October 25, 2014

Elyria
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Nice digs: Downtown Elyria living in style

As it turns out, there’s no game plan and no hard-and-fast solution to creating exquisite style. “I never shop to look for something,” said Elyria attorney Marilu Laubenthal. “I just shop to shop, and if something strikes my fancy and I can afford to buy it, I buy it.”

STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE
Marilu Laubenthal in the living room of her apartment on Broad Street.

Laubenthal’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to home decor — and her impeccable taste — are responsible for creating a place that easily could have been regarded as the apex of style in downtown Elyria.

Laubenthal recently moved from her former Broad Street apartment to a development in Sheffield — a change of scenery and a chance to start over, she says. 

But what she left behind in Elyria couldn’t go without mention. Laubenthal spent the past two years living in a spacious apartment in a building next to the new Elyria Municipal Courthouse. She created a striking home after years of picking up classy odds and ends and swanky furniture at various stores.

The two-bedroom apartment — before it was stripped of its furnishings and decorations — was worth capturing with a few pictures before she packed up last week and headed to Sheffield.

Why? It showed the potential downtown Elyria has. 

“People used to whine about bringing back the downtown area,” Laubenthal said, adding that Elyria’s central hub can and will be rejuvenated, but in a different way, perhaps, than it was in the 1930s or ’40s.

“Time marches on, and you have to adapt,” she said. “It’ll be wonderful in a new way. It’s not going to have big retail shops — it’s going to have great restaurants and beautiful office spaces.”

She’s speaking from experience.

Laubenthal not only lived in the classy Broad Street building, but used it to house her law office.

The building has raw potential on its own — exposed wood beams, yawning sky lights and ample lighting — but Laubenthal added the extra pizzazz that made it something worth noting. Her law office included black leather furniture and had a New York feel, while the hallway leading to her apartment sported sophisticated colors like merlot and olive. 

And it’s no overstatement to say that Laubenthal’s former apartment was breath-taking.

The living and dining room areas felt like a sleepy mix of old American and oriental, the lampshades bleeding honey-colored lighting over a dark-red couch where her cats — Bonnie and Clyde — slept in the nooks created by cushions.

“One of the places I like to shop is Pier 1,” Laubenthal said, offering would-be decorators some advice. “Some of those stores usually have a corner someplace where they have clearance items — some things are 5 cents on the dollar.” 

With a few trips to secondhand stores and World Market in Avon Commons, Laubenthal collected everything she needed to make her downtown Elyria apartment look like a Manhattan penthouse. 

“Most of it I do within the first 60 days,” she said. “After that, I just make subtle adjustments.

“The trick is not saying I want this and then going out and finding it — you have to go out and see what talks to you.”

Some of the things that talked to her: a black leather rug in her bathroom paired with a black leather shower curtain; a full-size kimono hanging on the wall above her bed; and countless Asian- and medieval-looking paintings peppered across the walls. 

Over the years, it was an evolving process.

“I don’t use my intellect when I do this at all,” she said. “Whatever runs my dreams, that’s what I’m using. It’s almost like what an artist does.” 

It’s that kind of taste that folks like Tamela Grubb, director of Main Street Elyria, are likely hoping floods the downtown area.

Grubb said Main Street Elyria has no comprehensive list of downtown apartments available, but she knows a handful of developers are working to create more places like the one Laubenthal lived in before moving last week.

“They have so much character, with the high ceilings and all,” Grubb said of the many downtown apartments and office spaces. “It has so much to do with how they’re restored.”

Grubb said Main Street Elyria is working to create an ambience that will entice people to live in the downtown area, such as the recent addition of coffee shops and delis like Jim’s Coffee House, Le Rendez Vous Cafe and Sarah’s Sweets.

“I wish we had a magic wand that could make it all happen overnight,” Grubb said.

Contact Shawn Foucher at 653-6255 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.