Growing up, graphic designer Evan Thomas Cole believed conformity and community were one and the same. He was shy, reserved, and much preferred to keep to himself indoors. As an adult, he’s learned to enjoy social situations and has grown to crave a sense of community — to the point where he pursued full-time work in an effort to surround himself with others, and relocated to Chicago to be closer to his boyfriend, Jonathan.
From the comfort of his living room (which really functions as the “everyroom” in the humble apartment), Evan is joining us today to chat about community, following his heart, self-acceptance, and crowded trains.
Photography by Marta Sasinowska
Tell us about yourself.
Hello! I’m Evan Thomas Cole, a graphic designer living in Chicago with my boyfriend of four years, Jonathan. I work full-time for a global digital agency downtown, as well as freelance on the side, designing infographics and the occasional logo.
My career as a designer has evolved, as it should. I started freelancing right out of art school and enjoyed the freedom and flexibility it provided. However, the work slowed and the lack of human interaction took its toll. I started working full-time to create stability, but I’ve always been able to find a way to keep freelancing. It’s honestly the best of both worlds. A full-time job keeps me up-to-date in the design world, and freelancing gives me the opportunity to use my underutilized skills in illustration and data visualization.
I’m passionate about all things design. I’m constantly tweaking the apartment Jonathan and I share, and adding to my growing throw pillow collection. Seriously. It’s getting out of control. We’ve lived in our adorable apartment for over a year now and we couldn’t be happier.
What does home and this space mean to you? Describe it.
The living room is the epicenter of our apartment. We talk there, we chill there, and because our apartment is so small, we eat there, too. Our coffee table is basically our dining table. Welcome to big-city living, right?
With this being our first apartment together, I wanted the space to represent the both of us. I’ve worked hard to make the living room feel polished yet cozy, sophisticated yet youthful. Being on the North Side, I have access to incredible local furniture stores and home decor shops. Our coffee table is a refinished vintage piece from the 1960s that we bought from mid-century sanctuary District Chicago. Additionally, we bought our snake plant, that we’ve affectionately named Joan, from there as well. Our terrarium, named Uranus, is from Alapash and quite a few of our prints and frames are from Foursided. Shopping local keeps me happy. I get to support Chicago-based businesses and my belongings are more personal and specialized. Naming them keeps me happy, too.
What makes it so comfortable?
Decluttering has helped tremendously in making our space feel more comfortable. Stuff we don’t need we’ve either put in storage or tossed. When your apartment or home is small, you need to make it feel bigger. We’ve trimmed our seating arrangement to just a couch and a chair, and we’ve kept the floor plan as open as possible.
Since we spend most of our time in the living room, I wanted the space to make us feel peaceful and relaxed. Textures and color help the space appear cheerful and bright. I’ve had the red couch for five years now, and although it’s not as pristine as it once was, it’s a great punch of color that works in harmony with my beloved throw pillows.
Whether we’re hosting friends (usually two at a time) or like most Americans, watching Netflix in our underwear, we feel right at home.
What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?
Unaligned furniture, crooked picture frames, and wrinkled fabric. On a broader scale, I would say being in social situations I don’t want to be in [makes] me uncomfortable. As an only child growing up, I never socialized unless I wanted to. I would socialize on my terms. As I’ve entered adulthood, I’ve realized that I don’t have the control over social situations I once had in my youth, and that some situations are unavoidable. Small talk used to make me cringe, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve been able to relate to people in meaningful ways, make connections, and build relationships.
Losing what I’ve worked hard for scares me a lot. I’ve lost my job before and it was one of the lowest points in my life. I went into work thinking it was a normal Friday and left without my job. Layoffs are unfortunate and companies you think are thriving can go under. It was a terrible reminder that things can be taken from you in an instant.
Oh, and crowded red line trains make me incredibly uncomfortable.
Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?
Moving to a new city was a huge change for me. Before Chicago, I moved to Indianapolis to attend art school, and settled there after I graduated. Freelance work was slowing down, my best friend moved away to Oak Park, and I started a long-distance relationship with Chicago born-and-raised Jonathan. It was clear I needed to go where life was suggesting. I was able to score an interview at a small design studio in Glen Ellyn that wanted me to start in three weeks! I found a new apartment, packed up my old one, rented a U-Haul (which Jonathan bravely drove), and uprooted my life to a bigger and faster city. Everything changed in less than a month and I handled the move all by myself. Nothing makes you grow up faster than experiencing the horrors and frustrations of moving.
Relocating to Chicago was the best decision I’ve ever made. My career is better off and my personal life is better off. I listened to what my life was trying to tell me and trusted my instincts. I knew that moving would lead to a better job. I knew that moving would bring me closer to my best friend. I knew that moving would allow my relationship to become stronger. I’m 100% sure I’m where I’m supposed to be.
What would you do if you had a day, a week and a month all to yourself?
I love shopping. I make up excuses to go shopping all the time. “Let’s get a new this.” “Let’s upgrade that.” The perfect Saturday to me is getting coffee (preferably La Colombe), shopping in Andersonville, grabbing brunch, and then shopping some more. It’s not that I feel I need to keep buying things, it’s that I truly love looking and browsing. I don’t necessarily need to purchase to feel satisfied. I get it from my mom’s side of the family — for us, shopping is an all-day event.
A week to myself would be best spent visiting my parents in New Mexico. I see them once a year and I wish I could see them more. I don’t spend Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas with them, which I assume is a bit unusual for most people. Spending a few days at their home, amidst the mountains and desert terrain, would be a nice break from my hectic work life, where a new project always seems to come my way.
I don’t think I would want a month to myself. I don’t need it. Well, that’s a lie. If I really had to have a month to myself, I would jump at the chance to explore and travel Europe. I want to devour pizza in Naples. Shop in Shoreditch. Walk along the Seine. Eat. Shop. Love. Step aside, Julia!
What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?
Self-acceptance. I’m sure this comes as a shock, but I was not like other boys growing up. I was shy, effeminate, and preferred the indoors. If my life was Mean Girls, I would be sitting at the art freaks table with a non-speaking role. Back then, I tried to conceal my weirdness and hide my quirks. Conformity seemed appealing. Blending in made sense.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve understood that I despise normal and enjoy standing out. Art school introduced me to a plethora of fellow weirdos who shared my love of obscure pop culture and demented comedians. My profession as a graphic designer is only strengthened by my absurdity and creative ideas. Accepting my sexuality allowed me to find someone who truly loves me for me, something I never thought I would have (thank God for Jonathan). I’ve learned to celebrate my differences, instead of point them out. Self-acceptance is an ongoing process, but it’s becoming easier with age.
How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?
I don’t. My laptop and my phone are extensions of my body. We are one.
Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?
Burnout is an inevitable. However, I’ve established a fairly good balance in my life. I don’t feel burned out too often, but when I do, I love going to art museums. They give me the greatest bursts of inspiration and ignite my creativity. Exploring my city gives me a great deal of inspiration as well. Take a different route, discover a new neighborhood. You never know where your next great photo-op can come from.
What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?
Less war. More peace.
What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?
Will there ever be a Hocus Pocus 2?