written by:
photos by:
September 16, 2011
Originally published in Made in the USA

With a clean-lined new loft building designed by El Dorado Inc., a fleet of hip galleries, and a burgeoning creative class, Wichita is anything but plains.

Outdoor wall mural by artist Seth Depiesse on Main Street in downtown Wichita
The new outdoor wall mural in progress by artist Seth Depiesse on Main Street.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
c 2010 Jake Stangel
1 / 13
Union Station on Douglas Ave in downtown Wichita
Downtown Wichita offers a compelling mix of old—such as a weathered concrete sign by the train tracks at the disused Union Station on Douglas Avenue.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
c 2010 Jake Stangel
2 / 13
Interior view of the steel-and-cedar slat patio on the Finn Lofts
A patio protected by a steel-and-cedar-slat trellis accommodates a meeting between (left to right) contractor Mark Farha, building owners and developers Brock Oaks and David Farha, and owner and contractor Ted Farha.
Photo by 
3 / 13
Southwest corner exterior view of the cut-out rain screen on the Finn Lofts
One view of the Finn Lofts' southwest corner includes a cut-out rain screen.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
c 2010 Jake Stangel
4 / 13
Exterior view of the steel-and-cedar-slat patio on the Finn Lofts
A wider look at the screened patio attached to the Finn Lofts.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
c 2010 Jake Stangel
5 / 13
Portrait of Melissa and Keith Bishop in Loft B of the Finn Lofts
Loft B tenants Melissa and Keith Bishop downsized from a 3,000 square foot space to a cozy 720 square foot loft. "We downsized our lives," Melissa says. "We streamlined."
Photo by 
6 / 13
Robert Vanselow in Loft R of the Finn Lofts
The clean lines and, in Loft R's case, balcony with a view of downtown's skyline suit Robert Vanselow's urbane sensibility. "This was spot on," he says.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
c 2010 Jake Stangel
7 / 13
Portrait of Jamil Malone in loft J of the Finn Lofts
A social creature who seems to know everyone, Loft J occupant Jamil Malone has hosted several "alcohol-themed" parties and manages to wedge as many as 20 people into his studio. The gatherings are like gallery openings, with the walls of Malone's apartment displaying a roving selection of locally produced art.
Photo by 
8 / 13
The OldTown Theatre Grill in downtown Wichita, Kansas
Wichita's OldTown Theatre Grill where you can eat dinner while watching a movie.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
c 2010 Jake Stangel
9 / 13
The Fisch Haus collective, a studio-gallery-home in downtown Wichita, Kansas
The Fisch Haus collective, home to resident artists Patrick Duegaw and Elizabeth Stevenson.
Photo by 
10 / 13
Exterior view of the Donut Whole in downtown Wichita
Wichitans satisfy their sweet tooth at the Donut Whole, which serves more than 25 varieties of donuts every day.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
c 2010 Jake Stangel
11 / 13
Exterior view of the photography-focused Gallery at Dock 410 in downtown Wichita
The photography-focused Gallery at Dock 410.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
c 2010 Jake Stangel
12 / 13
Portrait of the semi-annual Finn Lofts community party in Wichita
Architect Douglas Stockman says the building's charcoal-and-orange exterior coloring was "intended to reflect the dynamic character of the neighborhood." Here, it provides a festive backdrop to the residents' semi-annual Finn Lofts community party.
Photo by 
13 / 13
Outdoor wall mural by artist Seth Depiesse on Main Street in downtown Wichita
The new outdoor wall mural in progress by artist Seth Depiesse on Main Street. Image courtesy of c 2010 Jake Stangel.
Project 
The Finn Lofts
Architect 

When six enterprising Wichitans banded together in 2008 to turn an old downtown broom factory into sleek new lofts, they gave themselves a guiding mantra: Don’t scare away the artists.

