The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Money

June 30, 2013

Flat out cool

FAYETTEVILLE — The “Coolest Small Town” needs a cool place to stay. So says a couple from Charleston that is renovating a historic cut stone building in downtown Fayetteville into Lafayette Flats — a set of hip, contemporary vacation rentals geared toward  couples.

A contract on the Malcolm Building, located on the town’s main courthouse square, was the gift Amy McLaughlin and Shawn Means gave to each other for their first wedding anniversary, a moment usually marked with paper gifts.

The deal became official last Friday, and now the couple is hard at work clearing out decades of basement flotsam, replacing electrical wiring and bringing the building up to code.

Having both grown up in Charleston, Shawn and Amy were both familiar with the area before they ever decided to invest here. But on visits to Fayetteville over the years, they could never quite find the right place for an overnight stay.

Most vacation rentals in the area were either giant homes for families, chain hotels or cabins in the woods, none of which quite suited their tastes.

“We think there’s definitely a market for couples who don’t want to rent a 5,000-square-foot home or be out in the middle of the woods,” says Shawn. “There’s nothing comparable in the area.”

“We can both feel the buzz about Fayetteville,” says Amy. “It’s not just the Boy Scouts, but in general people are wanting to make day trips here.”

Their reasons for their repeat visits to town, they say, included unique restaurants, beautiful views and the overall “vibe” of the place.

“There are things here we simply can’t do in Charleston,” says Shawn.

They finally decided to buy instead of rent. The cut stone Malcolm Building, which had been on the market for some time, appealed to them on a number of levels.

Its cut stone, wooden flourishes and enormous windows appealed to their taste and felt right as soon as they walked inside.

Shawn comes from a family of stone masons. When he was born, his parents sent out birth announcements that read, “Announcing the arrival of a new stone mason.”

“It really is what attracted me to the building in particular. I’m really impressed by the quality of workmanship in the building. The little details show that someone really put their heart and soul into it,” he says.

“You couldn’t find a mason here today who could imitate that stuff.”

That personal history marries well with Fayetteville’s renowned historic stone work — the product of highly-skilled Italian craftsmen from families like the Janutolos and Peraldos — which can be seen all over town.

Amy’s father, Carl McLaughlin, has taken it as his personal mission to gather the building’s history. So far, they know the building has been used as a bank, a restaurant, private library, various bars and a law office.

They hope that members of the community will be in touch about the building’s history and add to the emerging story.

The building’s age also means a substantial need for upgrade, but the couple has plenty of experience with building renovation and housing development.

Amy is the director of the ReStore on Charleston’s East End, which sells used and surplus building materials. Shawn has a background in construction and is the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Kanawha and Putnam counties.

Each of the four vacation apartments will feature a master bedroom and a convertible couch for the occasional kid or extra guest.

Amy, especially, is excited by the challenge of decorating the apartments in style on a limited budget.

“They’re going to be pretty funky. Each apartment will have its own flair and color palette. We’re not doing the monochromatic hotel room situation,” she says. “To do it on a budget is fun for me.”

Fans and patrons of local art, the couple plans to incorporate original artwork into the units in the long term, as their budget permits. But for now, Amy is using her DIY crafting skills to find short-term but attractive solutions to empty walls — photo collages, upcycled antiques and large, old maps, for instance.

The tag line they are batting around for Lafayette Flats, “Extreme Adventures Need Not Be Uncivilized,” reflects their appreciation of aesthetics as well as outdoor recreation.

Those who have experienced Fayetteville’s lack of affordable rental housing may be disappointed to learn that the apartments won’t be available as long-term rentals.

The couple say they appreciate that concern, especially given their line of work. But in the end, they decided that they don’t want to be landlords. Not only that, they say it was financially unfeasible to provide market-rate housing, given the significant renovation costs.

“It’s going to require an extraordinary amount of work to get it back to a usable point, and at that point it’s just not workable financially,” says Shawn.

The couple purchased the building from the Chapman family. Keenan Law Offices is currently housed in the first floor, and will continue to do business there during and after the renovation.

Amy and Shawn say the Fayetteville community has been very supportive of their project so far.

“I think there’s something about doing a venture like this in a small town. In Charleston, we might be lost in the noise. Here, it might actually help the entire town, and that’s appealing to me,” says Shawn.

The couple’s goal is to have the apartments ready to rent out by Bridge Day in October. They anticipate taking reservations beginning in September.

To follow the progress of the project, check out the couple’s blog at lafayetteflats.com or their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/LafayetteFlats.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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