The building started life as an art deco service station. He started out as a Harvard-trained architect. Together, what they are in the process of becoming—3FortySeven is still very much a work in progress—is already far more exciting than either of those bio snippets would suggest.
Not that there's anything wrong with service stations. "I'd been coming to Hudson for 20 years," says Michael Davis, who has a house in Germantown and a thriving architectural practice, Michael Davis Architects
, based in New York City. Five or six years ago, Davis went shopping for a building on Warren Street. Among the properties he found himself considering was a former gas station. "The site was so amazing," he says. Initially he thought he'd buy it just for the land, intending to raze the station to make room for a retail complex that would be visually compatible with its 19th-century neighbors. But while he was working out his idea, the old gas station was working on him—its voluminous spaces indoors, the enormous garage doors that, once lifted, turn those spaces into indoor-outdoor rooms, the unheard of (for Hudson) amount of outdoor space.
"I still sometimes think about putting in some period-inspired buildings," he says. Meanwhile, he's having fun. Nary a dull object is permitted through 3FortySeven's doors. The front room, where Reos and Franklins once got their tires rotated and their oil changed, has as its centerpiece an enormous chandelier by the Cincinatti glassblower Jason Weins, a spiral of industrial-salvage metal, resplendent with pendants of roughly pressed glass. Against one wall, a prim black lacquer and gold-wash Dorothy Draper chest of drawers, pure mid-century Hollywood, supports an exquisite 19th-century Chinese water urn. Above hangs a painting of polar bears that Davis is selling on consignment for his client, the actor Matt Dillon.
That much rock-n-roll in an architect's soul could be grounds for expulsion from the AIA.
Davis clearly got off on the wrong foot in his chosen field by having seen a thing or two before he sat through his first lecture in graduate school. "I grew up in a 19th-century townhouse in Manhattan," he says. "My mother was English, so I went to Europe when I was very young. She and her family came from a tradition of beautiful old houses. My uncle is David Mlinaric [a top British decorator, with clients ranging from Mick Jagger to Lord Rothschild]. When I worked in his studio one summer in high school, I came to appreciate the way he used furniture and decoration to complete architectural space and create ambiance."
After Harvard, before going on his own, Davis worked for a number of firms, including Beyer Blinder Belle, specialists in historic preservation. "I received a good, classic foundation at Harvard. But everything I learned about design there, I have been unlearning ever since. Architecture falls short in its regard for the client." Conventional wisdom holds that it's the duty of the architect to "educate" his clients. Davis, in contrast, finds the untutored eye inspiring. "My clients free me up," he says. "I get my nerve from them."
And that's some nerve! A lot of Davis' new-from-the-ground-up houses look more like renovations. "I use salvaged materials to give architecture patina and ambiance that you cannot achieve with new materials," he says. The furnishings he sells in his store are the same ones he steers clients such as the actor Zack Braff (Scrubs
) toward. Jason Wiens, maker of that fantastic chandelier, also does a range of simple, utilitarian pendant lights with an added kick—shades made from thick glass that looks as if it's almost still molten.
Now that 3FortySeven is in the capable hands of the affable manager Giovanni DiMola, Davis is focusing on his plentiful outdoor space. He already hosts one food truck in his spacious front "yard," and shortly Tortillaville will be joined there by another, "a young fellow who builds brick ovens has installed one in an old FedEx truck. He plans to make pizzas." Meanwhile, Davis has his eye on a surprisingly green space outside the commodious back room of 3FortySeven. Maybe a outdoor cafe? A place for live music? Outdoor movies in summer? Stay tuned.
347 Warren Street
3FortySeven's official opening celebration
Saturday, 7 - 10 p.m. The public is welcome.