Union Station on Douglas Ave in downtown Wichita
Downtown Wichita offers a compelling mix of old—such as a weathered concrete sign by the train tracks at the disused Union Station on Douglas Avenue. Image courtesy of c 2010 Jake Stangel.
The Commerce Arts District, located near the railroad tracks in downtown Wichita, is the heart of the city’s emerging art scene. In recent years, galleries and studios have sprung up alongside gritty manufacturing shops that produce everything from cabinets to urinal cakes. So when the investors began having grand residential visions for the boxy factory, they knew they had to strike the right chord—or risk pushing away the gentrification-averse creative types who give the neighborhood its life.

The investors and architects met with the neighborhood’s artist pioneers to get their thoughts about what kind of development would best suit the community and persuade them they had no desire to be a character-crushing Bigfoot. “We paid close attention to not creating something that would have the arts community saying ‘We’re out of here,’” explains Douglas Stockman of the Kansas City architecture firm El Dorado Inc. “The project definitely cleaned things up, but we were careful to keep a certain rawness. We didn’t want to fix everything.”

Southwest corner exterior view of the cut-out rain screen on the Finn Lofts
One view of the Finn Lofts' southwest corner includes a cut-out rain screen. Image courtesy of c 2010 Jake Stangel.
They probably couldn’t have even if they had tried. The building, built to make brooms in the 1920s but most recently used as an appliance warehouse, had plenty of rough edges: The floors were battered; there were no operating windows and no heating or air conditioning; a long-ago fire had damaged parts of the building; and what appeared to be a giant box from the outside wasn’t particularly square inside, nor accommodating to the linear demands of modern design.

“It looks like a block, but it’s actually more of a trapezoid,” Stockman jokes. “When we first got the drawings, we thought: There’s not a right angle in this place.” To transform the raw 22,500-square-foot space—previously known simply as the Finn after its former owner—into the livable, sun-filled Finn Lofts, the architects designed a new building inside the shell of an old one. They also added a third floor, which created space for eight two-story penthouse apartments, each with vertiginous light wells that let the sun in. “We used a kind of carving and adding approach,” Stockman explains. Altogether, the building now houses 25 studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments, each one configured slightly differently to fit within the building like jigsaw pieces.

Portrait of Jamil Malone in loft J of the Finn Lofts
A social creature who seems to know everyone, Loft J occupant Jamil Malone has hosted several "alcohol-themed" parties and manages to wedge as many as 20 people into his studio. The gatherings are like gallery openings, with the walls of Malone's apartment displaying a roving selection of locally produced art.
By adding the top floor, covering the exterior in cedar strips, and installing custom windows that mu­ffle the sounds of the nearby railroad tracks, the architects transformed the hulking industrial building into a multitextured, multidimensional structure—something gallery hoppers along South Commerce Street can admire from the curb. With its high wooden ceilings, original floors, and scuffed, exposed brick—in some places still marked with graffiti—the building is a compelling mix of polish and rusticity, with a frontier-meets-urban feel. Stockman clad some of the hallways with old lumber salvaged from the center of the building, some of it blackened by fire and roof tar. “It was really important to us to focus on the common spaces,” says Stockman. “People are going to inhabit their own spaces in their own way, so why not make the common spaces more interesting? For us, it was about creating a complete experience.”

Portrait of the semi-annual Finn Lofts community party in Wichita
Architect Douglas Stockman says the building's charcoal-and-orange exterior coloring was "intended to reflect the dynamic character of the neighborhood." Here, it provides a festive backdrop to the residents' semi-annual Finn Lofts community party.
The tenants are also the beneficiaries of some unexpected, but very Wichitan, pleasures. Train cars frequently lumber along the tracks behind the building, bearing all kinds of loads, including the occasional fuselage of a Boeing 737, manufactured a few miles away. “It’s our rolling art show,” says Keith Bishop, a Web developer who shares the one-bedroom Loft B with his wife, Melissa.

The crooked old building seems to be adjusting to its new role. “I’ll hear creaking every once in a while,” says Jamil Malone, of Loft J. “Sometimes a piece of brick falls off the wall. I think it’s totally getting used to us, and we’re getting used to it.” The surrounding community is embracing the change, too, albeit cautiously. “The design is beautiful and it complements the area,” says Mitch Willis, artist and proprietor of the Go Away Garage, a gallery and custom motorcycle workshop next door to the Finn. “I guess I would say we’re hopeful.”
 

