“Think of us as an adult candy store, except that unlike candy stores where the candy is already made for you, here you make your own for a fraction of the price.” This is how Nepenthe (Baltimore’s wonderful new beer and wine making supply shop) describes what they do. And color us charmed. Anyone in the Baltimore area who’s dabbled in home beer brewing or winemaking knows that up until last month, that meant driving down to Maryland Homebrew in Columbia (which is a great store, don’t get us wrong—but for what you pay in time and gas, you could just buy an imported six-pack and call it a day). So we are so, so, so happy to welcome to town Nepenthe—a new shop in Clipper Mill that has everything you need to brew your own—including classes, recipes, and even equipment you can use on site. Read More →
We’ve all had the experience of going over to a friend’s house and noticing—really noticing—a remarkable piece of furniture. A coffee table that you can tell was actually designed and crafted, rather than simply being assembled out of a box. Or a lamp that somehow elevates the entire room to I-want-to-hang-out-in-here status. Where do these objects come from? How do you know one when you find one? And can the right coffee table or lamp really change things for you that much? Maybe. Especially as the cooler weather slowly rolls in, you may want to look around at your furnishings and give them the do-I-really-want-to-look-at-that-all-winter test.
In the event that something doesn’t pass, you may want to call up Gutierrez Studios. John Gutierrez has been making artisan and custom furniture here in Baltimore for over twenty years. His work incorporates wood, steel, glass, and other media to create sleek and interesting furnishings that are unique enough to feel special, but that you would actually want in your home. The Gutierrez Studios website boasts a number of products ready for purchase, as well as extensive information for those interested in custom designs.
Gutierrez Studios is located at 2010 Clipper Park Road in Baltimore. For more information, visit www.gutierrezstudios.com
Are you in market for a new home? Are you thinking of selling your house and need some price comparisons? Are you a house obsessed lookey-loo? Well, grab a Starbucks and power up the GPS. We have your Sunday afternoon covered with our picks of the best open houses this week.
3415 Woodberry Avenue, Baltimore MD 21211
Hip builder’s model contemporary at “Clipper Mill.” Look past the uninspired decor to see its industrial chic potential. Surroundings include fab community pool, artists’ studios and Woodberry Kitchen. Visualize walking to lively Saturday brunches with yoga toned artsy friends.
911 South Decker Avenue
2 br/1.5 ba
Everything about this Canton townhouse says “OMG! it’s sooo cute.” Therefore, if you are a twenty-something single girl who can swing the mortgage, this one might be for you. Alternatively, if you’re looking for an investment property to rent out, this one is guaranteed to attract plenty of twenty-something single girls. Visualize: Walking home form the St. Patrick’s day festivities in Canton without fear of a DUI or depositing a rent check.
12 Saint Martins Road
This Guilford home strikes an undeniably pretty curb-side view. Sure, the interior decor is wacky but that is exactly why it is worth a visit, to see how much work is needed to get down to the original bones. The good news is that it all looks to be scrupulously maintained so the home’s systems are bound to be in good shape. Visualize: pruning roses in that fairytale-like walled garden in the back.
HOT HOUSE: 3415 Woodberry Avenue, Baltimore, 21211
Overlooking Clipper Mill and Woodberry, a contemporary style, new-built, green design, three story house in a small development with access to the Woodberry swimming pool: $529,000.
What: An interesting idea. Streuver Brothers started this group of 38 houses, then BB&T bank bought and finished them. Now they’re on the market as “contemporary park homes with wooded views and the latest in sustainable design options.” All true. Built to very high LEED silver environmental standards, they are currently the greenest houses in the mid-Atlantic. The houses are free-standing, although the lots are very small, and somehow they feel like town homes. High on an outcropping above the Clipper Mill village, they do offer a rare chance to own a contemporary home in an ancient and fascinating corner of the city. Inside, you walk up the stairs to an airy open plan living room with 10’ ceilings. Expansive glass windows have views of trees and the old industrial buildings of Clipper Mill. Outside is a nice deck. A dining area, and a sleek galley kitchen are on the main floor too, the kitchen with Bosch stainless steel appliances, granite counters and hardwood floors. Upstairs are three bedrooms and three and a half baths. Downstairs is a large family room, with natural light and another deck. Nothing amazing, except the views, but all very nice. Central air, gas fireplace, one car garage. Realtor says that only eight units are left. Hmmmm…maybe.
Where: Off the beaten track. Take Union Avenue down the hill from Falls Road, and back up to cross over the Light Rail tracks. Stay straight as it narrows and becomes Clipper Park Road. You’ll pass Woodberry Kitchen on your right. Hang a sharp left just past the Stable onto Woodberry Avenue and up a steep-ish hill. From here, you can walk to the Light Rail (just 15 minutes to downtown), Woodberry Kitchen and the Jones Falls hiking/biking trail. Good access to I-83, too.
