Archive for Sunday, February 26, 2012

East Lawrence homes spruced up with modern, unique appearances

Matt Jones, co-owner of Struct/Restruct climbs to the roof during a workday Feb. 17 on one of their latest restoration and remodeling projects at 925 Del. Jones and the crew at Struct/Restruct have added a new dimension to remodeling by adding modern additions to older Lawrence homes while maintaining the integrity of the initial design.

Matt Jones, co-owner of Struct/Restruct climbs to the roof during a workday Feb. 17 on one of their latest restoration and remodeling projects at 925 Del. Jones and the crew at Struct/Restruct have added a new dimension to remodeling by adding modern additions to older Lawrence homes while maintaining the integrity of the initial design.

February 26, 2012


A home at 933 Del. features a modern additon built on to the original front facade.

A home at 933 Del. features a modern additon built on to the original front facade.

If these walls at 1109 N.Y. could talk, they could tell you how they once showed mercy on an entire construction crew.

The old 1860s home on New York Street, you see, had a few problems. For one, it had a floor that probably only a skateboarder would appreciate. It sloped 7 inches from one side of the house to the other.

It didn’t exactly take Matt Jones or Eric Jay of Lawrence-based Struct/Restruct to assume the role of Sherlock Holmes to know they were going to have to get at this house’s foundation if they wanted to save it.

And make no mistake, Jones and Jay want to save houses.

So they did what some remodelers have never done in their lives: they lifted the house off its foundation. Funny thing, though, Jones and Jay hadn’t ever lifted a house either — not by themselves, anyway.

“At one point, we had the whole house suspended and our whole crew of guys underneath it,” Jay said as he and Jones shared a smile.

Never let it be said that Jones and Jay aren’t willing to take a chance on a house. Of course, if you’ve ever driven by one of their homes, you’ve already figured that out.

In the 900 block of Delaware Street — or better yet from the alley off Delaware — you can see many of them. From the front, many of them look like traditional east Lawrence homes, which is to say there are no two that look exactly alike.

But from the back side, tradition takes a beating. There you’ll find evidence of a type of architecture that doesn’t speak as much to east Lawrence’s blue-collar past as much as it does to its funky present.

Jones and Jay’s company has completed four renovations on the block, adding modern additions that incorporate unique peaks, sheets of glass, and nontraditional exteriors of concrete, stainless steel cables and distinctive timber.

In a nutshell, they take the past and the present, and have the two shake hands.

“I think what we’re really trying to do is convince people that they would like to try to live here,” Jay said.

• • •

There are trees all over this town that feel like Matt Jones is spying on them. And they’re right.

Sometimes Jones will watch them for years, like the old Elm tree he saw each day on the way to his bank. One day as he drove down Ohio Street, he saw the dying tree was marked to be cut down.

“So I stopped and put a note on the tree asking if I could have it,” Jones said. “That actually worked.”

The tree produced a beautiful burl Elm timber that Jones used for furniture that is inside downtown Lawrence’s Esquina restaurant.

Here at 925 Del., the company’s latest renovation project, the finds were a little easier to come by. Jones heard that renovation work on the nearby Poehler building involved large amounts of roof sheathing that were being removed. Now, the lumber is serving as ceiling planks in the 925 Del. project. On the floor is locally milled timber from another tree Jones had kept his eye on.

“It is just another insight into our area,” Jones said.

Outside, two large 18-inch logs sit beside the house, waiting for the band saw. Another insight for another day.

The backside of this house, too, is receiving a modern addition, complete with off-kilter roof lines and a courtyardlike area that bridges the old and the new. The modern additions may be what attracts attention from the street, but for Jones the chance to save something old is what excites him.

East Lawrence, he said, provides a good palette for his company’s work because there are many smaller homes that can support additions but may be in such condition that others would be tempted to tear them down and start over.

Homes in such a state of disrepair have real appeal to Jones because he says he does experience “pretty high guilt” if he changes an old home that is in fine condition. Maybe that’s why he gets excited about projects that others shun.

“What is fun about a house in really bad shape is you get to bring new influences to it,” Jones said. “A lot of people will look at a house and see problems, and I’ll end up looking at it and seeing that it is not that bad.”

• • •

What others in east Lawrence are seeing is an area-wide revitalization at a minimum, and perhaps even the beginnings of an architectural trend.

If so, Robert Krause will get a lot of credit for planting the seed. Krause, the local chef who is part of the ownership group of both Esquina and The Burger Stand, built a modern, Dan Rockhill-designed addition onto his family’s home in the 900 block of Delaware Street several years ago.

“That is my style for sure,” Krause said. “I love the idea of historical structures with a mix of modern accents.”

Krause is the owner of the 925 Del. house under renovation. It is the fourth house that Jones and Jay have done for Krause in the block. Krause said that over the years, his friends have questioned why he’s spent good money investing in the old homes. But Krause said he did so, in part, because he thought he could help set an expectation for the neighborhood.

“Now, I really do think there is a lot interest in restoring these old houses in this style,” Krause said. “There are a lot of people interested now, a lot of people with artistic talents are drawn to this type of living.”

Struct/Restruct has its next project lined up. A couple actually. The company will renovate an old industrial building next to its shop at 920 Del. into a neighborhood coffee shop and display area for art and the company’s furniture creations.

But the company also has its sights set on 1235 N.Y., an 1880s structure that it wants to strip down to its original stone exterior and add a modern addition on the back. Grant Lechtenberg, a longtime east Lawrence property owner, has the house and said he thinks the new style will help make the property more marketable.

“You know, people over here march to their own beat, and that is what I like about it,” Lechtenberg said. “It is definitely not the same five houses repeated over and over.”

