It takes someone with a lot of vision to see unlimited potential in a forlorn house. But that’s exactly what Frits Abell had – lots of vision – when he purchased 445 Rhode Island, which had been sitting vacant for eight years. It would have been great to be a fly on the wall, the day he decided to purchase the property. There are very few people who can picture how a house of this nature should look, act, operate, fit in, and contribute to the neighborhood.
Frits’ bold decision to restore the structure is a blessing for the Five Points neighborhood in many ways. The striking Norwegian red that he chose to paint the house not only speaks to his personal flair, it also signals a new day for the neighborhood. This once dreary, vacant abode has sprung to life, signaling to passersby that it’s time to embrace a more colorful lifestyle.
In fact, there is currently a pop-up tenant occupying the first floor of the house – Ryan Arthurs, who recently returned to Buffalo from Boston (and he brought his partner with him). Ryan has set up a homo erotic pop-up called Liberty, which coincides with Pride Week – see Facebook event. The pop-up is curated by Resource:Art.
In order to capitalize on the steady growth of the Five Points neighborhood, Frits decided to convert the first floor of 445 Rhode Island to commercial. He says that he’s already had interest from three prospective tenants. The second floor is suitable for office space, or residential.
As for the building itself, Frits wanted to take a Scandinavian approach to the project. He is working with a landscaper to design an urban forest on the eastern side of the property – something that will look wild and lush, with lots of green to help accentuate the dramatic red. He also wanted to play off the Urban Roots cooperative garden center across the street.
The house’s foundation needed to be partially rebuilt. From there, he added new windows, and a back deck. He salvaged what he could, restored and partially rebuilt the front porch (perfect for Porchfest!) with numerous reclaimed resources from Reuse Action (including the doors). He also added a Danish-looking natural wood facade that frames the porch, which was an ingenious aesthetic move. Frits also kept the dated exterior wall shingles, which no longer look tragic. Instead, the eye-popping red accentuates the textured tiles, which miraculously fit with the rest of the rehab.
On the second floor, Frits decided to add a third front window to make the house’s facade more symmetrical. On the first floor he’s installing an AD-complaint mechanical lift.
Frits took down just about every wall that he came across… and there were a lot of walls! He attributes the successful rehab to the house having “interesting bones” that he came across.
In the process of opening the walls, Frits unearthed a lot of buried design elements, such as the original wainscoting and the fireplaces. According to Frits, that’s one of the fun parts of the journey – to uncover lost design elements that can once again shine in the space. “We kept peeling back the layers, to see what was underneath,” he explained. “Ultimately, I’m creating an blank envelope space for future tenants. I like to give the tenants the ability to choose their own floors and other design elements.”
To me, there’s nothing better than seeing a vibrant splash of color on a house. It’s hard to believe that this is the same place. It just goes to show, that there are still a ton of buried treasures on the West Side of the city, for those who have the aesthetic acumen to run with their gut feelings. In this particular case, Frits did what he knew had to be done, without breaking the bank. My hope is, when he’s finished with this project he moves onto another one. I would love to see a few more of these inspirational transitions underway in the neighborhood.