg and Barnette are far less serious than the wrought-iron chandelier, antique rug and leather furnishings might suggest. “It’s our fantasy image of a living room, almost like dress-up,” Barnette says.
Speaking of dress-up, arriving in costume is mandatory for admission to the Halloween party. Those who come in regular clothes have two options: leave or choose an ensemble from the “box of shame,” an antique wooden chest that Langenberg lined with purple satin fabric with black velvet moons. The chest holds remnants of costumes left behind over the years, including wigs, Mardi Gras masks and portions of Svengoolie and Elvis costumes. The couple have a good reason for the strict rule. “When you’re in a costume, you’re kind of protected, and you can float through the night like you did when you were a kid,” Barnette explains. “It’s kind of magical.”