Sunday, June 30, 2013

Steel, Concrete and Plaster

Our first weekend working on the building that will soon become Lafayette Flats was spent poking and prodding to discover what lies beneath the beautifully preserved interior walls, and to discover the spaces into which the new plumbing, electrical and HVAC facilities will have to be fit. Not many surprises yet, except that we continue to be surprised by how incredibly well this building was built.

Now our construction plans call for saving all of the original interior walls and ceilings. We don't take lightly the idea that we are merely stewards of this historic building and we want to preserve as much of it as possible for future stewards who, like us, love the idea of preserving the building's past while using it for modern purposes. We are adding only four small partitions and moving a couple of doors to satisfy the Fire Marshal's requirements, but other than that, the building is going to stay as it has been since it was rebuilt after it was gutted by fire in 1920s. But as we wrote before, we do have to poke some holes and open up some ceilings here and there just to make the building safe and comfortable; we are trying to make these openings in the most inconspicuous places possible.

When we cut away a section of the 2nd floor ceiling (that will be inside the small mechanical room that we are adding) we found an amazing story that was told by the structural members that haven't seen the light of day for more that 80 years. We always knew the building was solid, but until today we really didn't appreciate why. It appears that the owners who rebuilt after the fire did so in such a way as to insure it would never, ever burn again. We knew that the Wiseman Avenue side of the building had been surgically opened and that steel beams has been inserted into these openings, but today we got to see and touch one of these beams - a behemoth 18" I-Beam, thirty feet long resting on solid stone exterior walls. Each of these beams is stabilized by smaller 6" beams fit perpendicularly between the large beams. 12" steel bar joists, supported by the large main beams, have a wire lathe wired on both top and bottom of the joists: the top to support the 4" thick concrete floors and the bottom to support plaster ceilings. The plaster itself is over 1" thick and unbelievably hard: Removing a 3' x 2' section of this ceiling ruined five reciprocating saw blades. We're really glad now that we decided not to remove walls!

We've written before about the appreciation we feel toward the master stone mason who built the beautiful exterior façade. After this weekend, we have a new appreciation for the steelworkers who meticulously rebuilt the interior skeleton that gives support to the concrete and plaster that defines the spaces that will soon be a safe and secure home away from home for us and our guests. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Let's Get It Started!

We got our building permit so now it's time to get the party started!

This week we hope to sign up our first subcontractors and get some of the long lead time material ordered. Once we have some starting date commitments from subcontractors then we'll be able to concentrate on some of the "sweat equity" jobs that we'll be doing to get ready for the subs; things like dismantling some zealously installed shelving units and uncovering some long forgotten interior trim details.

Shawn is particularly looking forward to working on the windows. There are five windows on the upper floors that have to be replaced (to provide some uniformity and to ensure emergency escape access) and the first floor windows on the Wiseman Avenue side of the building need to be uncovered and restored to their original configuration (well, almost original - since the sidewalk that used to be there is now part of the street, the original door cannot be restored). We'd love to be able to restore the entire façade of the building to the way it looked 100 years ago, but we're not able to do that right now. Maybe in the future though...

We've come up with what we think is a great idea to save the beautiful interior hallway door trim and transoms. Since the Fire Marshal is requiring that these openings have fire rated doors and frames, we were afraid we were going to lose this important interior detail. We'll share that plan in another blog post after we're sure we can accomplish it satisfactorily.

The one daunting task ahead of us is cleaning out the basement. We're not sure for how long, but for many, many years now it has been used as a catch-all for who knows how many tenants of the building to store whatever they thought they might want to keep for someday. It is now just jam-packed with piles and piles of who-knows-what that have to come out to make room for plumbers and electricians to do their work. It's going to be interesting to see what we find down there. Anyone know how to get in touch with American Pickers?

Lots of hard work ahead, but really, this is so much better than the waiting game we've been plaing for the past two months. So as we said before, let's get it started.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The waiting ends.

It seems like a lot longer, but two months and eight days after we made an offer on the building, it is finally ours. We closed this morning and after treating our lawyer to a "thank you" lunch at Chetty's, we spent the rest of the day measuring and having our first opportunity to get close up looks at some of the nooks and crannies that we will no doubt become very familiar with over the next few months. We'll begin ordering materials soon and have already started talking to the subcontractors who will be doing the major work.

