By Chris Aronson and Mary Gilliland
On the morning before Halloween 2015, two architects from Vaught Frye Larson Aronson Architects (VFLA) stood in an abandoned building in Fort Collins, Colorado. Appropriate to the holiday, the cob-webbed interior was cold and musty; it smelled like decay and bird droppings. Whether this was a good day to start field measuring became a point of contention, though they nonetheless agreed that they were doing what they loved.
This white brick building started as a feeder supply company 115 years ago, an indication of the city’s agricultural roots. But, despite being situated only two blocks from Old Town—an endearing and popular community gathering place for the residents of Fort Collins—it stood abandoned and surrounded by empty lots. Three years later, it would be transformed into a multifaceted restaurant facility anchored by pie shop Ginger and Baker.
The existing grain bins on the second floor were removed to create the Mill Top, a double-height event space. The new triangular wing on that level, now wrapped in glass and iridescent metal paneling, houses The Cache, a Colorado-style dining restaurant. The renovated site also features a teaching kitchen, market, bakery, and basement wine cellar event space. The new complex, which has been called “the coolest corner in Northern Colorado,” by local photographer Seth Pickett, has amazed the community and served as an important rehabilitation project for the up-and-coming district.
The entrepreneurs behind Ginger and Baker were motivated by a deep passion for pie, a belief in its ability to bring people together, and a conviction that the old building on the corner of Linden and Willow streets was the perfect location. The building, however, was not large enough to hold the pie shop; the site, on the other hand, had room for much more. Thus, the clients’ vision for the space evolved to include a multifunctional facility that would not only enhance the street and engage the community but also highlight the history of the building. VFLA dedicated the initial design phase to maximizing the corner lot.
The primary preservation goals were to revive the essence of the building and to reuse as many of its interior materials as possible. Our 20-plus person team of designers and consultants developed an energy that helped carry us through the 18-month design process. Securing approval from the Fort Collins Landmark Preservation Committee (LPC) and the planning department—as well as funding for facade grants Downtown Development Authority—required months of meetings. But our passion for the project only grew over time.
The final design was based on juxtaposing the grounded, modest historic building with a floating triangular addition, keeping as much of the original building visible as possible. While proposing a triangular dining room for The Cache was a risk, the entire design-build team quickly embraced it, and it has gained a lot of attention in the community.
The lead interior designer, Rebecca Olsen, used many materials taken from the original building, such as gears and fly wheels. “Often, our goal is to make the new work read as new and leave the historic work to read as its own,” she explained.
While the original brick was an excellent feature, it was not up to code. To ensure lateral stability, we installed a horizontal steel moment frame around the new Mill Top event space and a vertical moment frame in the retail store downstairs. We also added brick insets and repointed them to capture the feel of the existing brick work.
Through a study done by Mark Wernimont of Colorado Sash and Door, we learned that we would be able to save and reuse most of the doors and windows and use them in the new building. We were also able to salvage wood to detail new ceilings and create the face of the coffee bar and the retail check-out counter. Local craftsman Forrest Cramer of Pin & Scroll transformed the old support timbers into worktables for the teaching kitchen.
The restoration, which allowed us to promote preservation while combining historic and modern aesthetics, won the Outstanding Rehabilitation and Adaptive Reuse Award from the LPC. During the award ceremony in August 2018, committee chair Meg Dunn spoke about the hard work that went in to preserving this landmark. “They have taken the simple, utilitarian ‘workhorse’ materials that the building was made of and turned them, quite honestly, into a sensory delight,” she said. We are proud to say we turned the dilapidated into the delectable.
Chris Aronson is a principal architect and Mary Gilliland is the administrative assistant at Vaught Frye Larson Aronson Architects.