Why: It’s something different and kind of cool. Snug in your nest, up in the trees, behind walls of glass, with a nice combination of industrial and rural views, you can feel happily superior to your suburban friends, living in so not-green brick boxes. Plus, feeling like you’re supporting the arts community, somehow, just by living here … Plus, chance to be a barfly at Woodberry Kitchen, lounge lizard at the fabulous pool.
Would suit: divorcees, hipsters with a trust-fund, artists–at-heart, environmentally-conscious retirees.
Why Not: Although striking, their modern styling is not that great looking, except at night. Getting down the hill in snow or ice could be a problem.
As you turn off Falls Road in Hampden, heading downhill on Union Avenue towards Meadow Mill and Woodberry Kitchen, it’s hard not to slow down to admire the construction project that is the Union Mill. The mill lies low in a hollow beside the Jones Falls; in the mornings, mist hangs in the air.
A shady and nameless bar across the street seems to be open 24/7, and at odd hours men and women stagger out, light a cigarette, head back in. The setting has an Edward Hopper beauty, and there was a time in my life when living there would have been extremely appealing. Now–too late for me–it will be possible. Over the past year and a half, the Union Mill at 1500 Union Avenue has been the latest project of the Seawall Development Company–turning an abandoned stone factory into a mixed-use building designed and managed specifically for non-profits and teachers– an innovative development concept that looks like a win-win for Baltimore city.
Built in 1866, the Druid Mill, as it was then called, was, in its heyday, one of several Mt. Vernon mills that used the water from the Jones Falls to make cotton duck, a heavy fabric used in clothing, tents and sails. A plaque on the lintel reads “Mt. Vernon Mill # 4,” in reference to the Clipper, Meadow and Woodberry Mills located nearby. When the mill stopped producing fabric in the 1920’s, the building functioned as a warehouse until it was purchased by the Kramer brothers just after World War II. The Kramers used it as a factory to make toys and accessories for model trains, supplying the then booming hobby business. Eventually, it fell back into use as a warehouse, and was finally abandoned until just last year, when it was sold to Donald Manekin, a successful Harford County developer. Manekin is a founding partner in the Seawall Development Company, a local business with an interesting history, one that specializes in the burgeoning sector of “socially responsible development.”
Socially responsible development is the idea that building design can impact not only the lives of its residents, but help rehabilitate distressed urban areas. In the case of Seawall, the concept began with the father-son team of Donald and Thibault Manekin. Don Manekin is the former owner/operator of building giant Manekin Construction, which he sold in 2000. Around the same time as he accepted the unpaid position, offered by his friend Bill Streuver, as CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System. The years he spent there proved to be a turning point in his life, as he says “talking to teachers, and learning about education in Baltimore from the inside-out.” By the time, in 2005, that his son Thibault returned from South Africa–where he had started his own sports-related non-profit enterprise–the two were ready to begin the give-back. The solution combined their experience in construction and development with a real ambition to help a city in need. “It all came out of those conversations with teachers,” Manekin says.
Teaching in Baltimore city is by any definition a hard job. Teacher retention rates are low–with less than half of new hires staying more that five years and a third leaving after two–costing the city over $100, 000 for each defection. Many of the young teachers Manikin met expressed a sense of isolation and discouragement due to a variety of factors–moving to a new and unfamiliar city, learning to engage children from distressed environments, and lack of support within the system. With 750 new teachers arriving in Baltimore every year, many of them with Teach for America, and most of them financially strapped, finding affordable housing is yet another challenge. After conducting a series of interviews and surveys with teachers, the Manekins began to translate the results into design elements for a kind of social experiment–buildings that would support teachers by encouraging collaboration and creating a sense of community. The vision was to “roll out the red carpet for teachers,” Manekin says, to improve retention rates and “maybe get them to stay in Baltimore.”
In 2007, Donald and Thibault Manekin, together with partner Evan Morville, used a combination of federal and state tax credits, New Market tax credits, enterprise zone credits and private financing to buy and renovate the old Miller Can Factory at 2601 North Howard Street–cost, around $20 million. The resulting building, Miller’s Court, is a mixed residential and commercial space with 40 one, two and three-bedroom affordable apartments for teachers, as well as 35,000 square feet of office space leased at below market rates by education-related non-profits. Six teachers from Teach For America helped design the project. Architect Tom Liebel and his team at Marks, Thomas Architects incorporated many of their ideas into the final plans.
Learning that teachers spend a lot of time in copy shops because often schools don’t have enough copy equipment, a workroom with a high-volume copier became part of the plan. Instead of late night runs to the copy shop, teachers can hang out and chat while using the center. An old loading dock was reconfigured with a fire pit and benches as an outdoor space, the central court is now a bocce court –all with the idea of creating an environment where people with common interests interact with one another, share problems and maybe come up with solutions. The non-profit organizations that support these teachers are right downstairs, and include Catholic Charities, Experience Corps, the Baltimore Urban Debate League and Playworks.
