Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fayetteville Food

There is a common thread of high quality that runs through all of the locally owned Fayetteville restaurants that is usually hard to find in towns this size, and we readily admit that it is one of the things that makes us want to spend more time in Fayetteville. We really haven't had a disappointing meal at any of them, but we are particularly fond of The Secret Sandwich Society and Diogi's and seem to gravitate back to those. Most of the meals we've had at Pies and Pints have been at the Charleston location, and it's comforting to know that we'll be able to have our favorite Black Bean Pie (with Pork) within walking distance of Lafayette Flats. 

Gumbo's (which by the way is moving soon to the space formerly occupied by The Vandalian) is a real treasure as is the Cathedral Café and Swirl. The Wildflour Bakery, in addition to having lots of sweet and tasty things, has some of the best hot dogs you can find any where in West Virginia (don't take our word for it - see this expert's opinion).

All of these places are a short walk from Lafayette Flats. We also heard a rumor that a well loved Oak Hill country-cooking restaurant will soon be branching out into Fayetteville and will be right next door to Lafayette Flats.

A short drive will take you to several other great local eateries like Dirty Ernies Rib Pit, Smokies on the Gorge, Chetty's Pub and The Burrito Bar. We're talking a lot of really good dining options in a town with a population of a few thousand people.

Each of our flats will have a kitchen, but with the breakfast, lunch and dinner options that Fayetteville provides, I suspect that they won't need to be used too much.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Art Fund

"Local, original art will be a key design feature of Lafayette Flats."

This was one of our very first thoughts when we began dreaming up plans for the place. We want to have lots of locally produced art in the space because a) we both love art, and b) because we want visitors to take away a view of West Virginia that is different from the stereotypes.

When we began budgeting however, we found that our desire might not be so readily attainable - at least at first. Oh, don't worry, there will be art even if we have to borrow from our home, but we've come up with a plan for making sure that there will be a continual and plentiful supply of fresh art adorning the walls of Lafayette Flats.

We considered - briefly - using the space as a gallery of sorts, where local artists could display works that guests could purchase. We quickly came to the realization that this would be too risky and hard to manage. Developing a purchasing system would be problematic since we live an hour away and then we'd have to figure out a way to procure new pieces to replace the sold ones. And since Lafayette Flats is meant to be "a home away from home", we really weren't keen on the idea of having labels and prices on the art. All things considered, we decided that we'd rather have a "permanent collection."

A part of our business plan is to have a building maintenance fund. This reserve will be funded by designating a percentage of rental fees until it has reached a balance that will ensure that a sudden building problem can be dealt with promptly. One day, while Amy was stressing over having enough art for each flat, she had a brilliant idea: "Why not also create an 'Art Fund' that will be used exclusively for buying new art?"

So now, as an addendum to our business plan, Lafayette Flats will dedicate a portion of vacation rental income to a fund that will be used to buy local art each year. We are really excited about this plan!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Research Mission - New Orleans

Back in the winter, before we had even begun to dream about Lafayette Flats, we were suffering from a bad case of cabin fever and booked a trip to New Orleans for the Spring. It turned out that the first week of May was a questionable time for us to take a trip since we were by then right in the middle of doing all of the legwork necessary to buy our building, but airlines don't care about such matters and they certainly weren't going to refund our long-booked tickets so we decided to use the trip as a fact-finding opportnity and booked a vacation rental apartment.

We were very fortunate to find anywhere to stay because we had unknowingly booked our trip during the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival (Jazzfest) which is second only to Mardis Gras in the number of visitors to the city. So nearly all the hotels were full and those that did still have rooms were asking a premium price for them. VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) came to our rescue and we found a great little place off the beaten path. Named "The Gates" this cute apartment was located on the ground floor of the owners' home and was a very well executed vacation rental.

The décor of the apartment was very much in line with our tastes and we took away several good ideas that we very well might employ at Lafayette Flats like nice unbreakable wine glasses, reusable shopping bags, local information and guides from a local insider's perspective and a chalkboard for guests to leave messages for future guests. We also liked the Mrs. Meyer's Cleaning products and unusual but useful items that were there for our use (like yoga mats). The owners also had a few really nice reused and repurposed items like a galvanized trash can inverted and used as a nightstand.

We also found a great idea for open shelves in the bathroom were guests can organize their belongings.

No place is perfect, though, and we took away a few "don'ts" too, like a perhaps too-cozy shower stall and area rugs that were a little harsh on bare feet.

So despite the bad timing, we really enjoyed our NOLA trip and learned a lot about the vacation rental biz. We hope that it pays off for our guests.

You can see The Gates information on VRBO.com by clinking this link. If you are planning a trip to New Orleans, we highly recommend this place.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Stone

Shawn -

The Lafayette Flats building is a beautiful example of early twentieth century cut stone construction. It is not stone veneer; the walls are over a foot thick and made of only stone and cement. This more than anything else is what drew me to the building.

