By Kevin Kirkland
Michelle Conley is a registered nurse with a fashionista’s eye. It took both qualities to see past the rundown bar that once huddled where her Number Fourteen Boutique now stands.
Where others saw an ugly nuisance, she saw an aging beauty with great bones who needed more than a makeover, more than a little TLC. She needed a complete reinvention.
“Our goal was feminine with an edge, airy and girly,” Conley said.
“It came together exactly how we wanted, airy with lots of natural light,” said Brianne Conley, her daughter and the boutique’s co-owner.
Beyond the 1,000-square-foot-shot it also includes a residential component, a light-filled, 1,000-square-foot apartment on the second floor. The project is a beautiful example of an inspired renovation and skillful reuse of a century-old building.
It was built as mercantile space in 1909 on a wedge-shaped lot at the corner of Butler and 46th Streets in the city’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. But from the 1970s to the early 2000s, it was Partner’s bar. Its 12-foot tin ceiling was hidden by a dropped ceiling, walls cut up the space and most of the window openings were filled with brick or glass block. Oak lintels indicated where windows had once been.
“It was dark and claustrophobic,” said project designer Jared Korchok of Desmone Architects.
But once contractor Jerry Horn began demolishing interior walls and restoring the old window openings, that changed.
“The front windows were the biggest surprise,” Korchok said. “This space was meant to be wide open.”
Brianne Conley, who graduated from High Point University with a degree in strategic communications, said she and her mother insisted on keeping partitions to a minimum. The boutique’s dressing rooms are open at the top. “Ooh-la-la” is spelled out in tile on the floor.
“We didn’t want people to feel locked in,” she said.
Many of their design ideas come from Pinterest, but the decision to leave some of the old plaster intact on an exposed brick wall was a happy accident. One evening, Michelle Conley enlisted her husband, Ned, their sons and her daughter to sledgehammer through four layers covering the brick. When mother and daughter caught sight of raw brick showing through random patches of plaster, they were inspired. But convincing Horn to paint the plaster and sandblast around it took a while.
“He was very patient,” Michelle said.
The Conleys also came up with a most unusual vanity idea: a bright blue retro bike that supports a glass vessel sink.
“We wanted it to be fun,” Brianne Conley said.
Korchok was the idea man behind the upstairs apartment. His open floor plan put the kitchen and living room at the front and two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a den in the rear, leading to new steel stairs and a small deck.
Sunlight streams through new Pella windows to flood the white walls, 11-foot ceilings and hardwood floors, which are mostly original. An outlet installed in the living room floor allows tenants to place furniture and lamps almost anywhere.
“The rooms have interesting angles,” Korchok said. “Angles can be tight and awkward. We embraced the challenge.”
Former bartenders and patrons who stop by to visit the boutique are floored by the building’s transformation. Michelle said passersby occasionally pop in to thank them for doing it.
“You have a vision and you hope it will be OK. I asked Desmone to look at the building before I bought it, am I crazy? They said, ‘No, we can do this.'”
Korchok said it was his first mixed-use project.
“It’s like a different building, really. We brought it back to its original form.”