“Sometimes I worry that this looks like an old lady’s room,” Matthew Bauserman confesses, leading the way into his midnight-blue bedroom. At this, you can’t help but laugh.
Sure, there are Oriental rugs and a macaw squawking in the bathroom, but it’s hard to imagine an old lady owning a Maurizio Tempestini Brutalist lamp, or a silver gong that hangs from two mounted horns. The gong looks like a sacrificial altar; it is, in fact, an inkwell, picked up at an antiques store on Royal Street in New Orleans.
Bauserman’s style is a masculine mix of old and new, rough and gleaming — which perfectly fits his new digs at Third and Broad streets.
You’ve likely driven by the three-story commercial building a hundred times and never given its tan bricks a second look. But once you walk inside and climb the creaking staircase, it’s a revelation. A shining tin ceiling and huge arched windows conspire to create a living space full of light. That’s how Bauserman fell in love — with the apartment, the building and downtown Broad Street.
“I wanted this space for me,” he says.
Bauserman, who by day works for Chesapeake Capital Corp., loves real-estate projects. “It’s kind of to keep me sane,” he says. “Like on the bad days, I need to rip out a wall, do some demo. And on the good days, I need to build something and do something more creative.”
He has flipped a few properties in the Fan, but the Broad Street building was different. He had never done a project of that size, for one thing. And he bought it not as an investment, but because he fell hard for the space. “I just saw myself there,” he says.
The Broad Street apartment gave him the opportunity to showcase treasures he had been keeping in storage, like the full set of flame- colored Le Creuset cookware and the 12 mirrors now hanging in his powder room. “It was like Christmas, moving into this place,” he says.
Bauserman does his own interior design, constantly rearranging things, and everything has a story. The birch-bark textured paintings above the dining room table? They’re the work of his younger brother, Seth Bauserman, who only agreed to sell them when he needed to buy an engagement ring. The wooden console with the curved, almost humanoid, supports that looks like the Ark of the Covenant? That came from fine-furniture maker Harrison Higgins, who was best friend of Bauserman’s father. Bauserman had admired the console as a child, and Higgins gladly gave it to him.
He enjoys hunting for Midcentury treasures. “I like strong, distinctive statement pieces — they suit my style,” Bauserman says. A few years back, when silver-banded Dorothy Thorpe glasses surged in popularity, Bauserman went on a thrift-store rampage and amassed enough glassware to serve 150 people. He says with some confidence that it’s “the largest vintage glassware collection in the city of Richmond.” Favorite sources include Kim Vincze’s Verve Home Furnishings (which provided the Lucite bar cart and Brutalist side tables) and Sally and David Ramert’s Metro Modern.
When Bauserman bought the building in the summer of 2013, there wasn’t much to recommend it. The 1916 building was occupied by Hofheimer’s Shoes for much of its life, and recently had been renovated as apartments. Virginia Commonwealth University students had carved up the third-floor space with refrigerator boxes. Bare lightbulbs hung from cords, and the floor was pocked from partiers’ high heels. Bauserman loved it anyway. “I just felt like exciting things were about to happen in the neighborhood,” he says.
His premonition was right. After Bauserman bought the building, work commenced on the Central National Bank apartments across the street, a long-awaited transformation for Richmond’s 23-story Art Deco skyscraper. Then VCU bought the former United Way building next door to serve as its new police headquarters. Five blocks away, Katie and Ted Ukrop are turning the Italian Renaissance building at 201 W. Broad St. into the boutique Quirk Hotel. Last fall, celebrity chef Mike Isabella opened Graffiato right down the street.
Bauserman, who is 31, is playing his own part in the rebirth of Broad Street. The brick basement of his building has become an intimate performance space for TheatreLAB, the 2-year-old theater startup founded by DeeJay Gray and Annie Colpitts. The ground-floor storefront is occupied by CodeVA, a nonprofit that promotes computer science education for children and teachers.
Broad Street’s transformation has been a long time coming, observes Tyler King, program manager at the nearby nonprofit Storefront for Community Design. In the morning, King looks out his window and sees the lights coming on in Broad Street’s barbershops, beauty supply stores and small markets. “The lights that aren’t coming on are the huge building stock owned by just a handful of people,” he says, developers who have been biding their time.
“The thing that really gets me excited is seeing people like Matt .... who have built their own capacity to go between where the big developers are and do something that is uniquely Richmond, that is uniquely homegrown,” King says.
Bauserman’s not done yet. He bought the building next door, and plans to cut a doorway through to build a roof deck for his apartment. He also has plans to turn both second floors into a combined eight apartments.
For the time being, living downtown is “much quieter than I thought it would be,” Bauserman says. The night is only interrupted by the clack of skateboard wheels and the occasional glow of blue lights. But it won’t be that way for long.