Stone is in my blood. Almost literally. Probably literally. I have probably ingested enough stone dust and rock chips in my life that there probably are some minute stone particles coursing through my veins.

My father was a stone mason as was his father before him. My older brother and I were stone masons too until we decided that the work was too hard to do for very long, and one at a time we struck out to find our own way in the world that that didn't involve lugging around two-hundred pound boulders and beating them into  submission.

No really, I can't overstate what a big role stone has played in my life. The birth announcements that my parents sent out actually read "Announcing the arrival of a new stone mason" and had a line art drawing of a baby holding a mason's trowel.

So stone and I have a long history, and so do stone and Fayetteville. One of the most prominent features of Fayetteville is the huge stone retaining wall along Keller Avenue and N. Court Street which was built by Cieante Janutolo about the same time as Lafayette Flats was being built by Cinto Peraldo. Several other Italian stone masons lived in the area around this same time.

My father admired Italian stone masonry and even specialized in one pattern that he called "Florentine" because an old Italian mason in Charleston once told him that it was the way that the masons did it in his hometown of Florence. My father, never lacking self-confidence, always wanted to visit Florence to see if the masons there did stonework that was as good as his. He died in 1986 before he got the chance.

My brother who died two years ago also was a great stone mason but had a love/hate relationship with the art. On one hand he was never happier than he was after he completed a job and was able to stand back and admire his work, and he was never unhappier than struggling through the workless winters that go hand in hand with the business. This, along with his aching knees and bad back made him seek a career change in his late 30's.

I didn't last that long. My career in stone began in my 14th summer. I worked every summer after that and went full time for a couple of years before I left the business for good when I was 25. I certainly never achieved the proficiency of either my father or my brother, but I do carry forward a great admiration for the work that my father always called "Artistic Engineering."  He always said that a good stone mason had to be equal parts artist and engineer.

And so now when I look at good stonework, I see it through my father's and brother's critical eyes. I look for the uniformity of the mortar joints and the way the stone was faced by the mason as he selected each stone and made fine adjustments with a few skilled blows of his hammer. I imagine the pride in the mason's eyes at the end of each day as he took one last glance over his shoulder at the fruits of his labor.

I think my father and brother would approve of the way Lafayette Flats was built.

I know that I do.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Design, designs, designed.

Lots of things are being designed for Lafayette Flats. We have graphic designers working on a logo, Shawn has been refining the floor plans and Amy has been hard at work on putting together the designs for the apartments.

We haven't talked much about the apartments yet, but they each will consist of three rooms: one bathroom, one bedroom and one space that will be a combination of living space (with an extra bed), dining area and kitchen. Two of the apartments  will have great views of the Fayette County Courthouse and of Court Street, Fayetteville's main street. The bathrooms on these two front apartments will be very dramatic with two giant windows each so we want to do something very something special for those but we're not yet sure what that might be.

The other two apartments won't have the great view, but they will be on the sunny side of the building and have a bit larger living area. They will most likely be quieter, too, being on the opposite side of the building from the street. One of these units has very cool old kitchen cabinets in it that might stay, but the other will be new and unique.

While the second and third floors are pretty much identical, you won't get lost because each of the four apartments will have its own color palette and different design elements. Each one will also have unique design elements that are inspired by the colors. We'll be using some very cool décor items and finding surprising new uses for funky repurposed items.

The stairwells and hallways are also a blank canvas where we are looking forward to putting in some community items like perhaps a game table where guests can get to know each other without giving up the privacy of their own apartments. The entryway downstairs will be an information station for guests where they can find directions to the great restaurants and other attractions in Fayetteville.

As things progress and we get construction moving, watch this blog for photos of the work in progress. Please chime in with comments and suggestions any time. If you don't want to leave a public comment you can email us at lafayetteflats@gmail.com or Facebook us.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hurrying Up and Waiting

"The way-yay-ting is the hardest part." - Tom Petty

Our purchase contract says we have to close by July 15. That sounds like a long, long way away.

While the past month has been a whirlwind of activity, very little visible progress has been made thus far in the process of turning our building into Lafayette Flats. We've developed building plans and had a few contractors come out to give us estimates on some of the early work we'll need to do, but little evidence exists that anything is happening.

The wheels of finance and real estate move slowly. Currently we are waiting on the appraiser to do his work. That is not going fast enough for the tastes anyone involved, but we trust that it is moving forward. Legal work is also moving steadily along, but that too is out of our hands.

So we wait.

We are not patient people. We're both Type A personalities and by nature we want what we want when we want it. Waiting is not what we want.

