Soon after Gail Solway–an Ann Arbor pharmacist, massage therapist, and nutritionist–purchased the property at 500-504 Spring Street, she and her architects, Brad and Theresa Angelini, decided that renovating the duplex and bringing it up to code would cost more than demolishing it and starting from scratch.
In the old days, says Theresa Angelini, that would have meant it would have been “bulldozed down, put in a Dumpster, and taken to the landfill.” Solway chose to do it the newly fashionable way–and then some. First she invited the Ann Arbor Fire Department to come to the structure and stage rescue drills and practice techniques for fighting fires in old “balloon frame” houses that have open stud spaces all the way from the basement to the attic. Then she invited her next-door neighbors to help themselves to anything they wanted, and Linda Keen took one of the claw-foot tubs. Materials Unlimited paid a nominal fee (“Nominal with a capital ‘N,'” says Gail) for the other, along with some doors, radiator covers, and other original pieces they took.
GreenStreet Tree Care came and “dropped” several trees that would be in the way of the new construction and “staged them” so Paul Hickman, owner of Urban Ashes Picture Frame Company, could pick them up. Hickman makes frames out of recycled and repurposed wood, and, thanks to Solway, he says, he now has the wood from “one or two walnuts, one soft maple, one split box elder, and one tree of heaven.” That’s a lot of frames.
Hickman gave Solway no money for the trees, but he did give her the name of Chris Rutherford, executive director of Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit, a nonprofit that deconstructs houses and removes and recycles pretty much whatever is salvageable and usable. Rutherford’s bid for the work was the lowest among several Solway received. And his, she emails, “came with the enormous bonus and satisfaction of knowing that the wood [will] be reused.” ASW took the doors, windows, salvageable lumber, fixtures, roofing, exterior finishes, rafters, attic subfloor, ceiling joists, studs, and bricks, and gave her a receipt for a nice tax deduction. They even found part of a Detroit News-Tribune, dated October 29, 1911, used for insulation. Solway kept the newspaper.
While the Angelinis were working on drawings for Solway’s new duplex condo–the other half was bought by a retired U-M Residential College prof–they were also working with two recent U-M grads who were planning a new restaurant, Salads Up, across from the old Borders flagship store. They wanted the entire interior of their restaurant to be built from recycled and repurposed materials.
That search took an unexpected turn when the Angelinis went to see War Horse at the Fisher Theater in Detroit. In the lobby of the Fisher Building, they discovered furniture maker James Willer’s store, which had just opened two days earlier. The Angelinis loved what they saw–custom tables made out of plank and natural wood and “a cool light fixture made out of corrugated cardboard,” says Brad Angelini. They thought of their clients at Salads Up–and later they started to piece together the coincidences: Gail Solway’s house was deconstructed by a Detroit company, Willer got his repurposed wood from a company that deconstructed houses, and their clients said their restaurant tables were being made from wood salvaged from a demolished house in Ann Arbor. “So, your house may end up as the table tops in a new salad restaurant on Liberty!” Theresa Angelini emailed Solway. “Wouldn’t that be weird?”
Brad Angelini says that’s exactly what ended up happening: “It’s almost like an organ donor meeting the recipient!”
When asked if she’s planning on enjoying a salad at the restaurant, which is scheduled to open in July, Solway says with a smile, “For sure!”