Merging the Past with the Present

The historic district of Fredericksburg, Va., serves as the perfect example of a successful modern revival.

11/01/2016 By Jenna Lippin

Today, residents and business owners in downtown Fredericksburg strive to stay true to its historical roots as the site of a well-known, pivotal Civil War battle. At the same time, Spaces Design Studio, located in the heart of the area’s historic district, has been working as a team to revitalize the area alongside ambitious, successful local business owners and entrepreneurs.

Principal Stacey Lampman spent time living in Old Town in Alexandria, Va., so she had familiarity with historical areas when she decided to open Spaces in 2007. After working as project manager and senior designer at renowned firms such as the Ward Hale Design Group, Smithgroup, and HOK, she had a goal of delivering the same results as these large entities but with her own small team—a core group of four people (including herself). “We are trying to create,” she noted. “The point for establishing Spaces was to create a team of people but mimic larger firms. [Even though our team is small], we do large projects.”    

Lampman recalled downtown Fredericksburg businesses being mostly antique shops when Spaces opened. Today the area is rich with restaurants, breweries, retail establishments, art spaces, professional firms, and even woodworking shops and yoga studios. While this development is exciting, and has certainly kept Lampman and her team busy as they have been involved in the construction and design of many of these businesses, Spaces has to remain cognizant of local building codes and ordinances, particularly when working with historical buildings.

The Architectural Review Board (ARB) is consistent nationwide; it is ultimately the overseer of any historic district. That’s usually the biggest challenge.” As the city’s website states, “[t]he purpose of the Architectural Review Board is to maintain the historic and architectural integrity of designated historic areas.”

One of the most daunting tasks when working in historical buildings, Lampman explained, is making sure they comply with modern codes. Buildings constructed in the 1800s often present challenges when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, fire codes, and plumbing. “In most old towns they’ve raised the street level so most buildings have steps; nothing is ever level. We need to modify doorways to make them meet the ADA code. Fire codes are the next biggest challenge since the materials that were used in the 1800s are combustible.

It’s hard to prove they have a fire rating. And we have a lot of situations where there is no second means of egress out of the building. Then with bathrooms and plumbing there is just limited space for an ADA bathroom. That being said, I think the city of Fredericksburg is very aware of what a difficult task this is so they try to be accommodating and they are reasonable. We work with the ARB.”

The citizens and business owners of Fredericksburg have a commitment to being “good stewards”—Lampman included. “And people who are moving here are doing their best to modernize old buildings without ruining them. Often they are coming here from areas like D.C. or Charlottesville or Richmond, so they are used to old town challenges. The downtown historic district [in Fredericksburg] has a built-in community that is 100-percent loyal and supportive. They won’t go to [the large shopping areas]; they invest in the businesses that are downtown. We’ve worked in so many different types of spaces and they all seem to do well because of that [community spirit].”

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