Where High Meets Low
When Linda Lee Mellish bought the former Eskimo Knitting Mills factory in Port Richmond in 2002, it was filled to the rafters with junk. Literally. Old lumber. Boxes of chipped dishes. Defunct refrigerators — all remnants of former businesses that had once occupied the three-story, 12,000-square-foot space. But if there’s one thing Mellish knows, it’s junk. In fact, she was planning on making a living from it in a salvage business called ReStore, which she’d open with former film art department coordinator Lara Kelly the following year. But that wasn’t the crazy part. She wanted to live there, too, which meant filling six 30-cubic-yard dumpsters with what was left behind, and transforming the 2,800-square-foot third floor — all creaky plywood floors, exposed brick walls and drafty windows — into something modern and livable. It should have cost six figures. But not for Mellish. Sure, it helped that she’s a carpenter and contractor. But her biggest asset was her personal style, which happens to be the trend of the moment — mixing high- and low-end materials, concepts and furnishings (and stealing a few ideas from Dwell magazine and architect Frank Gehry). She covered some walls in stainless steel, some in corrugated industrial plastic. She commissioned a $3,500 concrete kitchen countertop and made window shutters out of leftover plywood. No doubt, we’ll now be stealing ideas from her.
Mellish salvaged the Tiffany blue ’50s chair from her mother’s garage. • The Sliding Sofa ($3,000) is from Design Within Reach and converts into a bed. • The gray Malena Chair ($1,400), with its front legs on casters for easy mobility, is also from Design Within Reach. • Mellish purchased four rolling oak and veneer storage cabinets from Dave Nelson at the former Stockyard Old World Warehouse, after he salvaged them from a clothing store that went out of business. “I paid $80 for each,” she says. “They’re on casters, so I can move them anywhere. I use them to store electronics, for linens and for paperwork.” • Mellish bought the draped glass light fixtures, on the walls between the windows, online for $300 apiece.
Mellish mixed two lines of Ikea cabinets — Akurum and Varde — to achieve a clean, polished look at minimal cost. (Cabinets range from $159 to $349.) • For the $3,500 poured-concrete island countertop, Mellish relied on the handiwork of Greg Emore of Geronimo in Northern Liberties, who swirled in a blue color and made it fit the unusual 13-foot curvilinear island that Mellish designed and built herself. • The modern halogen spot pendant light fixture on a monorail ($1,200) is from Arch Street Lighting in Old City. “I wanted to match the shape of the island,” says Mellish. “It had to be flexible to the curve. All of my fixtures are halogen. They’re more expensive, but more efficient. My electric bill is only $30 a month.” • Mellish selected a $700 stainless steel Elkay Gourmet sink. “I chose it for its wide drain board,” she confesses. “I do dishes every day; I only use my dishwasher about twice a year.” • Mellish borrowed the concept of the curved wall from architect Frank Gehry, covering it in stainless steel to add texture and interest to her space. The custom-cut piece plus the sheet that conceals the base of the island cost $1,600 and are from Rigidized Metals in Buffalo, New York.
The mid-century Heywood-Wakefield dining set and buffet belonged to Mellish’s parents. “So they didn’t cost me anything,” she says. • Mellish completed the bamboo floor ($4.66 per square foot from FastFloors.com in Florida) last October, making up for the price by laying it down herself. She also installed radiant heating underneath the entire living space, because “It’s very clean, there’s no air blowing around, it gives off even heat, and it’s less expensive. My heating bill’s only $200 a month.” • Mellish didn’t want any drywall in her loft, so she borrowed an idea from Dwell and covered her walls and ceiling in plywood — mahogany for the walls, birch for the ceiling. It took 200 sheets, costing upwards of $10,000, and the result is visually stunning. “I did most of the work myself,” she admits. “I oiled every piece twice on the exposed side, and each piece is surface-screwed. It’s a lot more expensive than doing drywall, but it looks better. A lot of what I did is not what people normally do,” she adds. “‘Hey, you want to screw plywood to the wall?’”
The rounded corner in the bedroom — yet another tribute to Frank Gehry — acts as a floating headboard for the bed. “I did it out of practicality more than anything,” says Mellish. “It hides the vent pipe.” • There are 23 nine-and-a-half-foot-high windows in the loft, and Mellish crafted shutters from leftover plywood and insulating plastic. • She hung solar panel shades (around $160 each) from the Smith & Noble catalog in 19 of the windows to help insulate and block damaging UV rays, and ordered custom marble sills from Marble Works on Washington Avenue for each window, at a total cost of $3,000. “The windows are cheap vinyl, and leak air and water no matter how much caulking I do,” she explains. “I chose marble for the sills because it’s impervious to all of the elements.”
The tub was salvaged from a mental hospital. Mellish built — and tiled — a short wall at one end, to act as a headboard, in order to have something to mount the faucet on. • For floors in the “wet” areas — kitchen, bathroom and laundry/dressing room, totaling 900 square feet — Mellish chose 16-inch tiles of India slate, which she got at a contractor’s discount of $2.60 per square foot from Dal-Tile on Washington Avenue. “It’s low-maintenance and hugely economical.”