Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, May 5, 2017

Old grocery store eyesore is transformed

From barn wood to beauty

Commercial builder Robert Roberts inside the project at 433 Cherokee Boulevard. - David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

When Tennessee law firm Davis, Kessler & Davis decided to expand by opening an office in Chattanooga, they considered many things most businesses would consider: location, accessibility, parking and – well – how some timeworn Tennessee barn wood would look on the outside and inside of an old grocery store.

Residents couldn’t miss the dilapidated and crumbling eyesore every time they drove down Cherokee Boulevard. Built in 1949 and then shuttered for years, most Chattanoogans probably thought the best use of the former Pruett’s grocery store on the Northshore was to tear it down and sell the land.

But Andy Davis from Estill Springs, Tennessee, who was once a boarding student at Baylor School, envisioned something else for his law firm’s new home.

“After searching high and low throughout the Chattanooga area for two years for the perfect location, there was something special about that old building that spoke to me,” Davis said. “And the more I thought about bringing it to life, the more I wondered about how some old barn wood might improve its inner and outer self – maybe give it a more natural personality and fit with the Northshore community.”

And so the search began. In small towns across Tennessee, Davis and his family, friends and colleagues started looking for old barns that property owners no longer needed.

“We asked them if they wouldn’t mind if we tore the barn down for them,” Davis explained. “Some people wanted a fee for tearing down their barns, but most of the property owners were just glad to see them go.”

According to building contractor Robert Roberts, the warped barn wood had to be cut, straightened and double coated with Class B Flame Control No. 133A to make it structurally usable and safe, but also maintain its character and beauty.

After restoring countless planks of barn wood and painstakingly conducting what sometimes seemed like insurmountable challenges, six months later, the old building with the old barn wood is now a new architectural and artistic showpiece.

With the help of Roberts’ team and Matt Sears from Sears Haskel, when visitors enter the building, they are greeted with walls of richly colored and restored wood in herringbone and geometrical patterns, light fixtures transformed from logs and tree branches, columns of highly polished barn beams and other support structures that still display the cutouts from where they were banded together in an earlier life.

“Not an inch of drywall is visible,” said Roberts. “Even the metal fire doors are disguised with an overlay of top-sliding barn doors.

“The open ceilings and exposed steel barrel trusses, as well as the abundance of storefront glass, are pleasing and inviting,” he added.

The natural ambience extends beyond the internal structure. Desks, counters, conference tables, chair rails, ceilings – just about everywhere one can look, the old wood has been given a new life.

The use of natural wood also transformed the outside of the building. The two entrances of the building are graced with rough-hewn wooden awnings supported with a triad of support beams. The top of the brick facade is lined with horizontal stretches of the naturally brilliant and varied-colored barn wood.

“We wanted to respect the character of the Northshore by reusing an existing building that had been around since the ‘40s,” said Roberts. “And if the structure is sound, remodeling is typically less expensive than building new.”

But this project was far from typical, and it had more than its fair share of challenges.

Roberts and his crew were brought into the project because Davis said he knew he needed a competent contractor who had building experience and knew how to work with designers, engineers and subcontractors to overcome the unique challenges of the project.

“I liked this project because of its challenges,” said Roberts. “We involved the client in just about every facet of the renovation and restoration. We listened to their abstract ideas and creatively incorporated those ideas into the design.”

“When Robert took over the project, he helped us get things going in the right direction,” said Davis. “Our project was not the easiest one out there. He was upfront about what needed to be done, and he adapted when unforeseen issues had to be addressed.”

The renovation was fraught with unforeseen issues beyond just treating barn wood or learning artistic methods for designing walls. The most pressing problem was the rear hillside and soil that was piled against the structure.

“We spent a lot of time and energy designing and implementing the plan for supporting the road above the building, stabilizing the hillside behind the building and removing the soil from practically on top of the building,” said Roberts, who added that more than $300,000 was spent on this effort alone.

Another challenge was the creation of a new sidewalk and pedestrian lighting. Roberts worked closely with the city’s transportation department to create a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk with wide walkways and ample lighting.

“As we planned and progressed through the renovation, we remained very cognizant of how the renovation would not only impact the Northshore’s personality but also how it would enhance the connectivity for pedestrians,” said Roberts.

The beautiful addition to the Northshore, the renovation of the building and the housing of the law firm is only half the story at 433 Cherokee Blvd. At the opposite end of the building, with its own entrance, is in an empty shell where old barn wood and rough-hewn tree branches are piled high and awaiting new tenants. Davis has already had some inquiries.

So, the story of the old barn wood and old grocery store transformation will continue.