The Otis is more than just another Atlanta building. It’s a new living space that offers a mix of history and modern style, all thanks to the special touch of one of the community’s former residents — designer turned television star Ty Pennington.

Associated with the lawless Snake Nation enclave in the 1850′s and known for its burning in the years that followed, Castleberry Hill — one of Atlanta’s first neighborhoods to be reconstructed after the Civil War — is a Georgia community rich in history. Following an influx of development, the National Register of Historic Places’ neighborhood is now increasingly rich in art and culture. HGTV star Ty Pennington, a Marietta native, is the latest designer to add their mark to the storied community by renovating The Otis — a former satellite office and repair center for the Otis Elevator Company.

“The entire project is sort of like myself,” Pennington told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s the rebirth of something old. Not only does the building have history, but I also have history with the neighborhood.”

A homecoming for Pennington

While the “Extreme Makeover” and “Trading Spaces” star is currently living in and renovating a Savannah home, Pennington once lived in Castleberry Hill after receiving an invitation from his brother to help with a warehouse the sibling had just purchased.

“Because that neighborhood literally is sort of connecting with my family, my brother lives down the street, I was in that community for almost a decade,” Pennington said. “It was sort of like a coming home for me.”

Featuring eight residential units that range from lofts to penthouses and two storefront retail spaces, The Otis is a factory building turned luxury dwelling — a common sight in Castleberry Hill following the influx of local community investments that began when Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics.

“At the end of the day, you want to be able to go into your space and be like, ‘wow this is awesome,’” Pennington said. “And the fact that you are in the middle of all that downtown living, and knowing that there is so much coming to you now, hearing what’s coming to downtown is mind blowing. I’m excited to see how that community grows, because I was there when we first got trees for the Olympics in 96.”

Pennington was living in New York City when his brother extended his invitation all those years ago. After moving back to Atlanta, the HGTV icon realized a new dream.

“I was dabbling in a lot of different careers, but I always wanted to be a fine artist,” Pennington said. “I came back to Atlanta just to see what this would look like. It was a very artistic, very cool community – even back then. That’s also one of the reasons why I wanted to take this on, because I used to live in really rugged spaces where you woke up with black dust and all of the above for years. So my dream was always what if we designed something that’s really state of the art, has history, has such an incredible story much like Castleberry.”

A neighborhood with a rowdy history

Castleberry Hill is soaked in Georgia history. In “The most lawless year in Atlanta’s history,” published by Atlanta Magazine, author Rebecca Burns reported that an enclave of log cabins and wood huts, along what is now Peters Street, transformed into the infamous Snake Nation in the mid-1800′s. The enclave earned its name from snake oil peddlers and far more unsavory characters.

Following a rowdy, violent struggle between Mayor Norcross and the lawless Snake Nation, which included the firing of the city’s War of 1812 cannon at Norcross’ store, the enclave was ultimately burned down by supporters of the mayor’s Moral Party. Years later, merchant Daniel Castleberry opened a shop at the intersection of Peters and Fair streets, setting the wheels in motion for the community that now bears his name.

“You know what Snake Nation was, which is where they ran all the brothels and the liquor and all that were in these tunnels underneath all these buildings,” Pennington said. “It really was the seedy side of town, which I love that it has such a rugged sort of history.”

The Otis is a living space with grit, nestled in a community with character to match.

“I love that you have such a diverse community there,” Pennington said. “There are so many fun, creative, artistic folks. As you guys know, downtown Atlanta is literally blowing up. It’s the new Ponce City Highlands. There’s nowhere else to go, so just to see all this stuff being built and just knowing what’s coming with the restaurants and the shops – not to mention that the world cup is going to be there in 26′. I’m just super excited that we really stayed the course with this building because it’s been such an incredible journey. We built this building in the middle of a pandemic, which set everybody back.”

Luxury — with heritage in mind

Filled with both old and new design ideas, The Otis is a dwelling space decked out for luxury, but designed with the community’s history in mind.

“I wanted to bring that really upscale design feel to these spaces with the vertical assembly tile and the beautiful hand-made glazed feel to it, not to mention the historic flooring that goes in as well,” he said. “There are just so many elements of the units that really have that character.

“I also wanted to make sure we had brick, not only on the exterior, but also on the interior so that you really have that rustic feel that has been around for years. We carry that through on the other floors as well. Honestly, that’s the thing for me. I’m not going to build a drywall box. If I’m going to offer a product or a place to stay, definitely in that neighborhood, I wanted it to really be a showstopper.”

To make that happen, Pennington touched on and collaborated with every craftsman he could. For the reality TV star, staying still has never been much of an option.

