Inside The Factory: A 117-Year-Old Beautifully Renovated Event Space in Northside
Just a short stroll from the Northside Tavern and Shake It Records is a 117-year-old building that was once home to the Parks Woodworking Machine Co., now christened simply The Factory (1546 Knowlton St.). This new wedding and event space was previously used for production purposes until the late 1980s, when it was converted into a shared artist studio space by the late Maureen Wood.
Jump-cut to 2016: Sarah Thomas and Chris Pohlar — both halves of Grey Rock Property Development — set out on a three-year renovation and conversion process of the property. Dubbed as a "love letter to historic preservation," the space is designed with modernity in mind and, like its industrial roots, minimalism. CityBeat's Mackenzie Manley recently spoke to Thomas via email about breathing new life into The Factory.
CityBeat: Can you delve into the significance of its history in Northside?
Sarah Thomas: It is one of the largest historic buildings in Northside's Business District. The property was a functioning production factory until the 1980s, then purchased by Maureen Wood to become "Off the Avenue," a beloved space hosting everything from artist studios to adult "prom" dances. Maureen owned and loved the building for almost 25 years but chose to move on as she realized it was time for the building's next phase of life. The building feels larger than life sometimes because so many people have enjoyed the space — we constantly have people ask to see the renovation and recount their fond memories of a past experience there.
CB: Do you hope to carry on (Maureen's) legacy into The Factory?
ST: Maureen was like the mother hen of Northside — she jumped into anything with the intention of improving it, especially when nobody else would. She has a really interesting history and I think people owe a part of Northside's success to her very early visions of what our neighborhood could be. Knowing it was time to move on, she listed this property for sale and had a few interested parties but told us she immediately knew we were the buyers she wanted. She knew the tremendous amount of work required to bring the space back to life and claimed we were the only people with that ability and the right vision for the future. We know it was bittersweet to sell the building but in the end we know she would be proud of the transformation if she could see it today.
CB: What first drew Grey Rock Development into acquiring this space?
ST: The first time we toured the building we firmly rejected the idea of taking this project on. It was over 27,000 square feet of historic factory that had significantly deteriorated over time. It seemed outrageous but had certainly piqued our interest. We kept talking with Maureen and coming back to visit the space over time...Nine months later we'd slowly moved toward the realization that we were equal parts ambitious enough and capable enough to take on the project.
CB: Talk about the renovation process — what were some of the main repairs that it needed?
ST: It needed new electrical service, new roofing, all new mechanical systems, over half the timber frame structure repaired, all new siding, sprinkler repairs — the list goes on and on. This project is definitely a "labor of love." We've worked hard to preserve the original character of the building while updating it for safe, modern use.
CB: The wood flooring is stunning. Is that original to the building?
ST: The maple wood floors are all original to the building. Some areas have wider plank than others because portions of the building were constructed at different times. Because of significant termite damage throughout the building, we spent weeks salvaging floors from areas that would be covered to reuse them in the main space and then harmoniously refinished the entire room.
CB: In terms of aesthetic, what style did you bring to The Factory while maintaining its historical roots?
ST: The inspiration of our aesthetic is derived from original machines present in the space, they represent a product of industrial manufacturing but also possess an aesthetic quality that goes beyond functionality. We guided the project with a vision of historic preservation coupled with a minimal contemporary aesthetic. Modern trim details accent the existing main space and radius corners distinguish new walls contrasting the existing rough textures of the factory elements while our preservation of the exposed joist ceiling and maple wood floors showcases the old, rough factory character. We carefully restored the exterior to original glory via custom production and installation of cedar shake siding and trim. The modern aesthetic is carried forward in custom steel garden beds, sleek window boxes and trim, and a wall of glass doors adjoining the cascading deck. Utilizing the unique shape of the building and the existing tree canopy we have created a "room" for guests to enjoy the lush courtyard that offers an intimate setting within Northside's bustling business district. The re-imagined Knowlton Street vestibule creates a focal point of contrasting color and form featuring a modern glass entry and charred cedar cladding. As guests enter the modern space they are greeted by historical nods to existing machinery and salvaged artifacts from the factory.
CB: How do you see this renovation in relation to your other projects? (As in, how does it fit into your overall mission?)
ST: This project is the ultimate testament to our belief that historic buildings should be saved and adapted rather than torn down. It is much larger than our previous projects but has also served as an example of what we envision and are capable of as a development team. Since we are a fully in-house design, planning and construction team we were able to achieve the monumental renovation this building deserved. This project is the crown jewel of our portfolio — it showcases our desire to save historic spaces, create thoughtful developments and positively contribute to the neighborhoods in which we work.
CB: For those interested in renting the space for events/weddings, what should they know?
ST: We are open and currently booking at our "under construction" pricing. The event space and courtyard are finished but we have another month or so left with the exterior siding work. We also offer a nonprofit discount.
You can follow us on Facebook or Instagram (@thefactory_events). Visit our website, thefactory513.com, or email us at [email protected] to inquire or make a booking.