Here, shared training, conference and meeting rooms that can accommodate from two to 100 people greatly reduce the space requirements, and thereby, the cost of operating. Businesses with similar goals are in close proximity to each other. A voice on the phone becomes a face in the hall. Ideas are exchanged. Things, hopefully, get done better and faster. “To the extent that we can make a teacher’s life easier,” says Evan Morville, “that is the mission.”
The good news for the partners in Seawall was that their vision met with success. Six months before completion, the building was completely pre-leased, and there was a waiting list of 400 teachers for future projects. Miller’s Court became the regional headquarters for Teach For America. And as the Manekins hoped, the building is having a ripple effect on the surrounding neighborhood. Rehabilitation of the abandoned building, a former neighborhood blight, has inspired nearby buildings to improve their own appearance, and helped to spur investment in the neighborhood. In 2010, fresh from their success at Miller’s Court, the Seawall Development Company went looking for another project, and found it in Hampden–at the Union Mill.
The Union Mill
At 86,000 square feet, a full block long, the Union Mill is gigantic. With its Italianate lines and beautiful stonework, it’s a more architecturally interesting building than Miller’s Court. Recently re-pointed, the stones stand out clean and strong in walls that are over two-feet-thick. Partner Evan Morville, who is often on-site, credits the artistry of his stonemason, Ron Kemper, with the striking result. “His guys are the best I’ve ever worked with,” he says. The large paned windows have been completely replaced, trim freshly painted, and the back wall of the factory exposed to great effect.
The plan is closely based on the Miller’s Court model. The price tag of around $20 million is about the same. Ditto the financing–a combination of state and federal tax credits and private financing. The same construction firm, Hamel Builders, and the same architect, Tom Liebel of Marks, Thomas Architects, are on board. 35,000 square feet of the building will be affordable office space, where the non-profits that help to power Baltimore’s urban economy–education, human service and health-related–can work side-by-side, sharing ideas and space, and cutting cost of overhead. Another 50,000 square feet will be residential, with 54 one and two-bedroom apartments, offered at below market rates to teachers. Common spaces, including conference and training rooms, a copy center, a free gym/fitness center, free parking, an outdoor courtyard and a café (open to the public) in the old boiler room, offer both convenience and economies of scale. Currently, 90 percent of the office space has been pre-leased to non-profits. Of the 54 apartments, all but seven are rented as of last week. And if there are no one-bedroom units available, Seawall will match two willing sharers together in a two-bedroom.
Seawall is not just a development company, but a management company, which means that there is as least one person, often more, in the buildings all the time, to take care of problems as they occur. So far, according to Morville, everything is running smoothly. Will the Pepsi bottling plant, just 50 yards down the hill be a problem for the residents? Nope–the walls of the factory are thick enough to block the noise, and after all “this is a city.” Any problems with crime and security? “No problems at all,” says Morville, in fact the neighborhood has been amazingly supportive. Manekin agrees. “In every way, the Hampden and Woodberry community associations have made this project a success.” Seawall is so comfortable here in fact, they are moving office headquarters to a large block of space on the ground floor.
On a tour of Union Mill last week, most of the apartments exhibit more of the high style and quality construction you would expect in a top-end condo than subsidized rental apartments (units will rent to teachers for between $700 and $1,200). Each unit features exposed original columns, timber beams, beautiful old wainscoting and true plaster walls, all left as reminders of the original function of the building. The large arched windows of the factory are a striking feature in many. But essentially the apartments are sleek and modern in feeling, with polished concrete floors, glass pendant kitchen lighting, Shaker-style cabinetry and wide louvered blinds at the oversized windows. They’re great looking–a place you’d be proud to come home to at the end of the day.
And did someone say green? Part of Seawall’s mission (and part of the requirement for the historic tax-credit funding) is environmental sustainability. Here, as at Miller’s Court, much has been done to conserve energy resources, above and beyond the obvious environmental benefits of rehabbing an existing site rather than sending it to the landfill. Energy-efficient windows, check. High-efficiency heating and cooling, check. And insulation—invisible but everywhere. Interestingly, the idea of a communal laundry room Seawall initially included in plans (more environmentally friendly, as people tend to do bigger loads, less frequently) was flat-out rejected by the teachers, who felt that the dorm period of their life was well over. A compelling reminder of the sustainability mission are old machinery and industrial parts from the factory site, which have been reworked by local artists and sculptors from MICA into thought provoking artwork to be placed indoors and outside at the Union Mill.
“We look at real estate as an opportunity to effectuate change,” says Evan Morville, wearing a hard hat and gazing up at the stone building nearing completion.
One change has already happened–an abandoned factory, beautifully refitted for the needs of another century. The more important change, for Baltimore City–a chance at improving the lives of teachers and hopefully, their students–has just begun.
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