If it’s an old, vacant, deteriorating building with a certain appeal of style or structure, it’s likely to catch the eye of artist, designer and now-developer Kyla Coburn.
If a vision for redeveloping the building sweeps in front of her internal, artistic eye, she will put her team at Central Falls-based Kyla Coburn Designs on finding what might be thought of as the new spirit of the building.
While she continues her extensive work in designing interiors, mostly restaurants, with unusual, hand-picked, discovered furniture or artifacts, Coburn’s company has edged neck-deep into buying properties and slogging through the intricacies of planning, zoning, funding and renovation.
Take the previously vacant mill at 763 High St. in Central Falls, for instance, the company’s first purchase of property for design-build in 2008.
“It was brutal. We had to clean up the soil. The electric was sketchy,” said Coburn, whose company office and woodshop, with an adjoining apartment, constitute one of the six live-work spaces in the building. “There was some kind of running water, but it was not going into the sewer. We found out it was never connected to a sewer, so just the process of getting the building prepared and connected to city sewer cost $19,000.”
The Kyla Coburn Designs team, which includes her business partner and husband, Andy Trench, who is a carpenter and general contractor, named the project Archers Mill. The project took about three years and the six spaces in the renovated building are all occupied.
The leap from years of designing restaurant interiors – including The Grange at the corner of Dean Street and Broadway in Providence – into the purchase of the Central Falls mill didn’t seem to her as big a step as might be expected, considering the investment.
“If I see an exciting building, I want to fix it up,” said Coburn, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design.
The creative urge to see the space as it eventually came to be, including replicas of historic windows, walls of bookshelves that allow for modular rooms, a common deck for residents overlooking the Blackstone River and kayaks at the edge of the water, made it easier to work through the extensive details required for any development project.