Story by Anya Martin. Photos by Jenni Girtman
Chris Buxbaum and Caryn Grossman weren’t searching for any ordinary home. In fact, they were looking for a loft.
But down an obscure gravel road in Home Park near Georgia Tech, they found Moon Base Alpha.
Buxbaum, a 58-year-old English expatriate photographer, took the nickname from the 1970s British TV series “Space: 1999.” At night when the lights come on inside the two-story glass walls, “it gives off this futuristic glow,” he says.
Buxbaum and Grossman, a 52-year-old independent interior designer, found the rectangular white modern home equally charming in daylight. “It’s like living in a treehouse, but a very stylish one,” Buxbaum says. “When you wake [upstairs] in the morning, all you see is leaves.”
Lifting off from a loft to a house gave the couple a shared mission: Downsize and retrofit in a way that respects the home’s visionary design while reflecting their own unique personalities.
In the last two years, rents at their previous residence in Poncey-Highland’s Telephone Factory Lofts had doubled or more. The hike forced out many of their creative neighbors, including visual artists, musicians and even circus performers.
“It changed the spirit of the building,” says Grossman, who works as head of art sales and marketing at Atlanta-based Deljou Art Group. She had rented four lofts there since 2000, the first two solely professional studios and the last two serving as both studio and residence for her and Buxbaum, also a literary events specialist for A Capella Books.
Grossman told David Goodrowe, an agent with LUX of Atlanta at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, that the only house they would consider would be “ultra-modern with high ceilings.” Goodrowe gave them an address, and all it took was a drive-by, Grossman says.
The couple put down a $325,000 bid before it was even listed. The day they closed in March 2016, the Telephone Factory Lofts’ roof caught fire, as if to confirm that they made the right decision. (The building survived.)
The house required about $25,000 in repairs, and at just 1,400 square feet — 200 less than their loft — they had to replace almost all of their furniture. “Nothing would fit,” Buxbaum says of their new home’s layout.
As a designer, Grossman was determined to make only those aesthetic choices that enhanced and complemented the vision of the home’s original architect, Nicholas Storck, who built it in 1996 and now lives in France. While most people might go for a mid-century modern interior, she immediately nixed that.
“To me, that’s not design,” Grossman says. “It’s expected. It’s formulaic. Finding things that resonate with you personally is what makes a house a home.”
They brought along transparent Philippe Starck Ghost Chairs but replaced a rustic 12-foot wooden farm table with a 4-foot round one by Spanish furniture designers STUA. The bed and couch also were too big. They commissioned a new custom blue sofa, narrow but long enough to “comfortably fit two people and two dogs”: Mingus, a greyhound, and Vinnie, an Italian miniature greyhound, both rescues. The couple also has three cats: Ziggy, Bart and Sam.
For Grossman, two objects were “non-negotiable” to leave behind. One, a baroque Venini chandelier, took five days to remove from the loft and re-hang with a four-man crew and scaffolding. The second, a giant wooden ball from a vintage salvage company, sits provocatively in the hall between the kitchen and the stairs. “I love objects and shapes,” Grossman says.
In the balcony master bedroom, shelves by the railing display his-and-her vintage hat collections, and a white mannequin in an effervescent dress literally dances out of the one wall that isn’t glass. The second floor also includes a bathroom, and a temporary studio and storage space for Grossman.
Despite the reduced square footage, the walls give the couple more space for artwork. Two of Chris’s dramatic portraits of performance artist David Richardson, aka drag queen Babydoll, hang downstairs, and three more line the stairs. The narrow downstairs bathroom doubles as a shrine to Andy Warhol. Other favorite pieces include the wooden statue of a saint from a Belgium church and a harvest-evoking light sculpture in the home’s center.
“A home is not a home without a Chris Moulder lighting sculpture,” Grossman says.
Buxbaum says that the large flat roof is “like having another full footprint of the house” and is great for entertaining. It was also their most expensive repair due to a deteriorated layer of lumpy foam insulation, which they replaced with a flat thermoplastic surface so it doubles as a deck. “We had 150 people up there the other night,” Buxbaum says, referring to a huge housewarming the couple threw in early October with guests drawing from the city’s art, design and real estate communities.
Buxbaum enjoys throwing outrageous parties and treasures his retro Leopard Bar, custom made by Dennis R. Coburn at Boomerang, which now is the centerpiece in an alcove next to the kitchen.
Buxbaum loves to cook, so high on his wishlist for future improvements is extending the small kitchen. The couple also plans to add a studio, where Grossman can do her design work and resurrect the artist salons she hosted in her loft.
A couple since 2010, Buxbaum and Grossman say they have landed on Moon Base Alpha to stay. “Where you live is your story,” Grossman says. “I feel like we’re just getting started with ours.”
As their story unfolds, reshaping their new home to juxtapose the original design with their personalities will take more than one small step.
In a house where space is limited, optimization is key. A hallway between the living room and kitchen is now lined with 10-foot-tall built-in bookshelves for Buxbaum’s extensive library of Beat Generation and jazz books.