Chuck Patterson of the Baltimore firm SMG Architects has made a career out of bringing old buildings back to life. He spent two years restoring the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum's historic roundhouse after its roof collapsed in a 2003 snowstorm. His latest challenge is converting part of a 19th-century foundry at the former Clipper Mill Industrial Park to a "green restaurant" called Woodberry Kitchen for owners Spike and Amy Gjerde and Nelson Carey. It's the first restaurant project for the 31-year-old Patterson, who lives in Roland Park with his wife, Tracy, and their dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback named Fischer.
In his words --The restaurant has one of the best spaces at Clipper Mill, opposite the community's swimming pool. A lot of Spike's vision for this restaurant has been a "farm to table" operation, using local, seasonal ingredients from small family farms. That carried over to the design and construction as well - using local, sustainable products and building materials wherever possible. We used a lot of wood that was salvaged from elsewhere on the site. We brought in craftsmen who are local, too - John Gutierrez, a metal fabricator who heads Gutierrez Studios; Anthony Corradetti, a glassblower who owns Corradetti Glassblowing Studio and Gallery; Erik Rink, a woodworker with Artisan Interiors; and Doug Grinath, a woodworker with the Living Classrooms Foundation.
Transforming the space --It was pretty much a raw space when we started. ... We knew we wanted to keep the shell of the building intact and work with local artisans to create a restaurant inside. We gave Spike six different layouts to consider. After we had a direction from him and completed initial drawings, we sat down with the craftsmen individually to see what they could contribute.
A wood-burning oven was very important to Spike, and it became the centerpiece of the main space. We moved the mezzanine from the front to the back, to open up the views. The staircase was created by John Gutierrez, and it's framed by a large wood structure that looks like a bookcase and will hold firewood and wines.
Design on the fly --When you work with old buildings and artisans, you can't necessarily draw everything in advance, down to the last detail. There are a lot of special conditions, and you have to make decisions on the spot. Sometimes it's scary for an architect to not be in control 100 percent of the time. But we tried to work closely with each of the tradespeople and do what's appropriate. The good thing is most of them are right at Clipper Mill. It was a team effort, and in many cases they came up with the final touches that brought it to life.
Downside of 'green' --If you want to use sustainable materials, there are plenty of products on the market that are very "new age" but wouldn't fit here. We wanted to keep a warm feel to the space, not too austere.
My favorite detail --I like the handrail detail a lot, especially the way a series of relief cuts were made that allow the steel to be bent, creating a starburst effect.
A first --This was the first restaurant for me. It was an experience. Spike took a chance on me. It's been a lot of fun. It gave us a chance to do some stuff that was more out-of-the-box. For example, we were able to fabricate some pieces ourselves, such as the swiveling light fixtures above the banquettes on the mezzanine and a bench for one of the alcoves near the bar downstairs. The whole thing has been a hands-on process.
It may not be what is expected of us. But we don't want to be put in a cookie-cutter mold. Baltimore is getting less conservative. You have to respond to what you're working with. If you ignore it, you're dead from square one.