We also had a chance to spend a little time meeting a few more great local Fayetteville folks. We love the warm reception we've been getting and it's encouraging to hear that so many people are aware of our project. It's doubly special when we meet people who have been following Lafayette Flats on Facebook and/or this blog!

We'll be around on the weekends for the next several weeks. Feel free to stop by and say hello!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

West Virginia Day

Shawn -

When I was in third grade I found out that my cousins in Ohio didn't celebrate West Virginia Day.

It seems silly now, but when I was a kid West Virginia Day was a big deal in my community. People were off work and there were special things that happened around town. The radio station would play "My West Virginia Hills" and people would sing along. A nine year old kid thinks the whole world is just like the part of the world immediately around him, so I thought West Virginia Day was something that people all over the country celebrated. It never seemed strange to me that we didn't celebrate Ohio Day, because I'd been to Ohio and it was nothing special to my eyes. I had been taught my whole life that West Virginia was indeed something special and so I thought it was logical that the whole world would pause on June 20th and observe the momentous occasion of its founding.

"We're the most northern southern state," my mother told me, "and the most southern northern state; the most eastern western state and the most western eastern state." Surely that alone was a designation that was worthy of a national holiday, I thought.

And my eyes could see the beauty that was all around me, and in my travels to other states I had never seen anything as wonderful as Cranberry Glades, Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley, Spruce Knob, Seneca Rocks, Summersville Lake or a dozen other places that I had seen as a young child. I was certain that the state we lived in was a blessed gift to the world and it was worthy to be celebrated.

It was only after I became a young adult that I began to realize that West Virginia was not universally loved and appreciated. At some point I began to realize that people from other places mistook our unique way of speaking for ignorance. They mistook our simple lifestyle for abject poverty. They mistook our preference for staying in West Virginia to find a way to make a living for lack of ambition. And with all of these mistaken presumptions came a negative view of our people and by association, our state.

But I know better, and so do most West Virginians. While some of our own people buy into this fatalistic self-view, I believe that many more of us are quietly counting our blessings that come with living in a place so richly blessed with beautiful natural resources and wonderful people. We grouse about our politicians like people do in every state in the union, and we wax nostalgically for the good old days like people do everywhere. But at the end of the day there is no place we'd rather live and that is why we stay.

If people around this country were allowed to see the real West Virginia, I'd bet they all really would celebrate this day.

Happy 150th, my beloved homeland.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

One more week.

Our closing is set for next Friday. Most of the difficult details are tied down, some tighter than others, but it seems manageable. Once we close, the work will turn from mental to physical, but we're ready for it.

Meanwhile, Amy's dad, Carl, is fast becoming the official historian of Lafayette Flats. One of the neat things he dug up was this newspaper article from 1904. Among other things, the article says that the building was going to be finished by October 1 of that year. Another article he found - from October - said that the building was still under construction and was expected to be completed by year's end. It doesn't say what the delay was, and he hasn't yet found an article that says when indeed the building was finished, but it seems it should have been around the end of 1904 or early 1905 (We're really hoping that history doesn't repeat itself; we also have a planned completion date in October!).

Now the historic register claims that the building was built in 1906, and it mentions Cinto Peraldo as the person who built it. The newspaper article says that Antonio Janutolo was the builder and clearly documents that construction was begun in 1904. We're hoping Carl can find out the reason for these discrepancies.

There are lots more interesting things that Carl has uncovered about the building, the bank and the people who ran the banks, but we'll let him tell you about that another time. We've asked him to do some guest blogging for us, so expect to see some history lessons from him to show up here soon.

If you have any history tidbits about our building we'd love to hear them. You can leave them as comments on this blog or email them to us at 

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Two weeks until we close. The waiting is driving us crazy.

Amy has channeled her nervous energy into making lists. Amy loves her lists (she claims that she dreams in lists) and she has a list for everything. Lists of things that we need to do. Lists of people we need to contact. Lists of items we need to purchase. She even has a list of all of the lists that she has made. No joke.

