FAYETTEVILLE — What began for Charlestonians Shawn Means and Amy McLaughlin as a quest for a cheap apartment from which they could base weekend and holiday adventures in and around the New River Gorge evolved into Lafayette Flats — an array of four elegant, art-filled apartments for vacationers in a 110-year-old former bank across the street from the Fayette County Courthouse.
After realizing that they were spending the majority of their free time exploring the Gorge and enjoying the restaurants and shops of one of “America’s Top 10 Coolest Small Towns,” as Fayetteville was dubbed by Budget Travel magazine, Means, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity for Kanawha and Putnam Counties, and his wife, Amy McLaughlin, director of the nonprofit’s ReStore operation,began looking for a place in town to stow their hiking boots and leave their toothbrushes between visits.
“But we couldn’t find anything we liked,” Means said. Nearly all of the smaller, less-expensive places were already rented, he said, often to rafting and climbing guides and other employees of the tourism-based local economy. “So we started thinking on a larger scale, and looked at some houses and other buildings.”
As they considered other vacation housing possibilities the couple began to realize that there was a customer niche in the area’s lodging market that wasn’t being adequately addressed by campgrounds, motels or rental cabins. “For couples and small families who don’t want to camp, find the rental cabins too large for their needs, or want to be close to the restaurants and amenities of Fayetteville, there weren’t a lot of options,” said McLaughlin.
The couple briefly toyed with the idea of creating a small boutique hotel, but then decided a better option would be to buy a small apartment building in which they would keep one apartment and rent out the rest to vacationers who fit the niche market they had identified.
They went to a showing of a downtown building they thought would fit the bill, but during a showing, realized it wasn’t what they were looking for. As they left the site, they were told that a nearby three-story building made of locally cut Nuttall sandstone blocks, was also on the market.
It was the former Bank of Fayette building, a structure Means and McLaughlin had admired but considered unavailable. After touring the 1904-vintage building and taking into account its sturdy frame and excellent interior condition, they decided it was the building in which to launch their dream of owning a historic piece of the town they’d come to love, and take it into the next chapter of Fayetteville’s history.
“We signed the contract on our first anniversary,” said McLaughlin, making it the perfect gift for the traditional “paper” anniversary. But work on converting the building to its new role began on the night of the couple’s June 21 anniversary, and continued until just before last Sunday’s open house celebration.
Built by Italian stonemasons, the building served as the bank’s headquarters for about 10 years, when the bank moved into what is now the City Hall building, a short distance up Court Street. A restaurant was housed within the building until the mid-1920s, when it was gutted by fire. As part of the rebuilding process, huge steel beams were intersticed through the stonework at each level to support new concrete floors, giving the building bomb shelter-grade strength and durability.
In the years following the fire, the building housed a church meeting hall, law offices, and in the 1960s, the 20th Century Club bar and pool room. A law office continues to occupy the ground floor.
Today, after nearly a year of toil by Means and McLaughlin and their contractors, friends and family, the upper two stories of the former bank building contain four stylish flats that blend the solid, spacious character of the old building with sleek new amenities and stylish color schemes.
“We had hoped to get it open in time for last year’s Bridge Day, but that turned out to be an overly optimistic goal,” McLaughlin said.
“Everything ended up taking longer than we thought it would,” her husband said. The building’s super-thick hard-rock walls were responsible for much of the delay, he said.
Though no stranger to home construction through his work at Habitat for Humanity, Means said Lafayette Flats “is one of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on. I can’t remember how many drill bits we’ve gone through” to create voids in the rock work to accommodate water pipes and wiring conduits.
Means, McLaughlin and McLaughlin’s father, Carl McLaughlin of Charleston, handled virtually all of the remodeling work except for HVAC, plumbing and wiring.
“We left as much of the woodwork intact as possible, and except for two doors, it’s all here,” said Means. A section of stairwell banister needed to be replaced, but a piece of aged white oak found in the building was a near perfect match.
Exposed ductwork was used to convey hot and cold air to the four flats — the preferred HVAC mode when renovating historic buildings — but steam radiators were left in the apartments, given cushioned tops and re-purposed as window benches.
Original art by West Virginia artists is found throughout Lafayette Flats, including pieces by Blake Wheeler, Mark Tobin Moore, Steve Pauley, Paula Clendenin, Charles Jupiter Hamilton, David Frazier, Michael Ivey, Kane Klingaman, Staci Leech-Corness, Eric Pardue, David Dowdy, Thom Smith, Jamie Miller, Tandi Stephens, Michael Turner, Meredith Gregg, Tracy Higginbotham, Mike Dale, Molly Wolff, Robert Villamagna, Sally Romayne, Sam Starcher, Jessica Weathersby, Ginger Danz, Hank Keeling and Randall Sanger.
Stained glass panels topping transom doors were created by Chris Dutch of Charleston.
A collection of more than 100 books about West Virginia or by West Virginia authors can be found in common area bookcases.
Other West Virginia touches include Fiestaware-equipped kitchens in each flat, handmade furniture by Virgin Timber of Oak Hill from reclaimed Mountain State lumber, an original musical manuscript by West Virginia-born composer and Fulbright Scholar Joseph Dangerfield, and photos of traditional West Virginia foods ranging from ramps and pawpaws to Tudor’s Biscuit breakfast sandwiches.
The flats were given names to reflect the beauty, durability and history of the Fayetteville area. The largest of the four units is Nuttall, which faces the Courthouse on the building’s second floor. The flat gets its name from the sandstone type that draws climbers to the New River Gorge from around the world. Corten, a second-floor flat at the rear of the building, is named for the durable weathering steel that makes up the New River Gorge Bridge. Quinnimont, the front unit on the third floor, gets its name from one of the New River Gorge’s oldest mining towns, and from its Latin-derived “five mountains” definition. Eddy, the second third-floor flat, is named for the calm water that lies below a rapid.
While all the flats reflect the history of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there is no lack of modern conveniences, including flat screen televisions and wireless Internet connections in every room. Because the units are apartments, each is equipped with a private bathroom, kitchen and dining area, tableware settings and cookware, and new appliances. Rates for the units start at $200 per night, with a two-day minimum stay.
For reservations or more information about Lafayette Flats visit www.lafayetteflats.com or call 304-900-3301.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at
email@example.com or 304-348-5169.