Late last year, our friends Amy and Ed told us that they finally were doing it – they found the perfect space, they signed on the dotted line, and they were really doing it!
It is now called The Laboratory, a Chicago learning center using STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to encourage children to wholeheartedly use their imaginations and explore their world in new, creative ways. The space feels like a happy, bright playground for kids and adults alike – which is perfect, because that was the plan all along!
Amy and Ed have been good friends of ours for years (we initially found them through Chicago Sociabulls, Jack’s doggie walking group, and you might remember when we overhauled their entry), and they had been talking about creating this space for just as long. When they signed the lease on the (gorgeous!) West Town building, they called us up and asked if we could lend a hand with design input. We were so, so thrilled for their dream-come-true, that we couldn’t wait to dive into ideas and see The Laboratory unfold.
While we pointed them in the right direction – sourcing furniture, where to buy what and which tutorials to follow – we were blown away by their execution, and we happily pass the credit entirely to them! We joked that Ed had turned into the mad scientist of the woodshop; he built each and every table, and together, they scored deals off of Craigslist and worked local store sales like seasoned pros. Note by note, they took our advice, put their twist on it, and created a place that makes us wish we were young enough to take their Zombie Science Camp. (Or attend the Frozen birthday bashes or classes on Training a Dragon!)
As inspirations to us, we asked them to share the story behind The Laboratory, because we have been itching to share it with all of you. Amy says:
We’re always talking about big ideas, but The Laboratory was that idea that we couldn’t shake. I’m not a big risk-taker, but we kept wondering if we would regret not at least trying to make it happen. After a long search, we found a beautiful, light-filled, empty box to rent, and we were investing our life savings while figuring our way through the red tape of small-business ownership in Chicago. We loved the space, but I was overwhelmed thinking how we could turn this blank space into something that was functional and fun that could work for both children and adults – especially on our budget.
We feel so lucky that we know Scott and Kim, because they are so full of advice and budget-friendly ideas. (Even though I read everything on their blog, I’m always amazed to go to their home and see everything in person and how all of the small details work together). [Editor’s note: I respectfully considered taking this out, but the feeling is mutual – so there!]
While I was filled with anxiety about how we would put together a fun, professional-looking space (again, on our budget!), Scott and Kim were filled with ideas – and big notebooks full of resources! They were beyond excited for us and they suggested ways to take the space we had to make it functional for classes while still looking good.
From our ‘Safety Corner’ with mini-lab coats and goggles, to the functional open storage, I began to see how we could, indeed, transform that open space into something that would work. For example, the rolling tables can be configured in different ways, the reception area is welcoming but still separate, and the chalk and dry erase walls double as art installation.
We never thought everyday people like us could really pull this off, but we’ve watched as people literally gasp when they come into The Laboratory. They are so excited to explore our space, learn, and draw on the walls. We’ve even had families go home to chalk paint their walls and DIY their own tables and benches. We’ve been so happily overwhelmed by the fun we see taking place and the support we’ve received.
Their passion is undeniable, and after an incredible summer success (these reviews couldn’t speak more true to Amy and Ed’s character), we are so in awe of what’s to come. If you’re local to Chicago, we urge you to check out The Laboratory – even as a grown-up! Evening and weekend adult workshops are not only available for Demystifying the DSLR and making Gourmet Dog Treats, but if you have a trade to share, instructor positions are always open (apply here!).
We’ll be taking the instructor role ourselves starting next year, and we’re eager for your input: Is there a fun DIY you’d like to try? Or are you interested in photography? Art? Blogging? We’re all ears!
Photos of in-session classes by Amy, all other photos by me.