Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Toledo couple transforms 1887 building in downtown's Warehouse District

The Blade will periodically feature intriguing homes and gardens that reflect the creativity of their owners. Tell us about your abode by writing Tahree Lane at or calling 419-724-6075

To enjoy that commanding view (and to reach their bed) requires a climb of 47 stairs up two flights from ground level.

The Sullivans — he’s an architect specializing in historic preservation and she’s a nurse — are in their early 50s and consider the hike "incidental aerobic exercise." No plans for an elevator, he tells visitors, almost all of whom ask.

"It was a lot of fun but just a whole lot of work," says Mr. Sullivan of transforming an 1887 building that was an open-to-the-sky birdhouse when they bought it in August, 2007.

The long, 20-foot-by-70-foot-brick building is on the southern edge of downtown in a part of the Warehouse District called St. Clair Village. As such, it qualifies for a 10-year property tax abatement.

Mr. Sullivan knows this comeback-kid street, with an estimated 20 to 30 residents, inside and out, having designed the renovation for most of its structures. And 15 years ago, he helped establish the Toledo Warehouse District Association.

Their neighbors are, like them, relative newcomers to this old part of town: a popular coffee shop, a spa/salon, a metal artist, an appraisal firm, a philanthropic organization, another renovated home, a couple of small restaurants, and a dozen apartments. Last year, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign headquarters turned the corner storefront into a productive beehive. Horses clop by, headed for the police department’s stable a block south.

Going green

The Sullivans, who previously lived in a 1,600-square-foot home in the DeVeaux Village area of West Toledo, bought the place for $105,000 and obtained a loan for $190,000; enough, they hoped, to get it into shape.

When he was renovating the building next door for the Martin+ Wood Appraisal Group, Mr. Sullivan asked the owner if he’d part with one of his other buildings on the street, and he agreed. To be sure, the price tag was higher than it would have been before Fifth Third Field arose a few blocks away.

The ground floor is split between 650 square feet of office space, where Mr. Sullivan and a contractor will work when it’s completed, and in the rear, a high-ceilinged garage that holds construction detritus. The new high-efficiency furnace and air conditioning unit is here.

He made every effort to be environmentally friendly. After all, he notes, restoration is greener than a new build. Example: the 122-year-old floorboards in what’s now the garage were yanked up and installed, warts and all, on the second floor.

The wide, freshly carpeted staircase is flanked on the right by sunset-hued interior brick. The ceiling is a wooden bric-a-brac of exposed joists.

At the top of the stairway he’ll soon install a mostly glass, 7-foot-by-3-foot door he purchased last weekend.

Inside the upper hallway are lovely 8-foot-by-2-foot, mahogany-stained double closet doors, salvaged from renovations in the former Carleton Hotel at Michigan and Madison streets.

A long hall with nifty overhead track lights leads to a window facing the Maumee River and a small office nook. Sharing the wall is a cozy den with desk, couch, and television.

A small guest bedroom benefits from a shaft of light via a skylight-type tube.

"One of the challenges is trying to get natural light into the middle of the building," says Mr. Sullivan. "Borrowed light" from that bedroom does double duty by helping illuminate the adjacent bathroom which has recycled ribbed windows. The bathroom also "borrows" light from the den.

Moving in

The Sullivans wanted to "right-size" and ended up with 1,200 square feet on the second floor and another 500 square feet on the third. "We didn’t want a McMansion," he notes.

They spend most of their time on the second floor. Three rooms flow, one to the other, toward a trio of handsome arched windows facing the street: the striking kitchen, a compact dining area, and a small living room.

The classic galley kitchen has an island and a wall of extra cabinets. Counters are black granite slabs and tiles. Slate tiles cover the backsplash and windowsills. Appliances are metallic gray and birch-veneer cabinets stained chestnut, a few with ribbed windows, sport brushed nickel hardware.

Off the kitchen, a walk-in pantry houses a tankless water heater, stacked washer and dryer, storage, and a recycling chute that transports bottles and cans to bins in the garage below. Flooring is ceramic tile.

A light-hued bamboo floor in the dining room holds an antique oak table and sideboard. The small living room has a couch, chairs, a wood-burning stove, and beige carpet made from recycled fibers.

They moved in in January and the place is refreshingly absent of stuff on walls, counters, and shelves. That will change as they sort through a parent’s household, he says.

Hiking up the second flight of carpeted stairs brings us to what folks call "the toaster" — a curvilinear, 20-foot-by-30-foot addition with an exterior of painted-steel siding. Think of an airplane’s cross-section at the wing.

"I knew if I did this building I’d do the rooftop," he says.

The heavily insulated (R-60) ceiling, 16 feet at its apex, is painted soft yellow. Stretching across the ceiling is a deep-blue rectangle — a structural beam — studded with six lights and a fan. One bedroom wall is blue; another, pale olive, a third, pale yellow. Trim is white and carpet is silver-gray.

The only furniture so far is their east-facing bed. A door here opens onto a rooftop.

Pulling it together

A ribbed-glass door (the borrowed-light concept) leads to the huge master bathroom with whirlpool tub and separate shower. A small sink made of black-cultured stone is set off by deep-orange glass sconces.

"What I would like to aspire to from a design standpoint is tasteful but not opulent."

The separate water closet has a light well that brings natural light into the bathroom and chutes it down to windows in the kitchen.

A range of wood colors are employed, from walnut to mahogany, chestnut to the tired oak floorboards.

"The key is looking at it and pulling it all together."

So, did the architect’s project come in on time and under budget?

"Depends on who you ask," he laughs. "There was a max that I was willing to put into it."

He ended up doing some of the work himself, which took longer but kept it within the budget.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

or 419-724-6075.

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