Desireé MacSorley purchased two adjacent 1930s houses in an up-and-coming commercial neighborhood as an investment. The landscape architect had begun developing small projects and saw these houses as an excellent opportunity to join in the redevelopment of the neighborhood. Due to its proximity to downtown Charlotte, the area was changing over from residential to light commercial. “The old houses were converted to offices. Some had added square footage, some had not,” MacSorley says. When considering how to convert the two houses to office condominiums, she briefly thought of tearing down the 3,000-square-foot houses and building a new structure. “That would have been the cheaper way to go,” she says. “But they both had certain qualities that I thought would be nice to keep.” Specifically, she wanted to save the items that gave the houses character — the wood floors, fireplaces, millwork, and brick chimneys.

Carolina Photo Group

In the end, MacSorley decided to create and sell four office suites by renovating the existing houses and fitting a new structure in the 14-foot gap between the two.

To bring that vision to life, she chose Charlotte firm Narmour Wright Associates. In her work as a landscape architect, she had worked with architect Reg Narmour for about 10 years. Narmour says the concept of joining two existing buildings was unique. He had never worked on a project like this before, but because of his company's extensive renovation experience, he was not worried about the design. Contractor Karl Doerre of Doerre Construction had worked with Narmour Wright over the years and had worked with MacSorley's firm too. After his tour of the two houses, Doerre concluded both were salvageable and also told the owner if she had chosen to tear down the structures, she would have lost the existing setbacks.

Carolina Photo Group
Carolina Photo Group

Saving Graces Once the team was formed, they were ready to tackle the design. Project designer Curtis Sloop says the stick-built house was damaged after remaining vacant for a year. The brick house on the other side was in better shape. Doerre and MacSorley made decisions on what to keep based on the extent of the damage and structural issues.

On the interior, they wanted to salvage the chimneys, the fireplaces and mantels, and the wood floors and millwork. On the exterior, they wanted to keep the brick and chimneys. The team submitted the design to the city under the retrofit category. Sloop says Charlotte has a “rehabilitation code” that allows designers and contractors to circumvent standard codes to preserve the details of existing buildings. Under rehab code, the people who review the plans also act as inspectors in the field. “The biggest advantage is that people who review plans are the same ones who spec your projects, so you don't get the two different interpretations,” Doerre says.

The code allowed Sloop to leave the staircase in the brick house intact, even though it was narrower than code. Doerre says the pine treads also did not have ADA acceptable rise and run. “The last step had a 2-inch run,” he recalls. “We created a landing for a visual barrier to avoid tripping,” he says.

Doerre says the inspectors also allowed them to keep the crystal door knobs on the old doors instead of installing code-required lever handles. The new second story structure, however, had to meet code.