This project was a complete renovation that also included historic preservation. The building, built around 1910, had been a buggy and livery company. Then in the 1940s it became a Chevrolet dealership. Upstairs was just a shell, but downstairs we had to rip out the cubicles from the car dealership. I worked with the architects on the flooring, the molding, the hardware for the doors, the plumbing fixtures, carpet and lighting. I picked neutral colors so your eyes would not be drawn to the walls. When you walk in, I want you to really notice the restored tin ceiling and the old beams. With a building like this, you want to show the building off, not so much the d√©cor.
The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation made requests for certain things to be preserved. For example, downstairs they wanted the original tin ceiling to be seen. There had been a drop ceiling, and when we took it out we found the tin. So we built the office walls up to only eight feet and then made the walls of glass from there up to leave the tin ceiling visible. In one law office upstairs they didn‚Äôt want the fire door taken out, and they wanted some ceiling beams exposed. They wanted to see the old elevator that the buggy company used to get the crated buggies upstairs where they put them together, so we encased that in glass. They were also very happy that we wanted to leave the brick exposed in another of the upstairs offices.
The file room used to be the old elevator. It has the original floor and all the mechanics of the elevator; cage, gears and cables. Upstairs you can see the mechanics that we had enclosed in glass. The center beam was also preserved. It is one solid, heart-pine beam from the floor downstairs all the way up to the center part of the roof upstairs. We left it exposed with all of its age-old discoloration and the wear.
The most challenging thing was the floor upstairs. In the early forties and fifties, cars came in crates. They would be put on that elevator, the crate would be brought up and the mechanics would assemble the car upstairs. Then they put them on the elevator and took them downstairs to the showroom. So the upstairs wood floor had tire ruts, like a dirt road, and you could see where the tires had been. The floor was off-level 9 inches: it just sagged. You can still see the beam system and the rod with the nut and bolt system that had to be tightened. We actually had to get house jacks in here to level it and then make the post behind it to keep it level. This building was also off square by 6 inches, so one office floor is laid on a diagonal so that you couldn‚Äôt tell that the building was off square.
An original fire door from when this was a buggy and livery stable is preserved in one office upstairs. There was a wing off that side of the building for the stable and a loft where hay was stored. That fireproof door could be closed so that if the stable and the hay ever caught on fire, it wouldn‚Äôt burn the whole building down.
In another office you can see where we left the top two rows of exposed brick. We hired a man to clean the rest of the exposed brick wall. He used an acid wash and a steel brush, actually chiseling the paint off brick by brick, and then he put on a sealer to keep the brick from flaking and dusting.
In the library and the conference room I followed the example of Low Country Louisiana architect, A. Hays Town for the molding designs and mantle designs.
We had to add a lot of furniture because they were leaving a 2,000 square foot old house and moving into about 8,500 square feet. There are some special pieces of furniture like the sofa that came out of a castle in England that is in the library and the old roll-top desk of a local physician. One of their clients said that he had this desk in the basement that they might want. So we went and looked at it, and it just had so much character. It was like a must-have.
The two bird dog paintings in the upstairs waiting area I had commissioned for this office because they all enjoy hunting. Except for the mule dear that one of them killed in Canada, the mounts – an impala and a spring buck – came from a dealer of mine in Africa. There are also some original McKenney-Hall prints from 1830-1832 that I got at an auction in New Orleans.
They took almost two years to do the project, and I probably had 95% of the carpet, paintings, furniture and everything else stored for a good six months before we moved in just because of the delay. The moving date was rescheduled four times, and the actual move-in week I was out of the country. So having worked on this project for almost two years, before I left I set it up so they could move in while I was gone if need be. I took pictures of all their existing furniture and then I took pictures of everything that I had in the warehouse, and I taped the photos to every wall so that they knew exactly where to put things. They were forbidden to hang any pictures, though. I told them I‚Äôd just have to do that when I got back.