The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Money

June 8, 2014

Flat-out gorgeous

Fayetteville vacation rentals with a view all their own

FAYETTEVILLE — When Charleston-based couple Amy McLaughlin and Shawn Means took on the challenge of transforming a historic cut stone building in a downtown district into a four-unit vacation rental complex, they also set out on a mission to present an “alternative narrative” of West Virginia’s rich heritage through art and literature.

Enter LaFayette Flats, Fayetteville’s new set of eclectic, boutique vacation rentals situated directly across the street from the Fayette County Courthouse in a sturdy early-1900s Nuttall sandstone structure constructed by Fayette County’s famed architect Antonio Janutolo.   

When the building ownership officially changed into the couple’s hands on their one-year anniversary last summer, they initially intended for the renovation to be completed by Bridge Day. However, Means, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity for Kanawha and Putnam counties, soon realized the sheer integrity of the bomb-shelter quality structure was going to make the construction process a bit slower than anticipated.

Means, who comes from a family of stone masons, did the majority of the renovation work himself, even tasked with the daunting feat of drilling through the 22-inch thick sandstone slabs in order to install a new electrical system.

 After nearly 10 months of work, the LaFayette Flats officially opened in April, and Means and McLaughlin said that the grueling work is most certainly the most rewarding project the two have embarked on together yet.

While the lower level of the building is occupied by a law office, the upper two floors of the structure host four sprawling guest suites, complete with a compact kitchen, full bathroom and separate living and sleeping quarters.

After ascending the building’s first oak staircase, visitors are greeted by a funky gallery wall showcasing local artists. Mark Tobin Moore, a Charleston-based artist, gave the couple several large pieces of art to fill what was once sparse space, which now serves as a charming first-impression wall.

“The collection he gave us is by West Virginia artists, which that really fit in to what we were trying to do here, which was showcase the best of West Virginia in a nontraditional way,” said McLaughlin.

Another characteristic of LaFayette Flats that lends itself to that same concept is the unique set of names that Means and McLaughlin chose for their individual rentals.

“We wanted to have names that meant something locally, but weren’t so tired and overused,” said Means.

McLaughlin ended up coming up with the names Nuttall, Corten, Eddy and Quinnimont, with each holding its own significance in the New River Gorge region.

“We started thinking about what quintessentially made the Gorge ‘the Gorge’ for us, and we pulled out the components of the New River Gorge that we thought best represented it,” said McLaughlin.

The names then inspired local artist Chris Dutch to create corresponding stained-glass window transoms to adorn the tops of each flat’s entry door.

“He took the names and then created a piece of stained glass to represent the name for each room,” said McLaughlin.

Nuttall and Corten occupy the second floor, the former named after the dense Nuttall sandstone that comprises the cliff and canyon walls of the New River Gorge. The latter was inspired by the Corten steel used to construct the iconic New River Gorge Bridge.

On the third floor, Eddy, named after the small whirlpools rafters flock to in the New River, sits beside Quinnimont, the Latin-derived word meaning “five mountains.”

Inside each flat, McLaughlin, director of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Charleston’s East End, used her thrifting skills to repurpose and upcycle various items from her store.

In Nuttall, a weathered wood door with peeling paint serves as the living room coffee table, while a vintage world map hangs on the bedroom’s largest feature wall.

 A “community” bookshelf situated in the hallway is stuffed with West Virginia-themed books for guests to borrow, including “Crum” by Lee Maynard, which Means described as Appalachia’s equivalent of “The Catcher in the Rye.”

 “Through the artwork and the books that we have, we just want to showcase new and different reasons why West Virginia is great,” said McLaughlin. “What we try to do is represent the coolness of West Virginia in a different way.”

Means and McLaughlin said that the reception to the Flats has been strong from both the Fayetteville community and inquiring tourists. Originally intended to fill a new niche for Fayetteville travelers, McLaughlin said that LaFayette Flats was designed for couples or small families seeking a comfortable lodging experience outside the normal chain hotels or rural cabins.

“From the very beginning we’ve had nothing but compliments from the folks in town; they love what we’re doing,” said Means. “The business people downtown understand the value of having people staying downtown, and I think that they like what we’re doing here.”

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com

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