Local photographer Lance Johnston, who has dabbled before in historic renovation, has recently completed a project at Faulkner Street in Conway.
The "Faulkner Flats" are four historically renovated apartments in the redbrick two-story building at 915 Faulkner Street.
Johnston purchased the property in 2011 for just under $150,000 with the idea to strip it down to the now-popular shiplap and wooden floors, perform other renovations and install modern fixtures in order to market the downtown building to young professionals interested in urban and downtown living.
From what Johnston knows, the multi-family dwelling was built in 1937.
"We’ve reached out but haven’t been able to find out a lot about it," he said, adding that he sought assistance from local historian Vivian Hogue. "There are definitely folks who have posted on the (Faulkner Flats Facebook page) that they’ve lived there. And someone who was sort of prominent lived there in college in the 50s."
It was a year and a half project and a $170,000 remodel.
"I redid everything. We restored and refinished everything, including the kitchen and bathrooms. There are all new appliances. The cool thing is we exposed the original shiplap, the eight-inch boards that are on the walls of apartments," said Johnston. "In most cases it was an underlay that typically had wallpaper over it. If you look in home magazines you’ll see shiplap board and that in new houses, it is very much the look."
Stainless steel appliances were installed, and counter tops are a mixture between butcher’s block and granite.
An old-style apron sink is in the kitchen, and vessel sinks were installed in bathrooms.
"It’s modern but has a throwback kind of style," Johnston said. "There are modern amenities in them."
Johnston said he took on the project recently after missing the opportunity when the building was posted for sale about six years ago.
"I always thought this was the coolest old building in old Conway. When it came up for sale a couple of years ago I thought it was a shame this is a run-down low-rent building because it has so much character and is in a great location with its proximity to downtown," Johnston said. "With downtown being revitalized it was an obvious candidate for restoring to be a nice place to live downtown."
Not everyone understood or even understands yet, he said.
People either get it or they don’t.
Young professionals and young couples who don’t want to hassle with a yard or don’t need a big house because they like to play, to go out to eat and hang out downtown are Johnston’s ideal tenants.
"People who are wanting to live downtown and who want to live where they can walk to stores and restaurants, so far that is the trend," Johnston said.
Johnston said he looked at other developments like The Village at Hendrix for confidence.
He said the development proved there was a market for nicer rentals surrounding downtown, and he’s confident enough people will want to live near downtown that are willing to pay a bit more for something nicer.
Conway Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Lacy said Johnston’s project reflects the results of a chamber survey that showed a strong demand from people, particularly young professionals, who would live in upscale apartments and rentals near downtown, "but there isn’t a product available right now."
"We haven’t seen that here, but hopefully we will begin to. If you look at Hillcrest in Little Rock for instance, the housing stock we have in old Conway is no different. What you haven’t seen happen is the type of renovation that has occurred where there are blocks and blocks of old housing stock being completely renovated," Lacy said. "Square footage for those parts of Little Rock bring in as much in square footage as anywhere in town."
Lacy said what he’s beginning to see is a bit more understanding that in order to offer everything residents want, there has to be a variety on the market.
"It’s not about west Conway versus downtown, or Hendrix Village versus Centennial Valley. It’s all important, we just haven’t had part of the offerings we’re starting to see now. Hendrix Village is a great example. It has been wildly successful," he said. "The price per square foot is shocking for people, and some didn’t think it would work."
Lacy said he hopes other developers will take note and begin to look at old housing stock differently.
Johnston’s putting his money where his mouth is and moving his family from their west Conway lot to an older home downtown.
"We’re going to do what we think and expect other people are doing and reap the benefits of living two blocks from church, from where the girls take dance, their schools, and we’re going to embrace that lifestyle within the next year," he said.
Johnston said he likes the charm of older homes and their personality.
Johnston and his wife, Melissa, have fixed up two other old homes near Conway’s downtown.
"The houses we fixed up were uncared for for generations. They were going to be rent houses or continue to fall into disrepair and be torn down at some point. I feel like I’m rescuing these little gems that have been neglected for decades and giving them a midlife makeover," Johnston said. "They get a whole new life with a new set of people. It’s cool that people who lived in our apartments tell us they lived there in the 40s or 50s, and it’s going to be neat 50 years from now when people talk about having lived in the Faulkner Flats. That, to me, makes it an interesting story."
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236, or on Twitter @Courtneyism. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)