Any architect or designer worth their protractor can build a mansion from nothing. It takes a special vision to remodel a passed-over, run-down urban warehouse into a unique, ultra-chic home fit for a Hollywood A-lister.

By Tresca Weinstein

Not every Barbie has a dream home that came straight off the shelf. In fact, most Barbies (and Kens) live in houses that had a previous use – an old shoebox, a milk crate, or a garage that once sheltered toy trucks.

If you ever constructed one of those makeshift houses as a kid (for dolls, stuffed animals, or even for yourself if your parents recently unpacked a new refrigerator), you’ll remember the satisfaction of transforming a functional – but otherwise unremarkable – object into an inventive living space.

Grown-up architects, designers, and homeowners get that same thrill today from giving new, unexpected life to their cities’ old buildings. Here are two urban dream home designs that might inspire you look at that empty warehouse in the middle of downtown in a new way.

home remodeling

Photo courtesy of Jake Holt Photography

Urban Dream Home Remodel #1: Palazzo Lavaca [Austin, TX]

Former life: Fire station and home of Capitol Saddlery (which made saddles and boots for everyone from Texas cowboys to Al Capone and Peter Fonda)
New use: Lavish, party-loving oasis of patina

Designer and branding consultant Giselle Koy spent two years overhauling this 1890 landmark into a Venetian-inspired home and event space, taking special care to preserve its crumbling brick and paint. The result is a brilliant juxtaposition of weathered surfaces and opulent decor fit for Lady Gaga (whose personal creative team has partied here).

Lone Star Court

home remodeling

Photo courtesy of Colleen Duffley

Urban Dream Home Remodel #2: The Collector’s Loft [San Antonio, TX]

Former life: The Duerler Candy Factory and office space
New use: The Camp Street Residences, which, in addition to the Collector’s Loft, houses art galleries and 20 residential units within the city’s artistic sanctuary

The precise geometry of industrial pillars, stairs, high ceilings, and large windows on the top floors made it the perfect canvas for late art collector Linda Pace to design a livable, milky-white gallery. Each room became its own mini-museum, prominently displaying Pace’s vast collection of contemporary works, as well as lighting and other fixtures that are actually art (like the Verner Panton capiz shell chandelier in the kitchen).

Hotel Valencia Riverwalk