Breakfast at Julie’s
A year ago, before the break-in, Julie Ivers sat documenting the events of the day prior. Before her small Chicago apartment had been mercilessly ransacked — props and costumes and books tossed aside, jewelry and laptops and cellphone chargers taken — Ivers studied the worn pages of her slim, emerald green Moleskine planner over a cup of lukewarm tea.
Ivers’ boyfriend of 19 months, Will, has the “memory of a goldfish” — a reality that evidently troubles her, despite her mantra of denial. Horrified by the thought of forgetting, Ivers catalogued her days in messy cursive script, crosshatching memorable anecdotes with reminders of appointments, shooting dates, and workshop hours.
One sticky summer afternoon, while Ivers was away on set, the planner was shanghaied by thieves.
Realistically, it was the purse housing the planner that the bandits were after. But Ivers, animated, charismatic and uncannily sentimental, has chosen to cope with her loss the only way she knows how — with creativity. Born and raised a Cincinnati gal, Ivers has built a reputation around Chicago as a set designer. These days without her planner, she is living inside a life-sized diorama of the memories she once recorded.
Artwork, discarded furniture, receipts, and photographs litter every horizontal surface in Ivers’ home. But, unlike the planner — say, which could be swept away in the blink of an eye — Ivers’ growing collection of memorabilia refuses to be easily poached. Ivers continues to evolve as an artist, filling one shelf after another with new tchotchkes. Her latest acquisition, an assortment of pumpkins collected from the set of a recent short film, sit stoically in the corner. In her desire to infuse personality into every film she works on, Ivers brings in pieces from her secret display of vinyl records, antique picture frames, and lovingly rescued ottomans.
Preparing to design the set of a short film is a process far more elaborate than choosing accent pillows to brighten up a crappy dorm room. “Think of it as creating the way the universe looks from scratch,” said Ivers. “You have to have a vision; you have to know what it is that you want to say.” Her style in design is equal parts effortlessly classic and charmingly quirky. On set, she is constantly thinking, drawing, discussing, laughing, climbing ladders, dodging equipment, and stealing tea in Styrofoam cups from craft services. The parade of energy that follows Ivers is part of what makes her great at her job. In return, she can take home pumpkins and other oddities from the sets that she entertains.
All successful artists have their origin stories: Springsteen played in a band named after soap, Picasso’s father was an artist himself. For Ivers, her creative adventures began with books. “Growing up everyone always thought that books were boring,” said Ivers. “Not me. I’ve always thought that if you’re reading a book in the period of a week then for seven days that book becomes your whole word. It pops up everywhere.” Between camera takes, on the train, and alone at home Ivers still reads. Lately, she has become consumed with science fiction and horror, two genres that she believes inspire the most imaginative set designs. “Ray Bradbury’s ‘Dandelion Wine’ absolutely messed me up,” said Ivers. “I can’t talk about it much more or I will start to ugly cry again.”
When not drafting sets in her sketchbook or devouring classic American literature, Ivers sometimes still feels a pang of sadness. After the robbery, empty jewelry boxes and laptop cases had been found, deserted, in nearby trashcans. She searched for days, picking her way through the alley’s garbage, but never found a scrap of evidence hinting at the planner’s presence. It was odd, she thought, that a stranger somewhere knew so much about her day-to-day life. She often wondered whether they had taken the time to study her lost memories. Today, she is less preoccupied with the Moleskine. Ivers’ unique approach to remembrance had evolved into the full-scale gallery that is her home. Tomorrow, she hopes, will bring more sets to cultivate and more memories to record.