Some future Lafayette Flats décor items residing in our basement
One of her lists has been slowly but surely turning into an ever-growing collection of décor items and housewares that is taking over our basement and spare bedroom. She has a detailed mental picture of how she wants each space in Lafayette Flats to look and whenever she finds a new piece of the puzzle she buys it and crosses it off the list. Shawn can only stand by and watch, because the visual part of this list resides mostly inside of Amy's head.

Shawn has lists too. One of them is a list of returned phone calls we're waiting on. This list is very long, because people don't seem to want to call us back.

Now we know that part of the reason people aren't calling us back is skepticism. Since we're committed to using local contractors as much as possible for the work at Lafayette Flats, it means that we're having to introduce ourselves to lots of new people and convince these folks that we're for real; we'd probably feel the same way if we were them. It will take some time for them to realize we're serious and then I am sure they will start calling back. At least I hope so.

So if you are reading this and are one of those people we have called, please call us back.

Also, we are still looking for some local sub-contractors in just about every trade, so if you are one or if you have any recommendations on people we should use, please email us at

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Interior Design

Hi, Amy here - the other half of team Lafayette Flats.

It's my turn to write a blog post, but I hate writing. Maybe it's because I grew up the daughter of grammar teacher, or maybe it's an inferiority complex that has developed from living and working with Shawn. I don't much care to analyze it, just prefer not to do it. So, I'll show you pictures instead!

Check out this Pinterest board of our home in Charleston. The Flats will have a similar look and feel. It's a little quirky, we know, and we're o.k. with that. Enjoy!

Monday, June 3, 2013


We've not mentioned it before, but we do have day jobs that we are very passionate about and plan to keep. Lafayette Flats is an extra-curricular activity for us. Thus far we've been able to do most of the planning work in the evenings, on lunch hours and on weekends, but once we close on the building (hopefully in about 3 weeks) we'll have to be in Fayetteville a lot. With this in mind, we've banked as much vacation time as possible with our jobs and we will be staying in Fayetteville on weekends as soon as we can get one of the flats ready to occupy.

The current electric situation.
The first thing that has to happen to the building before we can start staying there regularly is to install a new electrical service. In 1906, electricity was a newfangled idea that almost certainly was considered a luxury even for a bank - and so we're not certain if the original building plan included any electrical facilities. We know that when the interior of the building was rebuilt after a fire in the 1920s, electricity was added but it was no doubt minimal and very light duty - providing only enough juice to power a few light bulbs. Unfortunately, as the building's electrical needs increased, the 1920's system was never replaced; new circuits were just added on from time to time. The result is a pretty sketchy network of fuse boxes and breaker panels that are in bad need of replacement. To support four modernly equipped flats and to supply adequate power to the offices on the first floor, the whole shebang is going to have to be upgraded. From new meter bases all the way through to the outlets, Lafayette Flats will have a brand spanking new 2013 vintage electrical system.

One side benefit of replacing the electrical service is that the power company's service wires can be moved to the rear so they won't have to run awkwardly across the Court Street façade, so this new system will help us to recapture the old look of the building.

For the occupants, the benefits will be greater. Right now there are very few outlets in the building. We'll be installing a bunch of outlets in every room so there won't any shortage of places to plug in your gadgets, and some of the outlets will have a built in USB jack to make charging cell phones and iPods more convenient.

As we've written before, the old plaster walls are in pristine condition and so instead of cutting into them to run a lot of wire, we've decided to use surface mounted wire mold. This is actually the more historically accurate way to run the electric since the original construction had no wires concealed in the walls and some wire mold is already in use in the building. We'll be using the Wiremold Series 500, which has been in production since the 1920s and could very well be the exact same product that is already in place. Our 100 year old home in Charleston has much of its wiring installed this way and we feel it will be perfectly suitable for Lafayette Flats too.

Of course we'll be adding cable TV and WiFi Internet as well, but more about that in another post.

So anyway, as soon as the new electrical system is installed we can move ourselves into one of the flats and stay there on weekends and vacation days. We're looking forward to be able to burn the midnight oil - or rather, electricity - after waiting so long to get started. There will be a whole lot of labor intensive preparation that we'll be doing to get ready for the plumbers and other subcontractors, and after crouching at the starting line for so long we are more than ready to get to work.