South End’s design district attracts home-design suppliers

04/03/2014 3:17 PM

04/07/2014 11:31 AM

The South End’s design district has become a hub for architects, designers, fabric makers and all manner of suppliers to the homebuilding industry in Charlotte.

The district doesn’t have strict parameters, but most consider it the walkable area of South End centered on Camden, Tremont, Worthington and Hawkins. It’s bordered by South Boulevard on one side and South Tryon Street on the other. Longtime Charlotteans may remember the area as home to the Spaghetti Warehouse – and plenty of empty warehouses.

Today the district is flourishing – and mostly with businesses that serve a client base willing to pay for top-of-the-line goods and services.

Ram Realty Services, owner of the area’s centerpiece, The Design Center of the Carolinas, calls its complex of three converted redbrick warehouses “an inspiring environment for innovative businesses.”

Two of those three structures were originally built in the 1920s as Nebel Knitting Mill and have been designated historic by the Historic Landmarks Commission. Like most other buildings in the area, The Design Center features exposed brick, big windows and a vintage vibe.

Relocated from Dilworth

Crazy Jane’s is one of the businesses calling the design district home. The interior design firm and furniture retailer has been a fixture in the area for 12 years. Owner and designer Tom Holley’s store had previously been in a visible location on East Boulevard. While he says, “God knows I love Dilworth,” the move to a place he calls “a little bit tucked away” has had practical benefits. “I’ll never try to load or unload a sofa on East Boulevard again,” he laughs.

“I’ve got plenty of parking now and great landlords,” he adds.

Holley says the design district moniker may be informal, but people in the know consider the designation unofficially “official.”

While Crazy Jane’s, which has been in business for 18 years, is a retail operation, Holley says, “People rarely wander in and buy a sofa.” Most of his clients hire him to design a room or an entire house. His business comes mostly from referrals and word-of-mouth.

That’s also the case with Walker Zanger, a 60-year-old tile and stone company with more than a dozen locations across the U.S., which has also found a home in the design district – at 2116 Hawkins St. The company has a national reputation for high-end tile, stone and marble.

Valerie Holtshausen, manager of the Charlotte location, says the company moved from its former Westinghouse Boulevard warehouse in 2011. “The South End design district was a perfect fit for a boutique showroom to cater to potential trade clients who have offices here and for retail clients taking advantage of the destination shopping locale,” Holtshausen said.

The move has been a smart one. Traffic has increased 15 percent since moving to the design district, Holtshausen says.

“There’s no other area like this in Charlotte or the vicinity,” she says. “There are multiple vendors in each category – four or five fabric stores, six tile companies – so customers can comparison shop without driving all over town. People can kill four birds with one stone” in the design district. Designers often make a day of it. They can source tile, plumbing, fixtures, lighting and fabric in one fell swoop.

Light rail helps

The LYNX light-rail line has made the area highly accessible. Laura Barrick, president of the Charlotte chapter of the Interior Design Society (IDS), says light rail contributed to the area’s growth. But there’s more to it than that.

“Historically, that area had lower rents and attracted artistic businesses for that reason,” she says. “The rejuvenation has stayed focused on creative types. Creative businesses thrive on the energy of like minds and get inspired by others in their field.”

Barrick, too, mentions convenience as a benefit of similar businesses clustered together. Customers, she says, “may be taking a day off work to do all their selections for new construction or remodeling, and they can easily jump from one vendor or designer to the next.”

Walker Zanger believes in the design district so much, it’s planning to expand here. There is more room for growth. The newly hip, industrial area symbolized by an old water tower has yet to reach its high-water mark.

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