Richard Fleischman's architectural fingerprints are scattered throughout Cleveland, from the light-filled circularity of the Western Reserve Historical Society's new home for the Euclid Beach Carousel to the glassy atrium of the Cuyahoga County Health and Human Services building.
But despite his commercial success, Fleischman wanted somewhere to experiment — so he chose an East Side apartment as his canvas.
Fleischman discovered the penthouse unit at a bargain price of $60,000 while having dinner with a friend in the University Circle building. His first step was to reduce it down to the outer walls before reconstructing it.
"I call it surgical renewal," says Fleischman of the yearlong, $150,000 renovation. "The whole top floor, I realized, could be fantastic. I like how it wraps around the core. Everything was wide, there was no narrow space anywhere."
Fronted by two-story windows, the condo is bathed in daylight. With walls built 4 inches in from the original 1928 brick for soundproofing and insulation, the space is kept comfortable by separate heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems on each floor. "I love sounds. I love light. Light is art. Sound is art," says Fleischman. "I want to be able to inhale the space, to feel it, clean and fresh."
From everywhere in the apartment, the view of University Circle is the undeniable centerpiece. To accommodate the massive glass panes, Fleischman reframed most of the outward-facing wall.
"I'm not a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, but he took glass and it no longer became a window to him, it became a wall," says Fleischman. "How he did it was different than everybody else. He was the first one that did that and said, •Now, see the transparency.' "
Though that mantra is evident throughout the 3,800 square feet, it is most obvious in the upper floor's open bedroom. The expanse — unencumbered by walls or doors — flows from a Plexiglas-bordered balcony to the porcelain-tiled bathroom. An eye-catching white bathtub stands alone, flanked by windows. On a side table sits a purple crown. "We should realize there's nothing wrong with being regal," says Fleischman. "It's nice attitude."
Back downstairs, the kitchen countertops are clad in black granite. Rising only to waist level, on the wall behind them is an uninterrupted mirror. "It doubles the space," says Fleischman. "I love them in corners, how it just keeps going on and on."
Even the refrigerator was chopped down in favor of refrigerator drawers fitted below the countertop. In lieu of space-wasting closets, the second floor features floor-to-ceiling white cabinets — a Home Depot purchase with functional panache.
These solutions — elegant, simple and easy access — are what Fleischman shaped the penthouse's design around. "I think I did this as a piece of art," says Fleischman of the property, which is currently on the market at $340,000. "This is my canvas, a three-dimensional canvas, to do an apartment and have it be something special."
Ask any designer — renovating an interior is a painstaking task. But planning need not be a chore. We asked Richard Fleischman for some tips on how to streamline the process.
Size. Evaluate based on size. Ask how what you want to remodel fits into your lifestyle. "For example in the kitchen, how does the refrigerator, the stove, the cooktop fit? Does it absorb the kitchen without much left to enjoy?" says Fleischman. "Take objects and deal with size only."
Shape. After the bigger picture, zero in on the specifics. "How do I complement space? Determine the scale you want to have in that room," he says. "Get a sense of what you want to do and how much space is left to walk."
Surface. Think textures and colors last. Asking questions about your personality and habits will lead to the right choices. "How do I want live?" says Fleischman. "How do I want to share my space with my friends?"