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Back to the Future

By Katie Sloan
In Bayou Home
Sep 25th, 2017

Photography by Martin G Meyers, Story by Maré Brennan, Architechture by Cassidy Keim, Interior Design by Julie Mays

Durrett Law & Title undertakes historic building renovation in Ruston.

Back in the summer of 2015, attorneys and brothers Andy and BJay Durrett saw the raw potential and envisioned the possibilities for renovating a dilapidated shell of a building in the heart of Ruston’s charming downtown. Inspired by the work of other preservationists in Ruston and Monroe, the Durrett brothers looked at the big picture and worked with Ruston and Louisiana State officials as well as an architecture historian from Louisiana Tech and local architect Cassdy Keim to help expand Ruston’s existing historic downtown district to include even more worthy properties to be saved. More blocks downtown were painstakingly researched and mapped for inclusion to be eligible for Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits as well as State Commercial Tax Credits.

As one can imagine, creating an economic/historic federal tax district and getting it approved took a while. So while the brothers were working with various governmental entities to expand the district, their architect Cassidy Keim was working on plans to renovate and modernize the building while keeping the integrity of the historic space. Keim’s first pass for the building was not as modern as the end result, which has a liberal use of glass, steel and maple. Construction got underway in February 2016, when Chris Moran Construction was tasked with the renovations which were completed in June 2017. The youngest Durrett brother, Teddy, served as the job’s project manager for Moran Construction, making this truly a family affair. Melissa Durrett, BJay’s wife and the law firm’s office manager, worked closely with Ruston-based interior designer Julie Mays to develop the distinctly personal atmosphere for each office. Mays was enlisted to achieve the cohesive, comfortable, functional, client friendly, and above all, beautifully appointed spaces together for this on-the-move law firm and real estate title office.

Built in 1919 on the footprint of what was once the town’s blacksmith shop, the Durrett Law & Title Building has had many iterations over the course of its near century of existence. With soaring 30 foot ceilings, the structure was originally built as a “moving picture” house. Over the course of time, the building has been home to an antique store and served as a workspace and warehouse. When the Durretts bought the building in June 2015, they were faced with a “blank slate,” according to Andy.

Because of the historic nature of the property, the exposed brick in the back offices were left exposed while plaster-covered brick walls elsewhere in the building was repaired and restored to their former glory. The upstairs loft retains its original steel beams, as well. Downstairs, gleaming floors of self-leveling concrete and geo-epoxy were given a multi-layered dark stain and polished to a mirror-like finish.

To maximize the efficiency of the building yet maintain a streamlined, minimalist approach to interiors, Keim drew plans for a new roof and added insulation to the outside of the building. All new HVAC were installed using a NEST computer-controlled climate system to conserve electricity. Modernist interiors dazzle with exacting, knife-edged joinery, where walls meet ceilings and floors. No architectural detail has been spared, and the execution is flawless.

During the process, when applying for the preservation tax credits, work would have to come to a halt. B’Jay described points at which applying for those credits were almost scrapped. One of the very few dark days occurred when the entire storefront of the building had been completely finished by the contractor yet did not meet the approval of the tax credit commission. Undeterred, back to the drawing board they went. The result is storefront windows allowing passersbys to enjoy peer into the reception area as they walk or drive by. Outdoors, a custom fabricated sign and awning was created by Mike Stevens at RapidSigns.

As clients enter the building, the double height reception space is illuminated by a customized Edison bulb fixture created by Chris Hart, who also crafted the law firm’s sign. The receptionist desk is a long waterfall of marble with a matching credenza with dark grey painted drawers. Mays designed a chic and comfortable area centered around a plush, velvet teal sofa. An agate side table is lit from within and offers a soft glow at night.

Keim designed a natural maple shiplap wall that wraps overhead and leads down the central hallway to offices. Details like custom drilled air vents in the maple make this project truly custom. The sleekness of the architecture and long spans of uninterrupted walls lend itself to modern canvases by some of Ruston’s most noted artists. Andy and BJay add they want to be a venue for showcasing local artists, and the firm is slated to be a stop on the upcoming Ruston Art Crawl in December. “Julie was instrumental in helping us figure out the art needed to complement these spaces,” explains Andy, whose own office features the work of Adrianna Speer.