Amy is using this waiting time to plan the decorating schemes for the four apartments (some of which we'll be sharing here in the coming days) and she has kept busy been collecting decor pieces and cataloging ideas incessantly since we started this process. Our basement in Charleston is becoming a staging ground for the work that will be done in Fayetteville later this summer.

Shawn had a flurry of activity in the beginning with developing the building and business plans, but now he has nothing to do with his excess energy, so he obsesses over details and waits.

And waits.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fire Marshal

Contrary to the stereotype, I have always found building code officials (sometimes more derisively called "building inspectors") to be sincere and decent people who earnestly want to do their job to the best of their ability. Most are pragmatic when it comes to interpreting building codes and try hard to work with developers and contractors to ensure that the building is safe. Sometimes complying with building codes is not economically feasible and most code officials I have worked with have tried to help find affordable solutions to difficult code problems.

Still, I never fail to get nervous when I submit plans for code review.

So after a week long wait, today was my plan review with the State Fire Marshal's office. I confess that I had been a bit stressed because hundred year old buildings are open to a lot of interpretation when it comes to fire safety codes. As I sat in the waiting area my stomach was in knots as I imagined all of the different ways that the Fire Marshal could shoot down our project even before it got up to speed.

I am thankful to report that the official was as accommodating and helpful as I could have hoped for. While it does look like we will lose a few of the architectural details inside (like the beautiful wooden and glass hallway doors with their still operational transoms), it looks like we'll be spared from doing anything to the outside of the building and we won't need a central fire alarm system. That could have been costly.

While nothing's official until we get the stamped plans and certificate back in the mail, we feel much better today and feel like we've cleared one more hurdle in making Lafayette Flats a reality.

Whew.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Building

The building that will soon become Lafayette Flats is known officially as the Malcolm Building. It is a contributing structure in Fayetteville's Historic District and is itself on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1906 to house the Fayette Bank (now located on the opposite end of the block) and has been used for many different purposes over its life including a bar, a library, a church and a restaurant. The basement housed a pool room for a long time and then a barber shop. The first floor is currently a law office which will remain for the foreseeable future.

In the 1920s while the building was serving as a restaurant it suffered a catastrophic fire. The stone exterior remained but the entire interior was gutted by the fire. The owners rebuilt by cutting holes in the side of the building and inserting large steel beams over which they built steel joist and concrete floors. If you look closely on the Wiseman Avenue side of the building you can see where they repaired the holes they made to insert the beams. The building is incredibly solid now and virtually fireproof because of the solid concrete and steel construction.

The interior finish of the building is in beautiful condition. The woodwork has mostly been preserved from the 1920's rebuild and very little has been painted over. Most of the doors have still operable transoms over them and many of the doors have the old frosted privacy glass in them. The old plaster looks like new throughout with almost no cracking; a testament to how solid the building is. Most of the windows have been replaced with newish double hung aluminum thermo pane units.

The electrical system is a scary mess, so that will be job one. The ancient boiler needs immediate attention but since we will be installing forced air heating and air conditioning, the boiler will probably be unhooked and left in place.

We look forward to showing you more pictures of building as work as it progresses. There are still some hurdles to clear before that happens (like the small detail of actually closing on the building) but we are already excited about getting to work. We hope you follow us and watch as this venerable old building becomes the coolest place to stay in West Virginia's coolest small town.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Monkey Love LLC

While Lafayette Flats is what we call our vacation rental, there is another strange name associated with the project that might require a little explanation: Monkey Love LLC.

As we wrote before, we don't usually buy each other gifts but once in a while one of us will see something that reminds us of the other and we can't resist the urge to buy it. One the very first such things was a little ceramic statue of two monkeys hugging and kissing on a bench. Shawn saw it at an antique store and immediately knew he had to buy it for Amy. The little statue sits in a prominent place in our home.

"Monkey Love" became one of Amy's pet names for Shawn and the little statue has become kind of a symbol of our relationship. 

When we had to think of a name for the LLC that would be the legal entity that would own Lafayette Flats, Monkey Love was the first thing that we thought of.

So now it's official. The IRS and the State of West Virginia now knows us at the owners of Monkey Love LLC. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

What's in a name?

We admit, the name is curious and it probably deserves some explanation.

The last one first - "Flats" We felt like the term "flat" described our rentals better than the word "apartment." Americans usually think of flats as somewhere English people in the movies live - maybe a little more exotic sounding than "apartments." We liked the term and more importantly we felt that it went well with "Lafayette", and read on to find out why that is so crucial.

Now any student of Fayetteville history knows that the town was first named "Vandalia" after its founder Abraham Vandal, a Revolutionary War veteran and local farmer. Sometime before 1837, though, the name of the town was changed and named after George Washington's trusted advisor Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier. Now that would have been a long name for sure, and so that is why they instead decided to name the town for his title, Marquis de La Fayette. Americans have paid many tributes to this man and that is why there are so many Lafayettes and Fayette Counties through the country. Since a statue of Lafayette stands just across the street, we felt that it would be appropriate to continue this tradition and call our building Lafayette.

