Downtown Looking Up

When Jonathan Kudulis purchased the 18th floor of the John A. Hand Building, he knew exactly who to call to transform the former office space into a residence. Though John had never actually met architect Mike Gibson, founder of Appleseed Workshop, he certainly knew his reputation. Like many Birmingham residents, he had experienced Mike’s work firsthand in restaurants and public spaces such as El Barrio, Iron Tribe, Paramount Bar, Bamboo on 2nd, and Brick & Tin Mountain Brook. “I knew he was the person to handle this project, ” says John. “I invited him to see the space, and he immediately got it.”

Nigel, the homeowners’ Great Dane,  loves the wide expanse of the loft’s open floorplan. The kitchen, carved out of one of the office spaces, is just one more layer of customization by Appleseed Workshop. Powder-coated steel cabinets are Appleseed- designed and built to provide a sleek counterpart to the industrial elements such as the exposed pipes and iron support beam. 


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Built in 1912, the John A. Hand Building was originally the American Trust and Savings Bank Building. Though the building has received several overhauls in the last century, the 18th floor was still home to typical business space of the period­, complete with a series of offices opening off of a central hallway, shared restrooms, hallway water fountain, and small lobby entrance. Turning a work space into a living space that still honors the historic architecture offered an interesting challenge. Offices were reimagined as bedrooms and living spaces, while that wonderful central hallway paved in Alabama white marble remained as the architectural thread to connect them all. “We embraced the original maple wood subflooring and marble flooring as an interesting feature, ” explains Mike.

Though the interior was reoriented by removing and relocating some walls, the majority of the space remained intact. “On the walls, we patched small breaks in the existing plaster but left larger ones intact, creating areas of exposed brick and walls with artful edges, ” says Mike. Existing interior office doors were repurposed and upcycled with powder-coated steel for a modern look. New elements designed to complement the original structural items include walls of bamboo cabinets for TV, display space, and storage, as well as a luxurious new bathroom with a soaking tub and skyline views. 

So what’s it like to live on the 18th floor of a downtown skyscraper? For the Kudulises, it means convenience to John’s office just a few floors down. It also means amazing sunrises and sunsets, panoramic views of the city and beyond, open doors that catch sky-high breezes, and the echoes of downtown traffic and the passing train. “It’s hard to believe this place sat empty for so many years, ” says Jonathan.“It’s a great place for me and my wife, Kathryn, to live.”


Mike Gibson (above right) started Appleseed Workshop in 2007 while still attending architecture school at Auburn University. Mike and his team have since taken 14 underutilized downtown locations and transformed them into places to live and enjoy life. On the cusp of the trend of revitalization for downtown, Mike admits it was a leap of faith. “I have a master’s degree in city planning, ” he says. “If I was going to use my education, I had to put my money where my mouth is. I opened my office downtown and got to know the buildings and the downtown community. People slowly started realizing what we were trying to do and they began to respond.” 

“For a project to be successful, we need to be in sync with our clients’ ideas and aesthetics. We want to stay true to what we are good at.” — Mike Gibson, Appleseed Workshop 

“If it’s an old building and someone wants to do something cool with it, we’re in.” — Mike Gibson, Appleseed Workshop 

Architecture, design + build: Appleseed Workshop  205.421.9430 Kitchen cabinets & hardware: custom Appleseed workshop Appliances: Lowe’s/Home Depot Tile/backsplash: Crossville Tile and Stone • 205.987.3617 Kitchen pendants: Restoration Hardware Rugs: King’s House Antiques  205.320.2535 Master bathroom cabinets: custom Appleseed Workshop Hardware: Architectural Hardware supply • 205.320.2535 Fixtures: tub: V&W Supply • 205.324.9521 Countertops: quartz Surface One  205.621.1125 floor tile: Crossville Tile and Stone Lighting: chandelier: Restoration Hardware Mirror: custom Appleseed workshop Hardware for built-in: Architectural Hardware Supply Furniture/accessories/lighting /fabric purchased locally: pillows from At Home  205.879.3510 Dining chandelier: Restoration Hardware

Text by Cathy STill McGowin // Photography by jean allsopp

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