In late October, a charming shop opened at 604 Dempster St. in an airy and light space perfect for displaying housewares, home décor and art objects.
The objects, most of which are the handcrafted work of artists, have been carefully curated for design and sustainable materials that will last a long time. The name of the shop – Pink and Tan – is an announcement of sorts that good design doesn’t have to exclude color or conform to conventional neutrality.
The shop’s owners are architect and designer, Maggie Peng, and her husband, Noah Sheldon, a professional photographer and documentary filmmaker who lived in Evanston until his late teens.
The couple and their two children took a flight to O’Hare International Airport with nearly no possessions at the end of March 2020 because they were victims of a COVID-19 lockdown in China that impacted Shanghai, their home for more than nine years.
“We were not really thinking about COVID when we left Shanghai with friends for a one-week vacation to Sri Lanka,” Peng said. “It was the Chinese New Year and we took a beach holiday to a place we especially enjoy.”
With COVID advancing, the Chinese government had begun massive testing, quarantines and travel lockdowns that suddenly meant that the Peng-Sheldon family couldn’t return to their home in Shanghai and were in limbo because there was no way to know the duration of the lockdown in Shanghai or in other parts of the country.
Carrying a suitcase containing primarily their vacation beachwear, they decided to travel to Evanston to sit out the disruptive and concerning situation in Shanghai. Because Sheldon’s father and brother live in the area, Evanston would be a safe haven, they thought, until their world returned to normal.
Opening a beautiful shop was not on the couple’s mind when they first arrived in Evanston.
Initially the family of four lived in a small Airbnb but eventually found a more suitable apartment across the street from Lincoln Elementary School, where they enrolled their oldest child.
Priorities were concrete: buying mattresses; seeing that both children were adjusting; figuring out how and if they could resume their former work from here; checking in with people in Shanghai who were still caring for their dog; and eventually tracking down miscellaneous furniture of theirs, long-stored in a storage unit in New York City from when both Peng and Sheldon lived and worked there before Peng was recruited to Shanghai for a designer job.
“Through all this turmoil, a couple of things stand in my memory,” said Sheldon. “The four of us lived with hardly any possessions for 14 months AND we went to the beach nearly every day!“
After school, errands and work, the family regularly visited the Lee Street Beach in south Evanston. The beach turned out to be healing, an antidote to the stress and uncertainty in their lives. And it was where they met people, made new friends and began to feel part of the community in which they were living.
By fall of 2020, they’d made the decision to stay put, and in December they put down roots and bought a house. The dog was back with them, as were some possessions finally shipped from Shanghai. The children would soon be transitioning to Orrington Elementary and Nichols Middle School.
Life was feeling more normal except for work. Sheldon’s international photography work requiring significant travel abroad slowed down during the pandemic. However, Peng’s job of running a Shanghai design studio remotely required her to work on China’s time and to function on little sleep, despite needing care for their 2 year-old daughter.
It seemed that something needed to change so Peng terminated her job and became an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute, teaching a Design, Think and Communicate pedagogy well suited to her professional experience.
In July 2022, there was another milestone when the couple found and signed the lease for the site of a former wholesale rug store on Dempster Street. After some cleanup, renovations and sourcing of merchandise, Pink and Tan – looking inviting and spiffy – opened to the public before Halloween.
The large front window of the shop gives passers-by the visual treat of hand-woven pillows and fringed blankets woven from fine Irish wool and rows of baskets of all sizes and shapes.
Tabletops hold one-of–a-kind vases and urns, juxtaposed with artist-made candlesticks and wooden bowls.
A few of Sheldon’s framed photographs are on display; and not surprising, he takes the photos for the store website and other marketing venues.
Visitors to the shop might want to enjoy Peng’s stories behind each of the objects and the artists who made them.
She not only searches for well-made and unique objects, but also for the special makers of them, including the women’s collectives around the world who proudly make some of the beautiful things that fill this place.
“I’m pleased with the shop and plan to eventually add furniture and rugs to the collection,” she said.
Peng and Sheldon also are pleased that the shop has some of the same magic of their Lee Street Beach experiences of people gathering and socializing and getting to know each other.
They won’t forget that the very existence of Pink and Tan is a result of Pandemic chaos, some patience and resilience, and because a community of Evanston residents continued to make them feel welcome.