Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Old Georgetown shoe factory is home

Jodi Brown and her two sons, Ozzie (L) and Iggy(R), and dog Monk, in their home and former shoe factory. Photo by Joshua Huston

Where we live: This old shoe factory is home

Teens alternate industrial Georgetown vibe with country living

The industrial setting of Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, with the smells and sounds of surrounding factories and breweries, isn’t idyllic for raising kids — but that’s exactly where Jodi Brown found herself after a divorce in 2017. To make the situation even more interesting, Brown moved with her sons, Ozzie and Iggy (now 15 and 16 years old), into a former shoe factory built in 1907 and converted into artist lofts in 1989.

‘Factory art studio vibe’

From the outside, the building is a big rectangular box. Inside, five floors are divided into quadrants. Brown’s unit is a long, narrow space, measuring about 1,550 square feet, with tall ceilings — the “factory art studio vibe,” as she describes it. 

“When I had the inspection done on the place, the inspector said it was as solid as a building could be, built with cinder blocks and old factory materials.” 

The building is restricted to residents with a sustained and committed art practice, so Brown — a retail designer and visual artist — was able to secure a unit after passing a rigorous vetting process. 

Affordable space for an artist mom

“I would never have been able to buy this much space if it had been a traditional building,” Brown says.

“When you buy, you have to be aware that you’re not going to buy it as an investment,” Brown explains. “You’re buying it because you’re an artist, and this building is more affordable for people to have space to make art.”

Splitting time between two very different households

When Brown’s family moved into the artists’ co-op, her sons were still splitting their time with their dad on Vashon Island, which is as different a setting from Georgetown as you could get. Living in the space felt like sleeping in a train station, with bright security lights from neighboring buildings flooding the bedrooms and loud industrial noises. Propane tanks occasionally exploded under the nearby overpass.

“[Georgetown] feels diametrically opposed to being on Vashon, where it’s very, very quiet, and the silence almost is a presence on its own. The sounds here have their own personality,” Brown says. “[The boys] were a little bit freaked out by the neighborhood and the fact that [we lived in] an old factory building. But it’s their other home to them now.”

Would the kids get bored?

Brown worried that her kids would get bored being inside all the time without a yard. A park was within walking distance, but Brown didn’t feel comfortable sending her young kids outside on their own. Thankfully, with her sons living part-time on Vashon, Brown knew they were getting ample time outdoors and with friends.

For several years, the boys would wake up early and catch the ferry to Vashon for school. During the pandemic, online learning allowed the boys to do school from either home. But afterward, the boys balked at the early wake-up times of the pre-pandemic days, and now spend their weekdays on Vashon, with most weekends with Brown in Seattle.

A mix of new and old community approach

Brown describes the community within the building as “somewhere between that sort of nostalgic, traditional sense of knowing your neighbor and the modern trope of the next-door stranger.” The family doesn’t spend a lot of time with their neighbors outside of the residents’ monthly gatherings, but there’s enough trust and community built in that neighbors can count on each other for support — or a cup of sugar — when needed.

The unconventional living environment “normalizes and opens [my sons’] minds to alternate ways of living, thinking, and making a living,” Brown says “It creates a broader landscape of feasible possibilities for the way you envision your future and your life. There’s a unique sense of community when we all come together to rake or do a holiday party or open studio every year.”

Like mom, like sons

For many years, Ozzie and Iggy have participated in the building’s annual open studio events and made and sold art alongside Brown. When the boys created political art during the 2016 election season, the neighbors applauded and supported their creative efforts—something that Brown recognizes may not have happened in a non-artist community.

Ozzie continues to integrate art into his everyday life, which he attributes to living in the co-op. “It has changed my perspective and how I look at the world, I think in a positive way,” he says.  

Iggy agrees with his brother about the impact Georgetown and the co-op had on his perception of creativity and art. “The building and the location can be a little bit isolating sometimes, though,” he says. 

Seeds coming to fruition

“Now that they’re older, the benefits outweigh the challenges,” Brown says, adding that the challenges of being a single mom are conflated with those of the specific living situation. “All of the planting of seeds of that flexibility is coming to fruition. Their needs are not as specific as when they were kids. And they’re so much more independent and figuring stuff out on their own.”  

Read more:

Where we live: Two families own one home

About the Author

Melody Ip

Melody Ip has been an avid writer since she got her first diary at the age of 5. Today, she is a freelance copy editor and writer, in addition to being the copy chief for Mochi Magazine. She loves the trees and rain of the Pacific Northwest, still sends handwritten letters, and always has at least five books on her nightstand.