 

Finn Lofts by the Numbers

 

Address: 430 South Commerce Street, Wichita, Kansas

Lofts: 25

Mixed-use commercial space: 7,680 square feet

Loft size: 560 to 1,300 square feet

Rent: $750 to $1,600

First tenant: July 2010

Construction: 13 months

Total construction budget: $2.9 million

Original square footage: 22,500

Renovated square footage: 30,000

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016
The Greenhouses of Half Moon Bay
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 03, 2016
Deck of Australian addition to Edwardian home.
A 1,500-square-foot home in Melbourne welcomes a modern black and white kitchen, dining, and living area.
February 03, 2016
open plan concrete home in japan
Embracing the organic, imperfect material, these raw concrete surfaces are a step up from exposed brick.
February 03, 2016
Renovated DC Row House loft space with Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair.
The classic designer's signature and comfortable forms continue to be popular in homes today.
February 03, 2016
Zinc-roofed cabin France.
An architect builds an energy-efficient home near one of France’s most popular pilgrimage sites.
February 03, 2016
1973 Palm Springs home
Made for casual design enthusiasts and Palm Springs connoisseurs alike, Unseen Midcentury Desert Modern offers a peek into 51 buildings—some not open to the public—in that Southern California mecca of modernism. Begun in 2008 by photographer Dan Chavkin, the book is set for release this February 9th and will be available on Amazon and at multiple venues of Modernism Week in Palm Springs, February 11 - 21. Here we preview some of its images.
February 03, 2016
Millennial concept home with an outdoor living area
A concept home aims to reflect the requests of the Millennial market.
February 03, 2016
The two twelve-by-sixteen-foot bedrooms, directly above a comparable pair on the first floor, feature a glass transom that follows the pitch of the roof. “The stair and railings were very simple,” Depardon observes. “We added a bit of design, with panels
Skylights needn't be simple overhead daylighting; sometimes they can truly define a room.
February 03, 2016
Modern small space Rhode Island cottage with landscaping and cedar cladding
Surrounded by nature, these cottages are tranquil retreats from the city.
February 03, 2016
The couple kept original touches, including the arch.
Historic archways belie these contemporary homes with physical reminders of each structure's storied past.
February 03, 2016
modern guesthouse in norway with angular facade and cutaway patio with spruce cladding and ikea chair
These houses make room for nature, not the other way around.
February 02, 2016
Modern kitchen with yellow sectioned walls and monochrome appliances
Whether it's a splash of color or bold strokes, this collection of interiors brightens up these homes.
February 02, 2016
Rust-washed concrete wall in Moscow apartment renovation.
This 590-square-foot apartment was stripped down to admit sunlight and dramatically reveal forgotten surfaces.
February 02, 2016
Nendo's collection of objects inspired by Star Wars
In a galaxy not so far away, Japanese studio Nendo has released a versatile collection of objects inspired by classic Star Wars characters.
February 02, 2016
Monti catered to his mother’s love of cooking by giving her ample storage areas along the 70-foot long walnut wall-slash-cabinet. The refrigerator, kitchen items and other goods easily disappear into the wall when not in use. The nonporous, stain-, scratc
Sometimes the earthy colors and vivid grain of a wood like walnut is all you need to make a space.
February 02, 2016
renovated modern home in Austin interior kitchen
From California to Connecticut, these midcentury interiors still shine through thanks to the careful attention of architects and residents alike.
February 02, 2016
Outdoor dining area at a Saigon home.
A city home honors the local culture with communal outdoor space and reclaimed materials.
February 02, 2016
Affordable Portland home upper floor wrapped in black corrugated steel
These homes revel in both nature and city life.
February 01, 2016
London bedroom with exposed beams.
These homes show their bones to great effect.
February 01, 2016
Bar in an Amsterdam loft.
Bend an elbow with us at these very local watering holes.
February 01, 2016