The sign for Evanston’s new gallery, the Trapdoor Studio, is shown here. (Photo provided)

Just one block from the Dempster CTA Station sits a small, glass-fronted store that houses Trapdoor Studio, its interior looking like the page of a furniture design catalog. A kitchen features creamy white cabinets surrounding a marble top island, with porcelain jars as decorations. 

Nestled between a gelato shop and a pizzeria, it might not be the kind of place one would think about when imagining a gallery space.

But a circular, windowed platform next to the door offers clues. A small, playful structure by Max Li, the current exhibiting artist, indicates the presence of the gallery beyond the furniture showroom front.

The address on Trapdoor’s website says “alley entrance.”

Past the curated showrooms, behind a curtain into a hallway with the exhibition description, and finally into the small gallery space, concealment suggests speakeasies or bars after flights of stairs.

Trapdoor Studio’s founder Ava DeCapri is an Evanston native who left to go to college in California, but has moved back with her partner, who studied at the University of Chicago.

DeCapri’s mother, who used her furniture studio space only for occasional meetings, gave her daughter free rein over the back. DeCapri uses it as a launchpad for new artists who have trouble seeking places that would host their first exhibitions.

“Sometimes artists have to pay for the gallery space, or they have to find a group show,” DeCapri said.

Trapdoor has been open for only two weeks, but DeCapri has the rest of the year booked. Li’s exhibition, The Eight Excuses for Not Coming, will be on view until the end of March, and several artists will consecutively make their debut exhibitions. The next one, opening April 2, will consist of garden-themed sculptures, timed well to coincide with spring’s arrival. Next up will be a ceramicist — a medium DeCapri herself uses.

DeCapri gives artists the freedom to make choices about the exhibition. She said she doesn’t have experience curating exhibitions, so she solicits proposals from artists or reaches out via Instagram to Chicago artists she has heard about from her acquaintances.

DeCapri eventually wants to use the space alternately as a gallery or as an artisanal goods shop. Due to her mother’s donation, DeCapri can operate at a significantly smaller cost and gives exhibiting artists the opportunity to make more profits.

For example, artists can sell their work alongside the exhibit and take away most of the proceeds, unlike in a larger gallery, which could take more than half of the profits.

Leaving the gallery space, DeCapri points to signs fronting the neighboring stores that advertise the Trapdoor’s exhibition.

“My neighbors have been extremely nice and accommodating,” she said.

DeCapri hopes to make more signage in the future, so viewers will know where they’re going.

Yet, perhaps the mystery makes the space cooler. Coming back out to the main roads and watching cars stream by feels like returning from a secret journey.

Daphne Yao

Daphne Yao is a freelance reporter for the Evanston RoundTable; she is also studying journalism at Northwestern University. Reach out and follow her on Twitter @daphnecyao.