A Room with a View

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Gray Ellis and his son, Nik, take in the afternoon sun on their 15th-floor balcony at One City Center.
Gray Ellis and his son, Nik, take in the afternoon sun on their 15th-floor balcony at One City Center. Photography by Beth Mann

Gray Ellis moved from Treyburn – where he’d lived for eight years in a home that was more than 5,000 square feet – into a 1,600-square-foot One City Center apartment last November. Prior to that, he lived in Watts-Hillandale.

“But I think this one is my favorite,” Gray says.

He and his son, Nik, 14, share the two-bedroom, two-bathroom space, which also features a small den. Even when they lived in Treyburn, Gray maintained a small downtown apartment to make it easy to spend weekends enjoying the city. When they started thinking about their next move from Treyburn, Gray says, “Nik loved being downtown, and so I thought, ‘Huh, I should really consider this.’” By that point, all the One City Center condos were pre-sold, but since he wasn’t sure “that we would’ve liked to be in a condo for the next 20 years, I figured, it’s probably good to rent for a minute and see if we even like it,” Gray says, “and the answer is, ‘Yes, we do.’”

A metallic theme runs through the decor in the Ellis’ apartment, like this piece above Nik’s bed.
A metallic theme runs through the decor in the Ellis’ apartment, like this piece above Nik’s bed.

Moving from a home that was more than three times the size of the apartment required some downsizing – luckily, the folks who bought the home in Treyburn had similar tastes and wanted to keep a lot of the items in the home. Apart from that, “we just got rid of everything,” Gray says, and it shows. The decor in the apartment is straightforward and minimal. “It’s definitely simplified our lives.”

There is one piece of furniture, however, that Nik and Gray disagree on: the couch. “It is not my taste at all,” Gray says. “I promised him when we moved that we would get a reclining couch, so I did, and I’ve lived through it, as a good parent.”

And then there’s another object that adds sentimental value to the room – a piece of wall decor in the form of a mounted bull’s head. It’s traveled with them for nine years and is painted a different color to match the design of the room it’s in – it’s been white, pink, silver, and is now a dark bronze.

But nothing compares to the most significant aspect of the apartment: “This is the best view in Durham,” Gray says. “You cannot beat this.” He specifically chose this corner apartment, which has sightlines looking south and west, across the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, American Tobacco Campus and along West Main Street. You can even see University Tower and parts of UNC Hospitals in the distance. Gray chose this residence also for the floor it’s on – it’s just high enough to give a long-distance perspective, but low enough that details on the streets down below and, importantly, in the ballpark, can still be seen.

You just can’t beat a sunset from up here.

Besides, if you want that 28th-floor experience, it’s one quick elevator ride away. The club room – complete with a catering kitchen, lounge seating, flat-screen TVs and a ping pong table – provides both an escape when you’re working from home as well as a place for community. “We will definitely be up there watching some games, hanging out and meeting neighbors,” Gray says. And they’re both eager to make the most out of the rooftop pool as well. “We should go swimming tonight,” Nik suggests. They also frequently make use of the sixth floor’s fitness center.

Gray’s liquor cabinet that he bought specifically for his bourbon collection. The house plant, as with all the plants in the apartment, came from Stone Brothers & Byrd.
Gray’s liquor cabinet that he bought specifically for his bourbon collection. The house plant, as with all the plants in the apartment, came from Stone Brothers & Byrd.

“On the weekend, he has a routine of waking up on Saturday mornings and going over to Rise,” Gray says. “So I like to go over to the farmers market, pick up some things for the next week. We’ll hit the gym or just walk around the city. And if I don’t have him, then I might head to one of the local restaurants or bars; I’m a member of Union Member House, that’s two blocks from here. I go over to The Wine Feed a lot and hang out there; and it’s hard to find a bad meal on Main Street. One of his favorite places is Thai @Main Street. I like Luna.” They also frequent Pokéworks, which is on the retail level of One City Center, and, at the time of the interview, were eagerly awaiting the opening of other One City Center tenants B.Good and Juicekeys. “We don’t keep a lot of food in the fridge,” Gray says.

“When I moved here 20 years ago,” Gray says, “You wouldn’t be caught dead [downtown] in the evening. I used to work at a law office on the corner of Parrish and Mangum, and you would leave at 5 o’clock, go straight to your car, and you would leave. Now, you don’t want to leave, you want to be downtown.

“It’s the place to be.”

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Amanda MacLaren

Amanda MacLaren

Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Arizona, she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for eight years. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Guasaca.

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