First came the artist atelier in mid-19th century Paris. Then SoHo’s Cast Iron District in the 1950s-70s. In 2021, loft living is practically synonymous with Birmingham thanks to its many conversions of industrial and commercial space.
Among Birmingham’s latest conversions is the Thomas Building on Second Avenue North. The project was completed by Nequette Architecture and Design in 2018 and the firm moved into the building that year. In renovating the downtown building to house its studio, Nequette took on two roles as both client and designer.
The three-story commercial building was originally the William S. Brown Mercantile Building, a dry goods and grocery store built in 1905 by the building’s namesake, who served in the 10th Alabama Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. More recently the building was the longtime location of Harold’s Furniture.
“We converted the first three stories into a mixed-use building featuring retail spaces on the ground floor with garage parking behind,” explains Nequette’s Interior Design Team Leader Sarah Jelks. “The upper two stories were renovated into 10 large residential lofts, two of which can be used as small business offices. Nequette Architecture and Design’s office crowns the top of the historic building, creating a fourth floor with 360-degree views of the central business district of Birmingham.”
Building the new office space above the three-story building was not part of the initial plan. Not until the design team ventured to the rooftop and saw the “incredible potential” to maximize the views, Jelks adds. Large window galleries also frame sweeping views of the city.
The firm wanted to be invested in the downtown community and contribute to its urban revitalization. The move reflects Nequette’s commitment to “practicing what they preach” about community design, urban planning and redevelopment of mixed-use buildings
Making the old new again was fundamental to the design process. Original materials were reused for hardwood flooring. The original freight elevator grates were converted into steel railing components. And the desks the company now uses were constructed using refinished old-growth joists.
“Timeless new architectural elements in rich tones provide a striking contrast to the timeworn patina of the structure’s exposed brick,” Jelks explains. “Building with quality, time-tested, and natural materials allows the building to age gracefully over time. The enduring building finishes follow a black-and-white color palette. It’s also very English, and the building and the city it sits in originate from English precedence.”
A primary design objective was to add to the energy of the neighborhood with daytime and evening commercial activities, complemented by the large, modern loft apartments. Another objective was to respect of the heritage of the street and the building. Though located in an area experiencing robust transformation, the intent is that the building and its relation to the street appear as if minimal changes have occurred over the years.
Says Jelks, “No other downtown street combines small-scale historical buildings, residential living, thriving eateries and beautiful street trees like Second Avenue North.
Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Nequette Architecture and Design