The Erdreich family has a history of immersing themselves in the rich culture, history and art of the wide world, while also being fiercely devoted to the growth of their Birmingham home.
“No matter where we go, we always come back to Birmingham. That’s a tradition in our family. My grandfather, who was an immigrant, told my dad when he got his scholarship to Harvard, ‘That’s wonderful son. You can go, but bring it back, because Alabama needs you.’ And so I grew up hearing the same thing, and my husband heard the same thing in his family,” says Dr. Ellen Erdreich, former art history professor at American University and UAB. Accordingly, she and her husband, former U.S. Rep. Ben Erdreich, spent 10 years in Washington, D.C., serving the people of Alabama, and, after years of splitting their time between Birmingham and D.C., as well as regular travels to exciting spots like Paris, New York, England, China and beyond, they once again returned to their Southern home.
Because of their love of thriving cities and their desire to further contribute to the growth of their city, Ben and Ellen wanted to live in downtown Birmingham. They honed in on Second Avenue North, before it was the happening hub that it is today, and secured a parking lot adjacent to a building that dates to 1896 and is among the oldest existing historic structures in the city. With its echoes of the city’s rich past and situated on a street where the Erdreiches saw great potential for economic development, it seemed like the perfect spot for their custom urban home. They commissioned their children — son Jeremy, the accomplished principal architect behind Erdreich Architecture, and daughter Anna, the savvy home renovation mastermind behind Kobrin Works — to design an urban home that fit their aesthetic and lifestyle.
“Being a post-Civil War city, Birmingham has no history of row houses like Baltimore, Philadelphia and other older American cities,” says Jeremy. “So, we studied classic row house plans of older cities and reinterpreted those traditional elements into our design in a modern way, using simple materials and detailing defined spaces that flow into each other without doors and a daylighting strategy that allows maximum natural light into the spaces throughout the day.” In addition to cutting down on electricity with its optimum use of natural light, the home also incorporates numerous energy-saving concepts, such as the use of ecofriendly materials, recirculating water features, UV-reflective glass and a full green rooftop garden.
Ellen describes the home as mixed and eclectic, combining modern, traditional and inherited elements. All of the art, with the exception of a handful of pieces, are Ellen’s creations, and many of the beautiful furniture pieces are from their travels abroad while Ben served as a congressman. “The interiors are meaningful to me,” says Ellen, adding, “not necessarily decorative.”
As soon as this singular modern row house was complete, Ben, Jeremy and Anna got to work on developing the neighborhood. They created the flex space known as 2nd Row, which now houses Urban Standard, Yo Mama’s Restaurant, Feast & Forest and more — a development that laid the groundwork for Charm, Rogue Tavern, Pale Eddie’s Pour House, Bamboo on 2nd, The Collins Bar and El Barrio Restaurante & Bar to join the now bustling Second Avenue North neighborhood. And Ellen particularly savors time spent in her rooftop garden, listening to the ambient sounds of her growing city. “I love to be up here. I feel like I’ve been to the beach! But I have to do things with my hands. I can’t just sit on the beach, so this suits me much better. During certain times of year, I could spend days up here.”
Thank you to Beth Hontzas for today’s beautiful photography!
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