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Creativity launches couple's lofty dreams

Project Features

Judy Hotchkiss December 1993

Creativity launches couple's lofty dreams

Few people call a busy commercial street in the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District home. But Mary Cooke-Washington and Ernest Washington do. The couple bought a half-renovated former coffee and tea factory at 488 Edgewood Ave. N.E. and turned it into a high-tech, award-winning photography studio.

Three and a half years ago, Cooke-Washington was a retail buyer in New York City when an employment headhunter asked her to move to Atlanta for a New York salary. Washington was a staff photographer for Avon cosmetics living in a cooperative building in New Jersey. He only dreamed of the day he could have his own loft studio, "but prices would be between $750,000 and $1 million for something like this," he says.

Nonetheless, he had a vision. "We gave up a lot to get here. We were so determined to live here," says Ernest.

Instead, he paid $138,000 and hired SawHorse Inc. contractors to do a more than $100,000 renovation.

Living in a furnished northside apartment and paying the mortgage on the New Jersey co-op, the couple began the 8 1/2-month process to set up a financing package that included a 15.25 percent loan from Fleet Finance Co., owner financing and a total of five loans just to gain ownership.

With SawHorse hired, Washington then pulled out his dream file for his studio downstairs and modern apartment on the second floor. That includes a European kitchen on each level as well as a full bath on each level.

"Nine-to-five type jobs want a comfortable, professional setting, but they don't want to mix with family," says Washington. Others, like Evander Holyfield, David Justice, Hale Berry, LA Reid and Baby Face, tend to enjoy the non-commercial aspects of the space and have accepted the invitation to relax in the "home" upstairs.

A loft-style office up a chrome-plated spiral staircase and behind a serpentine glass block wall came from the wish list but has proved to be less useful than expected. When Cooke-Washington's retail job vanished, she became Washington's marketing specialist; her office, however, is in the couple's upstairs living room.

At the back of their personal space is a multi-purpose room with a fireplace, bed, sitting area, doorless walk-in closet, a corner shower stall encased in two large upright sheets of plate glass, a black granite vanity with a jagged end and industrial lighting and a deck with a city skyline view.

The couple and SawHorse solved the problem of bringing big props into the studio by installing a
sturdy rollup metal garage door at the back. On the front, rollup metal storm windows unconventionally installed on the inside of the street-level windows regulate the amount of light and provide maximum security.

Now that they've finished cutting their urban pioneers' teeth, Cooke- Washington marvels at her naivete.
"If I'd listened to what people around here say about the neighborhood, we might not have bought here. I also wouldn't have lived here with only a plastic sheet over the back door for weeks at a time. But nothing bad happened."

Copyright 1993, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, All rights reserved.

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