The bookshelves at Constructive Chaos are packed with books and games, art supplies and instruction manuals. Blueprints for one project are laid out on lab tables, next to the small pots of ready-to-grow "herb pizzas," potted with what will become tasty toppings. The entire northern expanse of the wall is covered by a black chalkboard, scrawled with various doodles and lesson plans.
In the back of the renovated building at 349 Ashland Avenue, four kitchen mixers stand at the ready on a long kitchen island while an industrial refrigerator hums quietly.
"I've always wanted to open a hole-in-the-wall art shop," said Kristin Nelson, co-owner of Constructive Chaos. "Nothing fancy like this, actually."
Yet here it is, River Forest's new temple of creation, overflowing with color.
Nelson co-owns Constructive Chaos with her daughter Ashley, 23, a Boston University grad and budding chef who's eschewed a career in restaurants in favor of teaching kids to cook.
Together, the pair are aiming to provide a home base for local creative kids. But Kristin Nelson is quick to point out that the space won't be "a day care where kids make cute things but a place where kids can actually learn something within a curriculum."
And the curriculum is already packed with options and smartly divided into themed weeks. For example, next week's art courses will revolve around music — kids will create concert shirts, album art and instruments.
In the kitchen, Ashley Nelson leads "Fantastic Fruit and Fondue Week," which will see kids creating fruit concoctions, push-ups made with homemade sorbet and an April Fool's selection where "dinner is dessert and dessert is dinner." The March class schedules accompany this story as a PDF. More information is available at their website.
But the classes aren't as rigid as the scheduling makes it sound. Kristin Nelson, a former part-time art teacher, is quick to say that if students aren't showing interest in art history lessons, she'll move onto the hands-on projects.
Fridays at Constructive Chaos will feature an open session, where they're encouraging teens to come hang out, create something or cook together. Technically, every hour is "open," meaning kids can drop in anytime for an hourlong, free-form session to explore and create freely.
Soon, the Nelsons will begin bringing their students outdoors to the greenhouse, where they'll grow and store plants for projects, including edible flowers and dandelions for honey. And they'll make paint and clay from the flower extracts. (See? Creativity everywhere.)
For Kristin, a mother of four with a business degree from Kendall College — she applied her business plan for Constructive Chaos to her college coursework — the debut is a chance to make decades work of part-time instruction into a full-time gig, although she doesn't plan to pay herself yet.
For Ashley, it's the start of something big. She's thinking of maybe franchising the business into the city and suburbs.
But first, there's much work to be done — lesson plans to create, community outreach events to attend and partnerships to form.
And it's worth noting that the Nelsons faced setback after setback when they bought the building in 2010, one of which was getting properly permitted by River Forest village officials. They're not quite a school and not quite a restaurant.
"It took a long time to create a new box for us," Kristin Nelson said.
New box? More like no box. Sounds like the perfect place to create some chaos.
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