After some 20 years of running the Bulthaup kitchen showroom in Old City, it was only a matter of time until architect Wesley Wei and designer Rachael Hoffman felt the need to change things up. First: Buy an old warehouse next door. Second: Restore it and open up a Lema showroom. Third: Let clients sleepover.
Yes, in about a month, the top three floors of the Lema showroom will be available as AirBnB rentals on the weekends. For visitors, it’s a way to spend a night or two in a historic building with sleek, custom-designed furniture and appliances. For the design duo, “it was just an epiphany,” says Wei.
Here’s how it will work: The four-story building will function as a Lema showroom on the weekdays. On weekends, the top three floors, which are set up as studio apartments and outfitted with both Lema and Bulthaup products, will be available for rent via AirBnb.
It’s not the first time that Wei and Hoffman have come up with a novel idea. When they first opened up the Bulthaup showroom at 132 N. Third Street two decades ago, they became the first showroom in Philly to offer live kitchen demonstrations, says Wei.
At the same time, they began talks about expanding, wondering about the old warehouse next door, which had been a paper goods and wholesales warehouse for some 50 years. When the owner passed away, his daughter sold the 5,000-square-foot property to Wei and Hoffman in September 2015. “She told us that her father had always talked about the ‘nice couple next door,’” said Hoffman. “It was kismet.”
Wei and Hoffman have spent the past 14 months or so transforming the building into the four-story showroom, while keeping as many original details intact. The hardwood floors were refinished, the wall patina was preserved, and nearly every factory-sash window was replaced.
The former elevator shaft was converted into reading nooks, featuring Lema’s “bookens”. “I didn’t want this to be a catch-all or a closet,” Hoffman said. “Each floor will be dedicated to a dead poet who had Philly connections.”
In general, all three apartments are set up similarly, though each is outfitted with different Lema furniture and wardrobes, plus the same Bulthaup kitchen. The sleeping areas are separated by Lema shelving units. Hoffman said, “In the states, people are used to building dry-wall closets. This shows that you can really have this open space and accommodate everything without building walls and blocking views.”
The couple is still hammering out nightly rates, but the apartments are expected to be available for rent in late March or early April.
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