The heater kicks on every 10 minutes or so inside Design 99
, filling the long, rectangular space on Jos. Campau with noise. A short-lived blast of warm air slightly raises the temperature and the decibel level — nearly drowning out any conversation taking place. As the heater sputters out and the voices soften, another sound fills the ears.
"It's the sink of the nail salon next door," says Gina Reichert, with a laugh. Reichert, a Cincinnati native and an architect with degrees from Tulane and Cranbrook
, is co-founder of Design 99 – a retail space for experimental design and contemporary architecture in Hamtramck.
But the proximity of that sink isn't necessarily a negative; it's what Reichert and husband Mitch Cope were always looking for. Right in their faces
Ok, so not literally. But this thin wall is more of a symbol of community than a sign of poor insulation. That's what Cope (former director of the Tangent Gallery, and curator of MOCAD's Shrinking Cities
exhibit) and Reichert are really striving for – a stronger, more cohesive sense of community. And for this husband-and-wife team, their search has led them to a small, rectangular shop right in the heart of downtown Hamtramck.
"We thought Hamtramck. We thought Jos. Campau. We wanted a storefront in Hamtramck to become a destination place," Reichert says.
For people to notice, she says, they had to really put it right in front of their faces.
So, last September, the duo kicked the doors open and turned a bustling street known for church hats, dollar stores and Polish-everythings into a destination for local artists, designers and discerning consumers. You'll find mid-century modern furniture by the likes of Eames
, a collection of "Ties That Don't Suck" by Cyberoptix
, and pieces by a slew of local names, including Jeff Karolski, Chris Riddell and Laith Karmo. The design doctor is in
Cope and Reichert also offer their services as an architect and artist to anyone who can cough up 99 cents a minute, or $99 for a house call – a play on the numerous dollar stores that litter Jos. Campau.
For the cost of a phone call or a cup of coffee, you could get a flier made, or some super cheap interior design tips, maybe even a few sketches. And they actually do make housecalls. One client in Hamtramck wanted help rearranging his furniture to maximize his space and help him entertain guests. Another needed advice on colors to paint his living room. These are regular people, needing regular design. Even if they contacted modern design firms, they likely wouldn't be able to afford their prices.
"This idea of ours isn't totally insane," Cope says. "We are serving underserved communities." He says there is a market here, a market that they have, in some ways, created.
"It's a comfort level," Reichert says. "I ask, and I've always done this, 'What could I afford? What would I charge my friends, or would my Grandma approve of the price?'"
They both passionately proclaim – over the whirring heater of course – that Design 99 isn't about bringing in bags of cash. It's something else.
"We're not out to make money," Cope said. "This is a social experiment for us. Detroit and Hamtramck are in dire need of design, which includes basics like house building. There is a social aspect to the things we do. We enjoy our neighbors and the neighborhoods, and we stick together under a common cause. It's the community."The city that rejuvenates
Reichert explains that only 2 percent of all construction is done by actual architects, while the other 98 percent is mostly building codes and nails. She toughed it out on the big stage with larger architect firms until she realized that what she felt at the end of the day wasn't satisfaction, but dirt – she felt a dirty, an empty funk that wouldn't come off in the shower.
"I worked and made more money than I am now but was totally unsatisfied," she says. "With (Design 99), we can choose our audience and work for people we like; I don't have to work for millionaires. And I'm comfortable being who I am."
Cope, a Milford native and CCS grad, left Detroit to pursue his master's degree in painting at Washington State. He says he had always felt that there was some unfinished business here in Detroit. He wanted to know more, to try and better understand the city. He came back and founded the Tangent Gallery, then Shrinking Cities, and now Design 99.
Still, Detroit's not perfect – and everyone knows it. However, Cope is quick to point out that there is no such thing as utopia – regardless of where you live.
It's a big, complex city. It's difficult to understand. The more you learn, the more questions you have.
"I have a love/hate relationship with Detroit," he says. "But there is always something that comes up about the city that rejuvenates me – that shows me I was meant to work here. One day I'm asking myself why I live here, and the very next day I realize why. Something glues me here that goes beyond facts."
In Detroit there is a lot of room for flourishing, growing and building. Design 99 is part of this. Cope and Reichert are part of this. They realize that there are great challenges here, but they also realize that their opportunities are even greater.
"Detroit just needs some cohesion, some glue," Cope says. "It's art and design, and we can take it a step further. Everything is here. Detroit has a real outlet for people to make things."
Design 99 is located at 10022 Joseph Campau in Hamtramck. Call 313-576-6941 for more info or go to www.visitdesign99.com
Terry Parris Jr. is a Wayne State student and an intern for Model D.
Photos:Design 99 in HamtramckGina ReichertMitch CopeDesign 99 Merch
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger