Designer Wins Award For Converting Vacant Milwaukee Building Into Her Own Live-Work Space

By Tom Daykin Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Michelle Quinn is now winning awards for the re-development of a vacant Milwaukee building. The building, now known as Studio 1900, combines Quinn's business, Attic Design Co., with a residence for Quinn and her 14-year-old daughter.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Two years ago, extended street repairs forced Michelle Quinn to park in front of a vacant building near her home on Milwaukee's south side.

The two-story, boarded-up former store was in sorry shape.

"I thought, 'When is someone going to do something about that building?'" Quinn recalled.

That 'someone' turned out to be Quinn, and that 'something' was her purchase and redevelopment of the building into Quinn's new home and workplace. She hopes the project, which recently won a Mayor's Design Award, will help inspire similar neighborhood developments.

"Once people catch on and see what the possibilities are," Quinn said, "they might take that step."

The 2,500-square-foot building, at 1900 W. Morgan St., had been vacant since 2009 before Quinn redeveloped it.

The brick building housed a grocery and deli from 1935 to 1970, and then LeDoux Leather Co. for several years before it moved out, according to a city report. The building included an upstairs apartment.

The city acquired the building through property tax foreclosure and listed it for sale.

Quinn, who lived less than a block away, decided to check out the property.

"It was in rough shape, but I was intrigued," Quinn said.

Along with providing more space for her graphic and interior design business and helping improve her neighborhood, renovating the building would give Quinn an opportunity to be involved in "a cool design project."

The Common Council in 2015 approved selling the building for $20,000 to Quinn, who also is a graphic design instructor at Gateway Technical College's Elkhorn campus.

Quinn planned to spend $100,000 to $150,000 on renovations, according to a Department of City Development report.

The final tab, including landscaping and the building's furnishings, will be a lot more -- between $250,000 and $300,000, she said.

The project's financing included cash from Quinn's savings, a bridge loan from a friend and a construction loan from Educators Credit Union.

Also, the city provided $65,000 in grants, she said. She praised the Department of City Development for its help in obtaining those funds.

"I got a little nervous as I saw how much it would take to do all of this," Quinn said.

The grants, she said, "made me say, 'I can do this.'"

Quinn also turned to developer Juli Kaufmann for advice.

Kaufmann has done several neighborhood projects. They include another 2017 Mayor's Design Award winner: the conversion of a former tavern into Tandem Restaurant, 1850 W. Fond du Lac Ave.

Kaufmann reassured Quinn that her project made sense.

"Sometimes you just need validation," Kaufmann said.

The building, now known as Studio 1900, combines Quinn's business, Attic Design Co., with a residence for Quinn and her 14-year-old daughter.

The second floor has two bedrooms, a bathroom and other living space. The first floor has the kitchen and additional open living space, which can double as a photo studio for Quinn's design projects.

There also is open loft space on the second level, overlooking the kitchen and living space, that have Quinn's computer work stations. That space is connected to the first level by a spiral staircase.

Finally, there is a separate conference room, with its own bathroom, at the rear of the first floor.

That room is used by Guitars for Vets, a nonprofit group Quinn is involved with that provides guitars and lessons for military veterans who are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other possible uses for Studio 1900 include serving as a small art gallery and providing neighborhood yoga lessons on Saturdays, Quinn said.

The building's renovations included new lighting, plumbing and kitchen fixtures; a new door and windows; skylights; and a new heating and air conditioning system.

The result is Studio 1900's bright, open appearance -- and a place on this month's announcement of the 2017 Mayor's Design Awards.

That list includes such major downtown projects as Eleven25 at Pabst, 1125 N. 9th St., a student apartment building created by converting the former Pabst bottling house; the new Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, 310 E. Chicago St.; and the 833 East office building, 833 E. Michigan St.

Studio 1900 might be the smallest among this year's award winners.

"It's very humbling," said Quinn, who also praised Todd Fugh, the project's general contractor, and Andrea Haas, her real estate agent.

Quinn, who started Attic Design in 1991, is the type of person who can make the leap from entrepreneur business operator to developer, Kaufmann said.

"It takes someone with a lot of passion," Kaufmann said.

Quinn hopes her story inspires others to tackle small development projects in their neighborhoods.

"This was doable," she said.

Ald. Terry Witkowski, whose district includes Studio 1900, has seen other instances where a renovated property will cajole others into making similar investments.

"If you improve something, it tends to drive others up," he said.

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