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Not your average
LGBT center

Not your average
            LGBT center

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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