The other day while walking our dogs on Main Street in downtown Durham, my husband Bill and I struck up a conversation with a young couple coming out of the building next door. We all agreed that loft living is great and that downtown is really starting to take off and become a cool place to live.
What amazes me about this encounter is how very different we are from our new neighbors. They're young medical students from the Northeast. They seem confident and sophisticated, with a certain worldliness that I imagine comes from a life of wealth and privilege. We're from the baby boom generation; close to retirement, downsizing from a four-bedroom ranch in a lovely neighborhood with large lawns and minivans parked outside.
Why did we decide to move downtown at this point in our lives? I think that the big lawn and upkeep on that house had a lot to do with our decision to sell our place and move to a one-bedroom loft. And with all of our children grown and gone, we were ready for an adventure! We love to eat out and drink good wine and walk to arts events, movies and the baseball game.
We also wanted to get rid of some of our "stuff." Stuff accumulated over 60 years of life. Stuff we really didn't need or want. I dreamed of a large open space with high ceilings, huge windows and a park nearby for the dogs.
But mostly we didn't want to weed or mow that large lawn again!
As fate would have it, while walking from my car to the courthouse for jury duty late last year, I noticed a photo in the window at 105 W. Main St. It was a small building with two lofts--one on the second floor and one on the third. They had 20-foot ceilings, brick walls, original hardwood floors and a front window about 14 feet by 14 feet. The place was open and airy, with a lovely little park across the street. It was the loft of my dreams! I walked into Maverick Partners on the first floor and asked them to show me the lofts. I immediately called Bill to come see. It was love at first sight. The next week we rented the one on the top floor. The decision to rent instead of buy was made in order to give ourselves time to decide if urban living was right for us.
So, three yard sales and 12 trips to the dump later, we moved all of our stuff up three flights of stairs. It was a bit difficult at first, both for us and for our dogs. We would have to get used to the stairs, but more importantly, we would need to adapt to a completely different lifestyle.
We no longer buy groceries in bulk from Costco. Making 10 trips up those stairs was out of the question!
We no longer have our beautiful gas stove, and my husband especially hates our new electric one. He is quite a good cook.
Parking downtown can be a problem if you don't have a space in a garage. The first month we lived here, I got four parking tickets! Now I park in the garage.
We have no maintenance to worry about, and the rent is less than our mortgage in the suburbs, but I do sometimes miss having my coffee on the patio.
I no longer have my wonderful neighbors on Wilson Street, but they come by to see us, and we are making new friends every day. We meet and greet many locals at the local pub, Joe & Jo's. I recently ran into Ellen Cassilly (who lives and works as an architect downtown) at the Federal. She and I are putting together a design for our rooftop.
I found that my favorite hairdresser, Erin, has moved from Raleigh to Durham and has a pretty little shop on Parish Street, just one block away. How lucky for me!
Bill, an Annapolis graduate, was surprised to find a classmate of his practicing as an attorney downtown. He has really enjoyed catching up on old times and comparing notes about life in Durham. Bill was also thrilled to be within walking distance of the library. He's quite an avid reader--as evidenced by the gazillion books he has had to tote up the stairs!
The American Tobacco Project, just a couple of blocks away, has a wonderful outdoor space, with waterfalls and green spaces and really good restaurants like Symposium, Mellow Mushroom and Tyler's Tap Room. We love to stop there after a Bull's game. If we want a movie, we walk over to the Carolina Theatre. If we want art or music, there is always something interesting happening at the Durham Arts Council. Then there is the Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings for fresh produce, cheese, flowers and baked goods.
But the main reason I love living on Main Street is the loft itself. As an interior decorator, I couldn't wait to get started designing the new space, which is about 2,400 square feet, mostly open in the front part, with a large bedroom and two baths in the back.
The window in the front is so large that it almost covers the whole wall. The ceilings are about 21 feet high! The front of the loft is about 24 feet wide, then the space narrows and the ceilings get lower as they go back. It widens again in the back to include the kitchen and dining areas. Past the kitchen is a hallway with a bath on one side and a laundry room on the other. The bedroom, with its walk-in closet and large bath, is so big that I put my formal living room furniture and bedroom furniture in there, with plenty of room to spare.
The loft has been beautifully restored, leaving the original brick and hard maple floors whenever possible. There is a new kitchen with a high bar dividing the cooking and dining areas. I would have designed the kitchen to be much larger, but it is fine as long as there is only one cook working at a time!
My biggest design challenge was the open area in the front. I wanted to visually break up the space without blocking the light and the view of the beautiful window. I decided to hang a large window salvaged from an old downtown building from the ceiling to create a "wall" to separate the TV and sitting areas. I envisioned making sort of a sunroom for reading, talking, drinking coffee in the morning or wine at night.
As an engineer and independent consultant, Bill wanted to be sure he could carve out his own space for a study. We put his industrial shelves in the middle to create a wall. His study can still get the view and the light, but he gets a bit of privacy as well.
I wanted a space to "chill" and a space to do some crafts and sewing. I envisioned a dual purpose conversation nook/reading room and a sleeping area for guests and grandchildren. My solution was quite simple and very economical. I found two ship's bunk beds with drawers underneath and added pillows for lounging, reading, eating and talking. One bed is in front of the window and the other is against the brick wall, creating a 90-degree angle. A large round rug with a round glass-top table sits in the middle. A white wicker chair and ottoman and an antique wicker rocker gives the feeling of a sunroom. This space has turned out to be our favorite place to relax, gaze out at the city lights and catch up after a long day.
It took us quite a few months to get used to the new lifestyle, but I think we've become passionate converts to the vision of a new downtown. We've taken the leap from the suburbs to the city and have grown to love all the places, the people and the positive changes we find every day.
Anne Moscrip works with Cargile Creations, an interior decor and design firm in the Triangle.