Instead of flocking to the suburbs, more and more people are seeking out the benefits of downtown living. Many spaces above businesses in downtown Topeka have been or are now being converted into trendy, maintenance-free lofts, as homeowners and renters see the potential for an easier and more engaging lifestyle. With close access to restaurants, shopping, and entertainment, loft living is not just for the young, but also for the young at heart.
In 1978, Stephen Smith rented the first floor of 933 South Kansas Avenue for his photography studio, now the Stephen Smith Gallery. “In 2006, we acquired the property and seriously started moving toward a potential loft on the second floor for our living quarters,” says his wife, Edie.
The couple had a beautiful home in Sherwood Lake, but with the 20-minute commute to and from the gallery and with working long hours, they were never there. So ten years ago, they decided to make the move.
“It made really perfect sense for us to do this and we don't think we’ll ever go back,” says Edie. “It's been a lot of fun. And plus we don't have all that upkeep of a house.”
When designing their new home, they took into account the historical aspects of the building. They demolished multiple small rooms to open up the space, and removed the ceiling to reveal the timber beam work hidden above.
However, the real find came when the plaster from the exterior stone and brick walls was removed. What emerged was an advertisement painted in 1887 for a restaurant and another for buying coal. Today, a part of this advertisement is exposed in the loft area.
This unexpected and unique addition to the loft mixes well with what the couple calls their eclectic, quirky taste. Their bar stools are dental stools from the 50s, and an old wooden dining table is paired with various colored leather Herman Miller chairs. A fun addition is a light-green ottoman that conceals a game table that they believe is most likely from a gentlemen's club in the 50s. It has a chess board and checkerboard underneath the removable cushions, which serve as a place to sit while playing. Another novel item is their entertainment table, which is actually a chrome tool chest that serves as a television stand and storage space.
All this is mixed in with more modern pieces of furniture. The overall style is a blend of contemporary with a vintage and retro design. “It’s not traditional by any means,” says Edie.
The overall living space of the loft is expanded with a multi-level rooftop. “The lower rooftop is right as you walk out of the loft,” says Stephen. “There are stone walls on both sides from the neighboring buildings.” Here they have a grill and a little garden area where they grow herbs and hang potted plants. A spiral stairway allows access to the top roof, where they’ve added furniture so they and their guests can relax and enjoy the 360° view.
Upon seeing and hearing how great their downtown lifestyle is, friends have actually gone out and acquired nearby lofts of their own. “We can account for about six couples,” says Stephen.
Loft living, they say, frees up their time to pursue other interests, such as travelling, taking walks and exploring all there is to do throughout downtown, especially the new Evergy Plaza.
“We’ve made new wonderful friends,” says Edie. “We love sharing our rooftop views and an evening glass of wine with friends. And, sometimes morning sunrise breakfasts!”