Grand Rapids architect going ‘back to my roots’ with purchase of Leonard Street building

Media Mention

By Kate Klemp April 11, 2023

Originally published in MiBiz

by Kate Carlson

GRAND RAPIDS — A Grand Rapids architect plans to relocate his firm to a corridor near his childhood home on the city’s northwest side that he sees as the next bustling district in the city.

Zachary Verhulst, who founded Pure Architects in August 2020, is under contract to purchase the three-story building at 422 Leonard St. NW for about $1.1 million, MiBiz has learned. Verhulst expects to close on the property, which is home to the longtime family-owned window covering retailer The Shade Shop Inc., in the next two weeks. He also plans to invest nearly $1 million in renovations to capture the feel of a “Los Angeles- or New York-style of a design shop,” he said.

“I grew up on the northwest side, right off the Leonard Street corridor, so for me this is a move back to my roots,” Verhulst said. “For us, it’s also a strategic move. I think Leonard Street is the next Bridge Street.”

The 422 Leonard property just west of U.S.-131 is surrounded by a variety of recent housing, commercial and retail investments. It’s also 1 mile north of Bridge Street, which also experienced a development boom in recent years.

Verhulst plans to move his 15-person staff from a downtown, third-floor space at 180 Monroe Ave. above Mojo’s Dueling Piano Bar & Restaurant after renovations at the Leonard Street property are completed, tentatively by the end of this year.

The downtown location has “treated us well,” but Verhulst said buying a property for his firm is a sound long-term investment.

The Shade Shop building is currently owned by a company affiliated with Grand Rapids-based Vision Real Estate Investment Inc., which purchased the property in 2018 for $900,000, according to city property records.

Pure Architects has 15 employees in Grand Rapids, and one person working in Detroit. Company executives plan to expand to about 24 employees in the “near term,” and expect further staff growth in the future, Verhulst said.

The nearly three-year-old firm’s workload is mostly dedicated to projects in early childhood education through higher education. The company also does work across the region on workspaces that focus on employee well-being in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Verhulst said.

Pure Architects also emphasizes partnerships with minority-owned contractors and meeting sustainability benchmarks, which will be emulated in the company’s own office buildout on Leonard Street. That is part of the reason Verhulst chose to repurpose an existing building rather than construct a new one, he said.

“We didn’t want to build a new space,” Verhulst said. “One of the more sustainable things you can do is add to an existing building, and we also didn’t want to displace anyone.”

Plans call for the Shade Shop to continue operating on the first floor of the building, while Pure Architects would renovate and move into the second floor, which is currently vacant. The two suites on the third floor are currently leased by a photographer and an outdoor apparel company. The architectural firm could eventually move into the third floor as well, Verhulst said.

The approximately $900,000 renovation of the second floor could be completed by late-fall this year, Verhulst said. Wolverine Building Group will build out the space.

Pure Architects is designing the office space and aims to comply with environmental standards for the Living Building Challenge, or make the office WELL-certified. The certifications require various sustainable building practices and consideration of the well-being of its users.

“We’re planning an office for 24 to 38 desks,” Verhulst said. “I plan on being there for a long time. It will feel very Los Angeles- or New York-style of a design shop. A goal of the build-out is to have a ton of daylight, natural materials and connection to each other with a lot of transitional spaces and couches everywhere.”

The renovation plans for the whole building will also make it more accessible, which includes adding an elevator, Verhulst said.

The redevelopment comes less than a year after The Shade Shop changed ownership among local family-owned companies, as MiBiz previously reported.

Individual investors Wes and Aimee Muller acquired The Shade Shop, which was founded in 1935, last September from third-generation owners Barry and Susan McKey. Wes Muller is the owner of Caledonia-based Mullers Paint & Design Co. The McKeys took over The Shade Shop in 2000 and sold the company ahead of retirement while looking to preserve the company’s “local legacy.”