Going for a TKO with boxing gym


Modern: Larry Silverstein is trying to convert an old Canton gym into a technical knockout with the kitchen as centerpiece.

January 23, 2000|By Charles Cohen | Charles Cohen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Poodles' boxing gym has live ghosts -- real people with busted noses who come knocking on Larry Silverstein's door to revisit the second floor where they once sparred.

But instead of the boxing ring where Sugar Ray Leonard traded blows, they'll find a modern bathroom with a built-in shower room. The walls of classic boxing posters and photos are gone.

And the 60-foot-long first floor now is dominated by a huge granite kitchen counter that transcends the living room and dining room. The counter, which doubles as a swank bar, rises up on a platform, facing four narrow windows overlooking the backside of the old American Can Co. complex in Canton.

Passers-by with no knowledge of the Poodles legacy have knocked on the door wanting to know when Baltimore's next "it" restaurant is opening.

Although no restaurant is planned, the house has been built with a dinner party in mind.

"Every party, people wind up in the kitchen, so why not make the kitchen one of the nicest rooms in the house?" said Silverstein, a 34-year-old developer.

The kitchen as a party site is attractive to young people, and Silverstein's kitchen may be Canton's best example of how to center a home on its range. "We worked [from] the stove and the sink of the house on out," he said.

The stove stands in the middle of the room with the sink under the stairs. Crude wooden steps in a steel frame ascend the exposed two-story brick wall.

For the past 18 months, Silverstein has been adding substance to his architectural ideas as he renovates his 2,800-square-foot corner house.

Here welding seams are celebrated and knickknacks are banned. A desire to put down a rug is squelched by the need to see gleaming fruitwood floorboards.

Lately, Silverstein has been drawing attention to his projects in Fells Point. He is turning a Wolfe Street warehouse into 11 condominiums.

"In architectural school they had you do the more mundane tasks like finding the location of the pipes, but if you own the building you could dictate the style," Silverstein said.

It's no accident that the Silverstein house has the feel of a New York loft. Silverstein, who grew up in a Baltimore County rancher, lived in a loft while working for a Manhattan developer. After a stint at an investment house, he returned to Baltimore four years ago and two years later opened a development office. He eventually purchased 15 properties.

Silverstein has created upscale modern apartments within old urban structures -- just like a New York loft turned into an apartment.

Silverstein, who has sunk $150,000 to rehab the corner house he bought in 1998 for $115,000, believes old urban structures are the perfect medium for expressing a person's lifestyle.

Upstairs, he begrudgingly has put up walls, (although several don't reach the ceiling, thereby preserving a sense of openness). To rationalize creating a hallway, which he considers a space killer, he used a drawer-lined walk-through closet as a passageway between the bedroom and lounge.

The bathroom appears as a kind of miniature house. Overhead a heat and air-conditioning duct passes over its roof on the way to serve the bedroom. At night, light from an upstairs lounge spills over the roof of the bathroom into the bedroom.

Building materials are left rough and basic. The granite on the glass-front cabinets is roughly finished. The banister on the stairs is a steel pipe railing and the table legs for his dining room will be made out of metal sawhorses.

The air ducts are exposed. A one-time passageway from Poodles to a neighboring home is blocked by a jumble of bricks set in cement. It appears out of place in an otherwise fine brick wall. "I was going to fix it, but it's grown on me," he said.

The Silverstein house purposely has been built for a couple without children, giving the occupants plenty of creative space. He shares the house with his fiancee, Jessica Jacob.

"These houses down here were built a hundred years ago, and the lifestyles were so different," he said. "These were families of six, seven, eight people."

The home rising from the old structure of Poodles' gym reflects a lifestyle singularly devoid of cacophony and pain.

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