Loft Living:16-foot ceilings above Wood Fire restaurant

Published 11:54 am Monday, November 17, 2008

By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
At an open house Friday, Dowagiac got its first look at the opulent lofts Larry Seurynck has been creating above Wood Fire Italian Trattoria.
The tin ceilings were reclaimed from a building Jim Moore took down.
Starting last January, he did much of the work himself along with his Union High School senior son, Andrew.
"It was a blast working with him," Seurynck said. "He really took to it. We took the old plaster off and exposed the brick. This was the Bishop Hardware store built in the 1860s."
It's faint to the point of being almost impossible to read, but one wall of the front apartment is lettered with a capital A and what appears to say "Wagel Family Concert This Eve" on the line below.
"I think that's done with pitch, the ash from the coal furnace," said Seurynck, who found a crude mural on the far side of the balcony above his restaurant depicting a man with a tooth tied to a doorknob for extraction.
It's 32 feet from the double-layered skylight above to the restaurant floor below.
One layer of milky glass creates the illusion of looking into the sky.
Seuryncks have two storefronts. "That side, the last thing that was in it, was Marion Weaver's dress shop," he said. "This side was Harvey's East."
There are two smaller one-bedroom apartments in the back of each building.
The larger front apartment overlooking Beckwith Park, whether for summer concerts or the Christmas parade, spans both sides and has a guest bedroom and bathroom and 18 feet of closet rod.
"The front one would be ideal for an executive," Seurynck said.
"We have several (prospects) filling out applications. People at the hospital rent down the way" and can walk to work.
The kitchens feature concrete counters – all poured for $200 – the bathrooms tile showers. He got the idea from green counters in a hotel.
"It's a friendly surface to touch," he said. "I laid on the floor, looking up at it, trying to figure out what it was."
The backsplash behind the counters is sheet metal bent by his furnaceman.
The focal point of the larger apartment is a wall which sectioned off the space.
"We cut that thing loose at the ceiling and floor and took pry bars and pried it over on this angle to give it a little character. I learned a lot doing this," said Seurynck, a school board member whose first reclamation project almost 20 years ago was turning the Hideout bar into Indian Lake House, which now houses Jim Frazier's jewelry store.
That decorating business provides the story about the expensive wallpaper.
"Many years ago I did some work for a woman who moved from New York to Michigan. She didn't think she could get this historical reproduction paper in Michigan, so she bought it in New York and brought it with her. It was $100 a roll at that time. Her husband was so mad she spent all this money, when the job was done and there were still about 30 rolls left," she sold it to him just to remove any reminder to her spouse that he had been right.
There is a counter following the wall's contour with bookshelves beneath it.
Seurynck applied a concrete mixed with gypsum on the floors which will help soundproof the living space from live jazz in the restaurant below as well as giving a two-hour firewall.
It's thick enough to make a step up into the apartments.
Seurynck was very sensitive to fire danger after a blaze broke out June 20 in an apartment above Marci's Variety Store between Wood Fire and Caruso's Candy Kitchen that had it happened later at night could have destroyed the 2003 restaurant, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in July.
There were no apartments there before.
"I don't think anything's been up here in 100 years," he said.
There was an elevator which ran all the way to the basement. Near the floor are small cornices adorned with black marbles.
A small nook off the kitchen of the large apartment Seurynck calls the "meditation room," but it could be a study or a computer office.
"Owners Larry and Kathleen Seurynck have successfully 'raised the bar' in
the development of these three outstanding apartments, which feature a
popular urban look," said Vickie Phillipson, Downtown Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce program director.
Friday's open house was co-hosted by Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and Marilyn Smith, of Smith Housing, who oversees Dowagiac's rental rehabilitation program for the continued development of upstairs apartments in the central business district – "a program that has witnessed much success in our community and for our downtown building owners," according to Phillipson.
"It's gorgeous," Smith said. "MSHDA's whole concept is bringing people down so they don't have to do a lot of driving. It boosts the downtown area because they can go to restaurants, go to doctors' or dentists' offices, go to grocery stores" and give small businesses another revenue stream to sustain them.
"I want to take you home so you can do my house," Julie Gardner of MSHDA told Larry, who said his apartment above China Garden restaurant possesses the potential "to be the neatest one in town. It's got three windows across the front and three more down the side" on the corner of Front and Division streets.
"This is going to be hard to beat," Gardner said. "This is fabulous."
At the Nov. 14 open house, Seurynck showed around such visitors as Mayor Donald Lyons, Southwestern Michigan College President Dr. David Mathews and City Manager Kevin Anderson.