The Grand Avenue Club remodel project is kicking off, with the initial demolition starting on Monday. In early June, we shared the news that the Grand Avenue Club was chosen to be Milwaukee’s 2022 recipient of a free Design for a Difference remodel.
Founded in 1991 by a coalition of advocates, psychiatric patients, service providers and supporters, the Grand Avenue Club (GAC) supports adults with mental health challenges through training and education, job placement, and social and enrichment programming. Design for a Difference is a charity that works with local designers across the country to give deserving non-profits, like GAC, a complimentary redesign or makeover.
Design For a Difference partnered with FLOOR360, a Wisconsin-based flooring showroom and design firm, to implement the remodel of GAC’s historic building at 210 E. Michigan St.
Now, another local company is getting in on the mission. BILTRITE Furniture is supporting the renovation by donating $5,000 worth of its inventory.
BILTRITE has been a part of the Milwaukee landscape for nearly 100 years, since Irwin Kerns opened his first upholstery shop on Third and Garfield in 1928. Four generations later, Kern’s grandson, great-granddaughter and other family members continue to operate the store, which is now located in Greenfield.
“We’ve been affiliated with the Grand Avenue Club since 2005,” says Randi Komisar Schachter, a fourth-generation family member at BILTRITE. “I saw something pop up on social media that Design for a Difference was going to work with the GAC. I had to chime in right away – we had to be the furniture store that was a part of this.”
Since BILTRITE moved to their Greenfield location in 2006, they have always had at least one member of the GAC on their staff. Currently, a GAC member is leading their custodial team.
“I had a connection to the Grand Ave Club through an acquaintance of mine,” Randi says. “I asked him to tell me more about the club. During our conversation, the bells went off in my head – this would be a great opportunity to employ members of the Grand Avenue Club for our custodial team. We’ve forged these great bonds with the club and the members, and they are some of the best employees we’ve ever had.”
For the project, the BILTRITE team has donated a desk, two arm chairs, a swivel chair, a lamp and an entertainment console.
GAC’s Cream City brick building was erected in 1858, and is the oldest commercial building in the city. The Grand Avenue club moved into the building in 2001.
“This is a very old and historic building,” says Ben Holt, the operations manager at GAC. “That comes with a lot of amazing things but it also comes with some difficulties. We’ve been in this building for almost 25 years and things just gradually and organically evolved, not so much an intentional design based on what we actually, tangibly do. This is a bit of a reset for us.”
Led by Kelly Kuehn, the Kashou Design Studio Manager at FLOOR360, this makeover relies 100% on donations from businesses and individuals. According to Kuehn, our community has shown incredible support.
“We knew what their wish lists were and the functional needs of the spaces inside,” Kuehn says. “BILTRITE’s selection met all of our needs, and the individuals at the store were amazingly helpful. It was very meaningful to us that they are so involved with the Grand Avenue Club. We’re dedicating a lounge to BILTRITE to thank them for their longtime support of the GAC.”
According to Kuehn, part of the excitement around this project is keeping the design a secret until its completion. On Oct. 18, FLOOR360, GAC and Milwaukee Magazine will host a reveal, unveiling the space to GAC staff, members and board members for the first time.
“We don’t know what the final product will be but we’ve seen the general build ideas and we’re pretty blown away,” says Holt. “We were a bit unsure of how this whole process was going to go, but Kelly Kuehn and the Design For a Difference crew came in and sat down with us, met with members, found out what a daily routine looks like, and it really seems like they are building something intentional based on the needs and feedback of the members.”