Karen Jones a local St. Louis artist lives and works downtown on Locust Street in a magical old building next door to the house where T. S. Elliot was born. She and her husband Jimmy Powell, an architect and contractor have built five Airbnb lofts that are filled with light, the St. Louis sky-line and original artwork that Karen has created.
Why renovate? Why downtown?
“We were able to visualize this building full of life even when we first saw it filled with trash. We love to repurpose, reuse and could spot the potential of this building long before we bought it. We like cool spaces and decided that these buildings had more life in them,” Jimmy says.
The couple own two connecting buildings: a two story building houses a health clinic and the Airbnb lofts. The five story building potentially will have commercial on the first floor and lofts for tenants in the rest of the building. They feel the entire building is still a blank canvas.
Turning a building into Airbnb
Before they met, both Karen and Jimmy found this building immediately sensing its importance. Connecting nine years ago they knew this building on Locust was in their future. Taking 100 days to build a health clinic housed in the building bought three years ago, Jimmy then built the five Airbnb units in ten months. They opened last October and have enjoyed being St. Louis hosts.
Offering five units without a lot of dry wall, giant windows and expansive ceilings, concrete floors and kitchens with clean lines and a modern look that Jimmy designed the Airbnb’s are designed to be a harmonious space. “We kept the decorating simple because we wanted the art to stand out and be show cased, as if each Airbnb is a small gallery,” Karen commented. The Lofts offer a view of the city skyline that is breathtaking including the Gateway Arch and Union Station. In addition, they are dog friendly and unlike many other Airbnb’s they allow a one night stay. It’s downtown living.
Karen spends her days painting giant canvases and designing clothing. Her studio is large, light-filled and displays art on every available space. “The big picture for me,” Karen says, “is doing what I want to do. Making the world a better place by creating art that inspires.”
Tastefully displayed Karen’s art draws your eye to each piece. In every piece you will see eyes looking back at you. “I drown when I was 7 and woke up with people staring at me. It felt like Angels watching over me and that is why I’m drawn to eyes”.
“My purpose and responsibility are to share my passion, optimism and positive outlook on life. It wasn’t always this way. I, like many women had to find myself, my voice and when I met Jimmy he said, “There you are,” and here I still am.”
“I celebrate art to feel strong, beautiful and empowered. I feel that people aren’t doing well; there are so many people who are unhappy and miserable and hiding it, so I am painting a series called, ‘I’m checking on you’. I hope this helps people understand we need to check on one another.”
The Airbnb opens and a relationship survives
With five stories and 5,600 square feet of space per floor the building according to Karen was built for the World’s Fair.
The renovation of the clinic took Jimmy “100 days of hell” Karen shared. “He would come home exhausted. I tried to support him in the ways that I could.”
“We are both artists and leaders; we just had to figure out how to work together as well as next to each other in the same world; often asking the other, “Do you want to hear what’s in my head?”
It took Jimmy 18 months to design and build the Airbnb.
To date, Karen’s favorite visitor has been a poet in residence brought in by the Kranzberg Art’s Foundation, for the new High-Low literary arts center. “We enjoyed having the poet here. And it was through this guest that our Airbnb was referred to the Muny. We plan to host the choreographer for the March auditions next month.”
Repurposing and Other Art
The art throughout the Airbnb’s and Karen’s studio are for sale. She enjoys painting commissioned pieces as well.
In the future Karen hopes to host more live Art Show performances.
Though art and creativity, Karen and Jimmy consider themselves eco-friendly as Jimmy repurposes many items from older buildings around the city. Look around and spot the lighting from the old Four Seasons. A conference table and lounge furniture welcomes guests into Karen’s studio from the Union Trust Building. The solar array covers the cost of heating and cooling the buildings. Jimmy always sees potential incorporating pieces in unique ways.
“We like to respect and show case the era of our buildings; preserving, reinventing and revitalizing building that might have been forgotten.
As more businesses, Airbnb’s and lofts continue to open on Locust Street Karen and Jimmy feel as if they are a part of the creation and revitalization of mid-town.
“We fell in love with this building twenty years ago and love it even more today.”
You can find the T.S. Elliot Lofts on Airbnb and on Karen’s website. Jimmy’s business Eliot’s Neighbor, LLC continues to renovate buildings downtown. You can find Karen in her sun filled studio.