A Royal Retrofit

Fitting It All In

“We could see the infrastructure pretty well from the basement and from the attic. But there was steel in places we sometimes didn’t expect.”
-Colin Crossman

The Crossmans’ vision for the retrofit was based on three goals: to preserve the historic architecture of the building for future generations; to do so with respect for the environment; and to use the best, most efficient technology available.

Because design plans had to be drawn up and approved by the city before the Crossmans bought the building, they couldn’t know for certain what lay behind the walls. Once construction began, they discovered they would need to adjust some of their schematics. “We could see the infrastructure pretty well from the basement and from the attic,” Colin remembered. “But there was steel in places we sometimes didn’t expect.”

That’s right: steel. While the building looks like a home, it was built like an institution. Load-bearing, 18-inch thick masonry exterior walls, an internal armature of steel columns and beams, eight-foot wide corridors, 12-foot ceilings, an 800-square-foot dining room—these features define the interior spaces and reflect the building’s original purpose.

The effort to preserve the original circulation of the rest home required the significant removal of just one wall. The consolidation of the original 29 rooms and six shared bathrooms into 17 suites with individual private baths proved to be one of the biggest challenges the retrofit presented. Deanna, the general contractor for the project, said they had to find creative ways to install 26 total bathroom drains behind the walls where space was often very limited. Columns were deepened and chases were built in closets, but working within the confines of the original layout allowed for each suite to be completely unique. Each room has a distinct configuration unlike that of any other room, and each has its own décor style, ranging from classical to Art Deco to more modern motifs. Each room is named for a woman that once called it home, adding to the almost palpable sense of history that one feels when roaming the halls.

As part of the renovation, the Crossmans transformed the attic into a livable two-bedroom space which they now call home.

The front facade of the King's Daughters Inn overlooks the campus of Duke University. The bed and breakfast is located within walking and bicycling distance from attractions in downtown Durham, N.C.

Many architectural and historic elements were preserved or restored during the retrofit, including the two-story box columns on the portico, arched windows, a re-opened grand staircase, heart-of-pine floors, fireplaces with marble mantels and old brass cover plates on light switches. While the historic preservation of the building and its character are remarkable, just as extraordinary is the degree to which the Crossmans added sustainable, environmentally friendly elements to the inn. The integration of the two reflects the Crossmans’ philosophy that while historic preservation is about preserving the past and green building is about protecting the future, the two practices actually complement each other as both require the lightest touch possible.

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