Fun and stylish Albert highlights architect's design

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

The Albert ... it's fun and funky, stylish and cool and truly representative of the renaissance that's happening in downtown Detroit. Designed by iconic architect Albert Kahn and built as an office building called the Detroit Griswold in 1929, the Albert, at 1214 Griswold, was purchased by Broder & Sachse Real Estate Services in 2013. And as the result of an extensive renovation, the building now has 127 rental one- and two-bedroom apartments that range in size from 623 to 1,290 square feet. Apartments rent from about $1,300 to $2,500.

Ramon Corpuz, senior technical designer at Rosetti, the company hired to design the building's entry, third floor common area and corridors, says, "Because the building was built during the Industrial Age, we wanted to bring back that legacy by re-creating the original exterior canopy, but using modern materials. So we placed structural glass above the steel skeleton that also penetrates the interior and is an integral part of the lobby."

Adds Rossetti interior designer Jennifer Sutton: "We wanted the large third floor common area to relate to the building's community, so it has spots for people to be on their own, throw a party, play games, read a book, watch TV, barbecue on the adjoining terrace, exercise in the fitness center or whatever." The lounge's vibrant and bold color palette, used on both the structural columns and the walls, includes such fabulous Sherwin-Williams paint colors as Robust Orange, Lobelia Blue and Escapade Gold.

The lounge's original terrazzo floor was preserved. And a new ceiling, made out of gypsum board and painted white, has coffers that are open in order to expose the building's original terra cotta floor slabs that sit just above.

Other common areas include the laundry room, where tenants can watch TV while relaxing on handsome Zuo Skein chairs (inspired by Arne Jacobsen's iconic Egg chairs) or play games while seated at a Zuo card table while waiting for their laundry to finish. And just down the hall, colorful footprints painted on the cement floor lead to the dog grooming area, which includes two canine-themed murals as well as a shower designed specifically for shampooing your pooch.

Tyler and Michael Shaw moved here from Baltimore in July and ended up being the Albert's first tenants. And even though Michael works in Troy for the Kresge Foundation, the couple chose to live in downtown Detroit "because we wanted to be in the middle of everything," Michael says. "We spent an afternoon exploring and were super excited about the neat places to live and the potential of falling in love with the city of Detroit. We love the the Albert's location, the unique and comfortable layouts and the building's amenities."

"Baltimore had a different style of housing ... long and narrow," Tyler Shaw says. "Our row house was only 13 feet wide and our furniture just didn't work out here, so we ended up buying a lot locally." And because their apartment is only 788 square feet, the couple sought out things that could do double duty. So wine is stored underneath the drop leaf table that they use as a bar, the desk from CB2 has a built in filing cabinet, and the TV unit they found online fits perfectly into the living room niche. Adds Tyler: "The great natural light in our unit sold us on it for sure. It makes a small space look larger."

Albert tenant Jack Eichenlab sold his 1,800-square-foot Grosse Pointe home and moved into his second floor apartment in July, as well. "I downsized big time and it's wonderful," he says. "This unit's big arched windows overlooking Capitol Park and the living room's 13-foot-high ceiling are what sold me," he says.

History buffs will be happy to note that Capitol Park was once home to the original state capitol building when Michigan first became a state in 1837. After the government seat moved to Lansing in 1847, it became a public high school. The building, destroyed by fire in 1893, was eventually turned into a public park.

Future plans include making the park the center of a new arts district, with galleries and cafes on the ground floors and residential apartments above.

In order to create what Eichenlab calls "an industrial chic look," he bought all new furniture for his apartment (with the exception of one office chair and the bench in the hall that is made out of the headboard and footboard he had as a child.) The handsome verdigris metal and leather screen used to separate the living room from his office area was purchased at an estate sale. Another estate sale find is the lamp, made out of an old ticker tape machine, which sits on the metal and wood desk he purchased at Crate & Barrel. "The desk has a book shelf in front and works perfectly in this space," Eichenlab says. "I love to sit here and watch everyone come and go. It's fun to have a little window out on the world."

Eichenlab has a lot of fascinating memorabilia that relates to the city of Detroit. (His keen interest undoubtedly stems from the fact that his grandfather, John N. Anhut, was a state senator, attorney and entrepreneur who had a business relationship with Henry Ford.) Anhut also built more than 200 Anhut cars between 1909 and 1912. So a family photo, taken in 1939, hangs on one wall, while a survey of Detroit from 1923, purchased at the Detroit Mercantile Store in the Eastern Market, hangs on another. And several photos of scenes from old Detroit, printed from old negatives, have been placed above the kitchen cabinets. "I bought them this summer at Dally in The Alley," he says.

"I love it here," says Eichenlab, who is 53 and the owner of a process server business in Detroit. "I'm living with a bunch of 20- and 30-year-olds, plus lots of out-of-towners, empty nesters, computer kids, doctors. And this area is really developing. In another two years it's going to pop like you've never seen."

Judith Harris Solomon is a Metro Detroit freelancer. You can reach her at