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Not your average
LGBT center

Not your average
LGBT center

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With its environmentally correct design and an online registry of chic furniture to donate, Chicago's Center on Halsted is a new kind of community gathering place.

In the world of charitable giving, big spenders can leave their mark on rooms and buildings named in their honor. But what about those with shallower pockets? The Center on Halsted, Chicago's first LGBT center, offers a novel alternative: an online registry where you can commemorate your legacy by purchasing a piece of furniture for its stylish new digs, set to open in June.

Located in the city's Lakeview neighborhood, the 175,000-square-foot building--partly turned over to a Whole Foods that will help pay the nonprofit center's bills--juxtaposes the facade of an art deco-style former city maintenance garage with a glassy new addition. Financed by a $20 million capital campaign, it was designed by the Chicago office of the global architecture firm Gensler, known for the JetBlue terminal being built at New York's JFK Airport. The center will be an environmentally responsible space with a rooftop garden, natural ventilation, and the area's first system to harvest rainwater for plumbing.

Gensler also conjured up the registry concept. Since many community centers wind up with a mishmash of "hand-me-downs or random donations," says Gensler principal and design director Carlos Martinez, who is out and oversaw the building's interior design, "we thought, Let's not create a great building that tells a story on the outside and lets you down inside." So Martinez's team chose a variety of modern classics, midcentury-inspired furnishings, and cheeky accessories for the open interior, then negotiated with manufacturers to contribute a portion of the cost. Now it's up to altruists to pick up the remainder by buying the pieces (which can be done at www.furnitureshower.com).

"The straight community has all these wonderful institutions in which people get together to celebrate weddings and babies--they bring something for the nursery or the new house," Martinez says. "In a brainstorming moment we decided to create a community event like that."

The registry also helps the center's bottom line. "Obviously, every dollar we earn reduces the amount we have to spend and gives us more flexibility to use fund-raising dollars," says Robbin Burr, the center's executive director.

And, she promises, when the decorating mission is complete, the furniture donors will get their well-deserved recognition: "There's talk about publishing a commemorative book, because some furniture is less conducive to plaques than others."

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