New Apts: It’s All About The Backstory

Is it time to update the old real-estate saying? Is it not ALL “location, location, location” anymore for prospective apartment dwellers? Should we replace one of those “locations” for a really good backstory? The big developers—Douglas Development; Insight Property Group; The JBG Companies—certainly are, with new apartment buildings infused with history and persona: To access your hipster flat in Northeast DC, Shaw, and Alexandria in these cases, you’re walking through a veritable stage set.

Let’s start in Ivy City. Whether or not you knew the name of the neighborhood, anyone who’s driven up New York Avenue on the way to Route 50 and the Bay Bridge is familiar with the Hecht Warehouse, which for years was a sad, Deco-inspired relic of a bygone era. Douglas Development has brought it back to its heyday—and then some.


Hecht Warehouse photos by Ray Cavicchio

“An icon is now a destination” is the slogan for this mixed-use building, where apartments go for between $1,500 and $3,810 per month. The imposing lobby, which incorporates original machinery that was found in the building, is nothing if not theatrical:


In this case, the warehouse drove all the design and decoration; the original architecture punctuates both its public spaces and its loft apartments—with a very cool story to tell.




The developer left the warehouse’s many primary-colored columns intact. They were color coded to signal where each type of merchandise aimed for the Hecht’s department stores would go: one color for women’s shoes, another for men’s suits, etc.



Moving from one warehouse to another, The JBG Companies just completed their first year of leasing at Atlantic Plumbing, designed by New York architect Morris Adjmi—whose urban-chic creds include buildings in New York’s Meatpacking District along the High Line. For between $2,100 and $4,980 per month, this is what you get:


Though the building is new, it incorporates elements of the plumbing warehouses that used to occupy this site, like its original brick signage in the lobby:


The vibe continues in the gym, which is accented with shipping containers:


You’ll have to earn more than the typical warehouse worker to live on the top floor, though.



Even when a building or its address doesn’t have a history, like the new Shelby in Alexandria by Insight Property Group, the brand adopts its own:

The Shelby: Americana Redefined. We wanted to take a modern approach to the rich history of this area by selecting a name that spoke to the craftsmen, inventors, thinkers, artists, and athletes that were willing to take a risk throughout history and that risk resulted in something revolutionary: Henry Ford, Muhammad Ali, Thomas Edison, Charles Goodyear, and Isaac Singer to name a few.


Insight hired RD Jones & Associates as the interior designer and SwatchRoom to execute the look of its public spaces, which feature dozens of local fabricators and artists who illustrate The Shelby’s story.

SwatchRoom commissioned Brandon Hill to create this mural for the gym, invoking a cheeky reference to the building's name.

SwatchRoom commissioned Brandon Hill to create this mural for the gym, invoking a cheeky reference to the building’s name—see it?



Another Shelby incarnation greets visitors in the lobby. SwatchRoom created a wood etching of a postage stamp featuring Ford auto designer and car-racing legend Carroll Shelby.


Gutierrez Studios created a steel map wall featuring the Huntington neighborhood where the building is located.

Gutierrez Studios created a steel map wall featuring the Huntington neighborhood where the building is located.

The apartments go for between $1,533 and $2,543 per month. And like all of these properties, residents have ample use the pools, gym, entertaining spaces with chef’s kitchens and grills, dog-washing stations—the lists go on. So it makes sense that these public spaces need to have the right kind of backstory to lure you in.

The only question that remains for would-be renters: whose story do you want to inhabit?

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  1. The overall design is interesting enough and cool indeed. Would also be interesting to see what kind of tenant these kind of spaces would attract. H.