“I’ve traveled so much in my life … it actually started in Japan when I was on a hovercraft,” he said, explaining his unusual collection of vomit bags that often make their way into some of his personal projects. “I was going with the waves on my way to this place, and on the way back, I noticed ‘wow, that’s a large vomit bag.’ Of course, you know I was in my 20′s and I think anything vomit or bathroom related is hilarious so I was like ‘I should hold onto this.’ On the way back, I totally understood why they had it. After that, I started collecting airplane vomit bags from far away countries like Thailand and the Philippines and all that. So I have like hundreds, even Ellen (DeGeneres) gave me a rare Filipino air bag. I was like, ‘This is amazing.’ Unfortunately, I’ve also moved on to new collections. I’m now collecting bedpans and I have a series of art that I’ll be doing on those as well.”

Much to the joy of The Otis’ realtor/agent, Nicholas Brown, Pennington says neither bedpan nor vomit bag art projects made their way into the Castleberry Hill building. Still, Pennington’s personal touches are all around. It’s a building that reflects Pennington, Castleberry Hill and the Otis Elevator Company in equal parts.

“I will say this, almost every piece of artwork in The Otis – not only in the spaces but also inside the gallery (which is the common areas) – is all my art because I sort of made a deadline for myself to also create some art and that’s how I get things done,” Pennington said. “‘Okay, you’ve got to finish the building, but you’ve also got to finish these pieces so that you sort of show everything at once. It’s awesome. It’s fun because I sort of try to push myself at the same time we have this deadline to finish the building.

“That way when you walk through the space, you are also getting a building that feels like I put a lot more into than just whether or not we put shoe molding down.”

It’s that attention to detail that Pennington believes is going to wow visitors.

“It’s almost like you see something new and different on each floor and you’re pretty blown away,” Pennington added. “I’m not going to lie. It’s pretty stunning once you get to the penthouse, because they are just really incredible.

“These days you’ve got to have a state of the art stove. You’ve got to have state of the art appliances. You’ve got to have an area to entertain, because that’s what loft living – to me – has always been about. Each of these units have that. From the minute you walk in, you are like ‘Wow, I could totally entertain and party here and have fun and feel like you’re at home.’ I think that’s what The Otis is. It’s a cool luxury, but historic place in the middle of a thriving, energetic sort of fun social scene. That’s what Atlanta, I think, is. It’s a bunch of little social areas where people hang. Castleberry definitely has its own.”

Slowed by the pandemic, The Otis renovations have been years in the making. Meanwhile, Pennington’s latest HGTV show just finished airing its second season this summer. “Battle on the Beach” season two took place in Surfside, Texas. When not working on his Savannah home or renovating The Otis, the Marietta native was living it up on Texas’s golden sands.

“Imagine this, the quintessential Texan cowboy with the handlebar mustache,” he said, describing his time surfing on the Surfside beaches. “I saw these old-school cats show up for this surf contest. Usually it’s a lot of younger guys, but these guys were the legends that came into town for the surf contest.

“I cruised by on my bike and I saw them and they had these handlebar mustaches and I was like ‘Oh my God, they’re surfing cowboys. This is awesome.’”

But it’s not all bedpans and handlebar mustaches. When it comes down to it, Pennington is about the art.

“I love the process of design,” he said. “In the beginning, you’re sort of doing a sketch. You’re talking about what it could be and then you actually start getting to the finished product and you really see how much goes into it. And hey payoff is just how beautiful it looks when you’re finally done, because a sketch is a sketch. Really seeing it, feeling it, walking the space, and also noticing how the space changes, even the sound and the feel as the materials come into it.”

For readers that have not picked up his book “Good Design Can Change Your Life: Beautiful Rooms, Inspiring Stories,” Pennington said that home design is not just for the professionals. It’s a process that can bring love and happiness inside anyone’s home. You just need to slap on that tool belt and start that dream project.

“My thing is this, spend your money on something that is going to make you happy with the home that you live in,” he said. “Whatever it is — like if it’s an outdoor tub, if it’s an outdoor pool — that’s going to make your place that … even if it’s just a window seat that’s going to create this little reading nook that’s going to bring you joy, I would say that’s what you need to do. I think sometimes we’re like, ‘Oh, it’s going to raise the value if we do this or we do that.’ Then you get a transformation where you’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s a little nicer.’ But, I don’t think you get as much of a spiritual awakening, as much of the joy from it.

“So the reason I wrote the book about ‘Good Design Can Change Your Life’ is because – not only did I see it firsthand on ‘Extreme (Makeover),’ but I think the space that you wake up into and especially the door that you walk into at the end of the day, how that space looks and how it makes you feel is so important and your mood. And that mood is going to be continued into your relationship and how long that’s going to last. So I think that good design, no joke. Really the space you live in has a direct effect on your mood. In turn, it effects your relationship. It effects everything, as well as your state of mind.

“I think sometimes we all need a little nice in our life.”

Units at The Otis, located at 154 Walker Street, start at $519,405 for a 1,117 square foot loft. The 2,839 square foot penthouse is priced at $1,320,135.