And if Jones and Jay’s designs inspire people to get more creative with their own homes, that would be fine too.

“I do wish people would experiment with architecture more,” Lechtenberg said. “I definitely understand that sometimes you have to appeal to the masses to survive, but it is a lot more fun to do it this way.”

At the end of the day, though, Jones says he thinks what he and Jay are doing is more than just fun. If a piece of modernity makes an old structure more livable, it increases the odds that it will remain for generations to come.

The new saves the old.

“I would hate to live in an area that didn’t save anything because then you would always wonder where you’re at,” Jones said.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

They're doing quality work, but in a neighborhood made up primarily of houses valued well under $200,000, all of these houses end up valued well over $200,000. Will these houses be part of a neighborhood of mixed incomes, or start the flood gates of full-out gentrification?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

There's no way to predict it, one way or the other.

The assessments of all houses along that stretch of Delaware and the surrounding area will necessarily go up because of the improvements being made there-- even the houses that aren't improved. This raises the property taxes for the owners of those houses, and if any of those houses ever go up for sale, they may be priced out of reach for lower-income buyers. The only ones who'll be able to afford them are people who will do similar high-end renovations, and the gentrification creep begins.

But, like I said, there is no way to predict what will happen. These upscale renovations may remain isolated, and a mixed income neighborhood will result, which is a good thing.

Only time will tell. And the pressure from the west in the developments downtown will have equally unpredictable results.

Enlightenment 6 years, 4 months ago

It's nice to see preservation is occurring, and especially on the east side of Lawrence.

As I've stated in previous threads, I think the renovation of the Poehler building is going to have a major impact on the revitalization of the east side.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

The great majority of apartments at the Poehler building will be priced for lower income renters. All of the houses described here will be out of reach for anyone with less than an upper-middle class income.

Enlightenment 6 years, 4 months ago

Correct, even though the apts are targeting low/moderate income renters, single-family owner-occupied houses are being renovated in the area. This supports my point that regardless of who lives in the Poehler bldg, the renovation of a large vacant building will improve the neighborhood and prompt other renovation projects.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

No disagreement. But if all other renovations in the area are of the scale of those described in this article, the character of this low/moderate income neighborhood will change dramatically.

Enlightenment 6 years, 4 months ago

Not all renovations will be of this scale, some may be more, but most will be as simple as painting the outside, cleaning and maintaining yards, etc. It will go from a predominately low-income area characterized by run down neglected rental homes to a mixed-income neighborhood that offers rental and home ownership for a wide range of household incomes.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

I hope you're right. But there's lots of pressure on E. Lawrence right now, and it's impossible to predict how things will go.

J Good Good 6 years, 4 months ago

This has been evolving into a mixed income neighborhood with a lot of investment and preservation on many different scales for years. People who think this is a new phenomena and that these guys are the first to get on board with the "potential" in the area really need to actually visit the neighborhood once in a while. Now if we could just do something about Bonita Yoder and the other slumlords who let their properties fall in.

Cara Banglesnatch 6 years, 3 months ago

I couldn't be more sick of seeing her properties perpetually for rent, overpriced and fallen into ruin, someone would have to be a complete fool to rent them. I dont understand how these slum lords get away with it. And I wish they would stop clogging Craigslist with their crap!

Scott Tichenor 6 years, 3 months ago


I'm so tired of her craphouses. Thank you for bringing this. up.

sweatybutcher 6 years, 3 months ago

NIce looking homes! Keep up the good work you fancy fellows.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 3 months ago

"Now if we could just do something about Bonita Yoder and the other slumlords who let their properties fall in. "

Do a demolition by neglect complaint to code enforcement....

oliviaqueenofthelillies 6 years, 3 months ago

First, to JG: i agree w/ you about the problem of slumlords, but this company truly is, in my humble opinion, the first major renovation team in E Lawrence that I've seen in my many years on the East side. And besides, does it matter if they're not the "first"? If they're doing good deeds, shouldn't we be thankful for that and the exposure it brings? Just a thought, no hard feelings. zlb

oliviaqueenofthelillies 6 years, 3 months ago

I'd like to add one thing, something similar to my comment on a short video in which Matt Jones is featured and interviewed. Art lovers in Lawrence should be aware that Matt is not just a restorer of old homes (which is really vital and healthy for the E Lawrence community) . . . he is also a fantastic visual artist (sculpture, painting, etc.). While this might be more of a "hobby," his wife Heather Smith-Jones is a full-time professional painter, and I'd recommend you check out her work. Two tremendously talented people that help make Lawrence the kind of place it is. zlb

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

My only complaint (and it's more of a comment than complaint) is that I hope he can extend his efforts to restoring homes in ways that make them affordable to lower-income buyers. I haven't seen one of his projects yet that aren't likely to go for well over $200,000.

minka 6 years, 3 months ago

Just to clarify an earlier comment--besides being an artist who restores old homes, Matt's work as a designer and maker of fine furniture is more than just a hobby. He's a serious professional in that area, too. He just finished making several unique pieces for my artist studio and home, including an enormous work table and cart that connect with magnets and a walnut table influenced by Matt's concepts involving origami, a crumpled up chocolate bar wrapper, and a UFO. And besides being a professional painter, his wife is the owner of Blue Sparrow Press. It may be good for people interested in E Lawrence development to know that Matt, Eric, and their crew are not only innovative and very skillful, but they are ethical and thoughtful about how their work affects not only the people who will inhabit a remodelled house but how it affects that neighborhood as well. I have gotten to know them fairly well since they recently finished designing and building my artist studio, and I know they can work magic from the humblest of materials.

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