Rough as silk: A city studio shows off its true character

Photo: Amy Benoit Photo: Amy Benoit

Think of history in Charlottesville, and you might think first of Court Square, Monticello, and other seats of power. But the city has an industrial past, too, and it’s still visible in places like the Silk Mill Building, an 1898 factory whose brick façade is tucked behind the Preston Avenue Bodo’s.

Eighteen years ago—after stints as a silk mill and a pencil factory—the building underwent a total renovation to become office space. Today it houses a variety of tenants, from high-tech medical firms to psychotherapists. One of the most recent additions? City Clay, the ceramics center that you probably remember from its former location on the corner of Main and McIntire.

For Randy Bill, City Clay’s owner, the character of the Silk Mill Building is part of what makes it right for her business. “I love the architecture,” she said. “It’s fun to be in.” Upon entering the building, visitors find themselves in a three-story-tall stairwell, whose exposed-brick walls show more than a century’s worth of paint, forming a pleasingly layered patina.

Inside the clay studio, the original bones of the building—wooden posts and beams and a wooden floor laid on the diagonal—shine through. City Clay occupies what used to be two separate offices, and has space for a sculpture classroom, two wheel-throwing classrooms, lots of shelves, and member studios. All are well-lit due to windows on three sides of the space. “Once we were able to open the walls and allow the light to come through, it made it incredibly wonderful,” Bill said.

Bill, who moved the business here last June, is pleased with her new workspace. “I love the fact that it was built for people making things,” she said. “I feel like we’ve found our home.”