But there is a deeper meaning too: When Amy was a child she had a Barbie Dream House. Not content to have just a dream house, she built several wings out of household tables and shelves and turned it into a Dream Hotel with a swimming pool, gift shop, a child care center, a maid's kitchen and laundry and many guest suites. The hotel even had it's own reception area and a hot dog stand. Amy would decorate the "rooms" of her hotel over and over again with doll house furniture and other objects such as rugs made from fabric swatches and construction paper placemats. Tweety, the family pet bird, could often be found manning the front desk.

The name of young Amy's Dream Hotel? Ask anyone who knows her well, because she tells the story often because it is one of her fondest childhood memories. The hotel was called...

...The Lafayette.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The beginning - a very good place to start

Lafayette Flats began with our simple desire to get out of town. We love our home in Charleston's East End but we really like to travel. We found out early in our relationship that we travel together well and we love to do it as often as we can. We love taking weekend driving trips to places like Asheville, Columbus, Charlotte and Louisville, and we've been all over our home state of West Virginia. Two years ago we drove across the country on Route 66 and last fall we  toured Northern California - Yosemite, Redwoods, Wine Country - we loved it all. But big trips are few and far between, so we satisfy our travelin' Jones by making the drive up to Fayetteville as often as we can. Maybe it's the Bacon Jam at The Secret Sandwich Society or the Ramp & Chorizo Tacos at Diogi's, but something keeps us coming back again and again.

We decided that it would be good to find an apartment to rent in Fayetteville because a) we love the town and its vibe, and b) it's close enough to Charleston to take off on a whim but close enough to make the morning commute if said whim came on a workday eve.

And so we set off to find a little cheap apartment in Fayetteville where we could leave a change of clothes and toothbrush. We knew it had to be in town or within walking distance of town but other than that we had no expectations. We watched the ads and made the trip to town on several occasions to check bulletin boards, but alas we found far more people looking for apartments than places to rent. One day when we were walking through town we saw a "for sale" sign on a building and began to wonder to each other if it might be feasible for us to buy a building where we could have an apartment and perhaps make it pay for itself by renting out other apartments. So we changed the way we looked, and instead of the "for rent" classifieds we looked at those that said "for sale." Our interest was caught first by a cute little house on High Street but it disappeared from the market before we could make an offer. Next we found an apartment building that was advertised for sale and we waited for months until the owner was ready to show it. While we waited to see inside the building we allowed ourselves to dream of what we could do there. We thought about the quaint little boutique hotel where we stayed in San Francisco and wondered if we could replicate it in Fayetteville. We schemed and planned and dreamed and imagined every possible scenario. We felt good about the vacation rental idea, which seemed to us a good compromise between running a hotel and being landlords; the former we knew we probably couldn't do and the latter we knew we didn't want to do. But we felt ourselves becoming part of the Fayetteville community even though we really knew nobody there, and by the time the showing was scheduled we had mentally bought the building - or at least some part of Fayetteville - and were now just waiting for the pieces to fall into place.

At the showing it didn't take us long before we decided that this particular building wasn't right for us, but we were fortunate to tour the building with two people who would play a big part in what would become Lafayette Flats. As we left the building a little deflated, Adam and Elizabeth told us that the stone building next door was also for sale. We were surprised; we had always loved this gorgeous cut-stone three story walkup and often had wondered about it from the street, but there had been no signs on it indicating that it was for sale. Elizabeth assured us that it was for sale and that her father was a realtor and had recently shown the building. She asked if we would be interested in looking at it and we immediately said "yes." At that very moment - no exaggeration - that very moment Elizabeth's father Charlie drove by and honked the horn at his daughter. She got him to come back and chat with us over coffee at Wildflour Bakery. Charlie told us that he felt that the property would be ideal as a vacation rental without knowing that we had been thinking about just that very thing.

We came back to Fayetteville the next week and looked at the building more closely and were amazed by its condition. We began to crunch the numbers and developing construction and business plans. We became more excited by the day at the prospect of owning not just a piece of the town we had come to love, but a historic building that would be a part of the next chapter in Fayetteville's history.

Now here's something you need to know about us; we don't buy each other gifts. oh, maybe a little trinket that we might find that made us think of the other (like the little ceramic monkeys kissing on a park bench - more about them later), but not perfunctory gifts like birthdays or Christmas; that's just not our style. But for our first wedding anniversary - said to be the "paper" anniversary - we gave each other the gift of a very special piece of paper: a contract to purchase the building that would soon become Lafayette Flats.