Frosted glass offers privacy in the firm’s boardroom. The room features a custom wet bar with honed black countertops and sleek cabinetry. Rolling black leather chairs surround a custom board table. A custom chandelier by Chris Hart provides a plethora of light for the Durretts’ real estate closings and client meetings. A large abstract by Joey Slaughter injects slices of bright color into the space.

Each office along the hallway is connected visually through similar color palettes and architecture yet individual spaces reflect their occupants’ personalities through art and furnishings.

Husband and wife, BJay and Melissa, share adjoining offices and relish their time spent working together. BJay’s space features a standing shelf desk which is wrapped in metal and is attached to the way with rustic metal hardware. His sitting desk, anchored by a pieced hide rug, features a live wooden edge. A large piece by Joey Slaughter injects raw energy into the space. An ergonomic ball chair keeps BJay on his toes while visitors can relax in a grey leather “womb” chair. An overhead, exposed steel beam, original to the structure, separates BJay and Melissa’s offices.

Melissa’s desk is a crisp and white with stripes of gold that lead to delicate gilded metal legs. Chris Hart built Melissa a small sitting-height shelf desk of maple with hardware that is the feminine counterpoint to her husband’s shelf desk. In Melissa’s office, Mays has designed a glamorous seating area grounded by a conversation-starting, pie-shaped cocktail table of rustic wood. A pair of gilded metal chairs upholstered in a creamy leather with strips of saddle-colored leather “arms” up the wow factor.

Across the hall, Andy’s office pushes the boundaries on tradition. A teal velvet sofa is paired with mid-century modern chairs upholstered in a deep navy and a patterned rug. Andy’s desk and credenza are custom-built in a U-shape with a thick maple top and crisp waterfall edge. All three canvases in his office are the work of LA Tech MFA artist Adrianna Speer.

Says Melissa, “I can tell you the men are happier and more productive since we have been in the new offices.”

Mays adds, “It’s fun to design residential and commercial spaces that really work for my clients.” When working with the Durretts, she would often pull together and narrow down options for the men to see, allowing them to choose the options they liked the best for their own spaces. The end result? Some very happy clients.

Keim thoughtfully designed men’s and women’s restrooms for privacy. Chris Moran built custom vanities for each space, using industrial pipe with counters of honed black granite. White subway tiles line the walls. Above the vanity, a floating mirror glows from a light hidden behind.

Railings for the stairs were designed by Keim to be more industrial and are softened by treads of wide plank maple. Upstairs, the loft is a soaring space where the original beams of the building are visible. For the Ruston-based architect, functional never means pedestrian. Moran fabricated an air intake unit designed by Keim. The steel plate is dotted with perfectly placed lozenge-shaped holes that elevates air intake into the realm of modern art. More offices could occupy the floating loft space, giving the firm plenty of options for growth in the future. A glorious Red Stag European mount comes into view as one reaches the top of the staircase. Andy bagged the trophy on a family retreat in Huntsville, Texas, and his father, Johnny Durrett, taxidermied the enormous antlers. The loft space now includes a full kitchen and bath along with built-in storage and areas for relaxing. In the loft’s kitchen, lucite counterstools tuck neatly under the waterfall edge quartz countertops. Two lucite pendants shine from above.

Future plans include a mural on the back of the building that would further engage the public in interaction with this beloved building.

Says Melissa of the process, “I hope it encourages and inspires other to take on projects like this!” There is no doubt that this vision of what can be will move Ruston further into the forefront of preservation and innovative rehabilitations of historic properties. She adds “The importance of reinvesting in property goes beyond just the time and money we put in. These buildings are worth saving. As we expand and grow our firm, this building is a manifestation of our commitment to our community. It is so nice to see downtown come alive!”