Where alarms were once raised, a call for equity is answered

Nonprofit highlights the work of BIPOC designers in remodel of Pittsfield fire station into affordable apartments.

Tim Cree
"We began with the outdoors and cultural experiences of the Berkshires. Activities like hiking, watersports, music, dance, theater and performance arts inform our greatest inspiration - 'Free or Die,'" wrote Everick Brown of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., who designed the home with Lisa Brown. "The story behind our space is to inspire people to think in a different way. When you see things through a different lens, you gain a different perspective, so we use outdoor elements in our space to encourage people to think differently about being connected to nature, about being unafraid to be themselves and about understanding that one's value is their perspective. Difference is the only thing that makes us better." For the above space, "We use an outdoor daybed from Arhaus as the focal point in our great room main seating area," Everick Brown said via e-mail. "To further enhance the feeling of the outdoors, we incorporate a black chalk wall in the background and colorful art scenes of the Berkshires captured by local artist Joanie Ciolfi to help bring the space to life." (Tim Cree/Creepwalk Media) Tim Cree/Creepwalk Media

Tyler Street Fire Station in Pittsfield was built in 1906, a two-story, two-bay, redbrick building with a pair of large arched garage doors for firetrucks to exit and enter.

North Adams-based real estate developer David Carver of CT Management Group points to the concrete floor inside.

“This was poured when the building was first constructed,” Carver said. “It is eight inches thick, heavy enough to bear the weight of fire engines, and now it is a great foundation for the building’s new life.”

The new life brought together a city persuaded not to tear down the building, a preservation-minded developer, and the efforts of The Kaleidoscope Project, a nonprofit collective devoted to showcasing the talent within the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous people, and people of color) design industry.


The firehouse was built in 1906. – Tim Cree/Creepwalk Media

Now the fire station is home to four apartments: two one-bedroom units measuring 1,000 square feet and two two-bedroom 1,400-square-foot units. Because project members decorated the units for a show house, which about 500 people visited in late October, the apartments are equipped with designer-chosen, high-end elements, including top-of-the-line kitchens and baths and sophisticated lighting, wall coverings, paint colors, and window treatments.

“These are below-market-rate apartments,” said Amy Lynn Schwartzbard, project founder, “but they have $70,000 kitchens.”

A kitchen designed by Rasheeda Gray o f Cheltenham, Pa. – Tim Cree/Creepwalk Media

“The demographic for this market-priced apartment would be a young professional or an empty-nester or retiree looking to downsize from a house. With that in mind, I considered an easy and healthy lifestyle with modern appliances like a steam oven and furniture that is all about casual elegance,” designer Virginia Toledo of Franklin Lakes, N.J., said via e-mail. – Tim Cree/Creepwalk Media

She explained her organization’s history: “I was planning a show house in 2020 to raise money for the arts when George Floyd was killed, and I realized that Black people are vastly underrepresented in the design industry. We founded The Kaleidoscope Project to amplify their voices.”

Tyler Street Fire Station was The Kaleidoscope Project’s second show house; last year, the organization drafted 23 designers of color to reimagine the rooms of Lenox’s Cornell Inn. The fire station project brought together designers Denise Gordon, Tanya Lewis, and Marilyn LaVergne of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Montclair, N.J.; Everick Brown and Lisa Walker Brown of Yorktown Heights, N.Y.; David Santiago of Hackensack, N.J.; Rasheeda Gray of Cheltenham, Pa.; and Virginia Toledo of Franklin Lakes, N.J.


Pittsfield’s fire department left Tyler Street Fire Station in 1970 and, until 2008, it was used for storage. It stood abandoned and deteriorating until Carver purchased it last year.

Designer Virginia Toledo of Franklin Lakes, N.J., was inspired by the brickwork of the original building: “Still standing strong after over 100 years, so many beautiful colors came through the brick that ranged from blush and coral to maroon and burgundy – topped with layers of peeling paint in other areas.” Those colors are reflected in the primary bedroom, she said via e-mail. “The wall tile delivers a glossy sienna hue while the primary bedroom reads almost salmon in tone.” – Tim Cree/Creepwalk Media

“The city was going to tear it down,” Carver said. “Just the demolition would have cost them between $250,000 and half a million dollars. I bought it from the city for $1,000 with the agreement that I would restore it and put in four apartments.

“Here in the Berkshires, we have a great shortage of rental housing,” he added. “These apartments will go on the city’s tax rolls. And, it’s one more fine, old building we won’t lose.”

An interior designed by Rasheeda Gray of Cheltenham, Pa. – Tim Cree/Creepwalk Media

The local historical commission deemed the fire station historically significant, making it eligible for Community Preservation Act funding.

Carver, an engineer by training, has turned several historic buildings in the area into housing, including downtown Pittsfield’s Dunham Building, Clock Tower Building, Holy Family Church, and Notre Dame School.

He was negotiating with the city for the fire station when he met Schwartzbard, who was busy organizing the show house at the inn. They agreed that the fire station would be ideal for The Kaleidoscope Project’s next show house.

“In our bathroom we wanted the feeling of European outdoor + cultural experiences to create this setting,” Everick Brown said via e-mail. “We chose a European palazzo courtyard for inspiration using a mosaic floor tile paired with a Belgian bluestone wall tile on the vanity wall, which is accented by gold stone tile wrapped in hand-worked, hammered, and antiqued metal sheets on the tub surround feature walls.” – Tim Cree/Creepwalk Media

“We think of ourselves as a collective of Black women creatives,” said Gordon, of Austin Gray Design Group, who, with Lewis and LaVergne, designed one of the first-floor one-bedroom units.


She found inspiration in the soaring ceiling heights and the natural light pouring in through enormous windows.

Now, fortunate new tenants will, too.

Regina Cole can be reached at [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter @GlobeHomes.


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