By Candice Graham
Photos by Philip Slowiak
Downtown Cleveland was once made up of rows of vacant buildings that were falling into disrepair. But residents with foresight, like Sherry Brown, saw promise where others saw no potential. See how she transformed a proud old building into a dazzling second-story loft.
The living room of Sherry Brown’s loft looks right onto Inman Street in historic downtown Cleveland. The buildings, once abandoned, now buzz with new shops, salons, and restaurants. “I was the founding president of the Museum Center at Five Points, so I felt compelled to buy a building back in ’01, before many other people had,” explains Sherry. Built in 1925, the building she chose was once a thriving furniture store on the ground level with an expansive second-level storage area where Sherry’s apartment is now.
“My friend Phyllis had an antique store downstairs and she created a living space out of the upstairs storage and offices,” Sherry says. “It gave me the idea that this could be a really nice home for me.” Working with an expert architect, she began to lay out a floor plan that would take up the 4,800-square foot second story.
The original heart pine floors were saved, but sections had been cut out for thresholds. To remedy this, Sherry’s architect came up with a plan to fill in with Brazilian cherry planks over the office space cutouts. “I liked it so much I said ‘let’s just border all around with this cherry,’” says Sherry.
The bright living room where she reads the paper every morning is highlighted with architectural pieces selected from across the country, as well as updated furniture that keeps the look fresh. Tones of khaki and aqua outlined by pristine white baseboards and crown molding make the room feel crisp. New windows replace older ones throughout the loft, and wide windowsills create a spot for vases and Christmas decorations during the holidays. “It’s fun to be able to change the decorations on the windowsill each season,” Sherry says. The original tongue and groove bead board ceiling was once a varnished brown wood, but now glistens in a light white coat of paint. Below, a contemporary rug in heather gray and cream adds a modern spin.
Adjacent to the living room, an expansive dining area is fit for a crowd and was created with entertainment in mind. “I have friends over during the winter and we’ll light the fireplace,” Sherry explains. Antique pieces, like the dining room table, chairs, buffet table, hearth, and a Persian rug complete room.
The kitchen is strategically placed near the dining room and can be accessed via double doors to be closed off when entertaining. As a retired home economist who worked in test kitchens, Sherry knew she wanted the space to be convenient. Placing it near the dining room and creating plenty of shaker-style cabinet space were two main must-haves, as was incorporating striking elements that make the kitchen feel like part of the home.
“The light fixture is Tiffany and it belonged to my German great-grandparents who bought it in Chicago after the Great Fire,” she says. Not wanting cabinets all the way to the 11-foot ceiling, old tin ceiling tiles were painted by a friend to complement the chandelier and bridge the gap between the cabinets and ceiling . Another metal accent in the kitchen can be found in the copper countertop on the island. A textured tile backsplash designed by Haskell Interiors adds visual interest, and glass cabinetry and a transom window salvaged from the old Five Point Pharmacy across the street add a finishing touch.
Next to the kitchen is a room fit for cold winter nights spent huddling by the fire. Painted a rich burgundy – a color Sherry has had in all her previous houses – the windowless den is a cave-like retreat among an otherwise light-covered loft. As Sherry spends half the year in Montana, the den showcases paintings and sculptures by Western artists. Making it a treasured spot for small gatherings, a French window in the den opens up to a kitchen cabinet that holds wine and cocktail glasses. Situated next to an antique bar from a speakeasy in New Jersey, the area creates an ideal bar space with a speakeasy vibe. Custom-made corner cabinetry mimics the design of the bar’s antique pine mantle. A woodsy room, the entrance is crafted from two vintage solid-wood columns that were secured into place by Sherry’s carpenter.
Having ample square footage, Sherry knew her hallway could be wide and roomy. She filled the hall with treasured art and artifacts. “I call it my gallery,” Sherry explains. “I’ve been going to Montana for 20 years and I have a lot of special art pieces from there.”
The main entrance from the First Street Square has a sunroom-like atmosphere. Separated by doors reclaimed from the old Brass Register restaurant, the space has a distinct, casual look and feel from other parts of the home. A casual glass-topped table overlooks the balcony and a nearby farm sink and refrigerator makes the perfect place for potting plants or entertaining.
Continuing the sunroom sense, a mint green guest bedroom is positioned nearby and was created with Sherry’s granddaughters in mind. A twin bed with a periwinkle quilt and framed flower paintings make the room sweet and sophisticated.
An outdoor deck with greenspace for Sherry’s two dogs rounds out this downtown home. Looking out over a park, stores, sidewalks, and a nearby restaurant, the view is a reminder of how far downtown Cleveland has come since Sherry bought the building in 2001. With more people buying property in urban areas, Sherry says she hopes the next five years will see even more historical buildings brought back to life.