southside story

Chattanooga, Tenn., has attracted global attention for its ongoing downtown revitalization. Support from the local political, business, and nonprofit communities has helped fuel the city's turnaround. But small infill buildings like this artists' studio, gallery, and residence in the once-industrial Southside neighborhood are another essential step. “There was nothing there 10 years ago,” says the project's architect, Craig Kronenberg, AIA. Artists lured by cheap real estate and lofty spaces gradually began to move into the area—including Kronenberg's sister-in-law, Melissa Hefferlin, and her husband, Daud Akhriev. The couple, both painters, purchased a one-story warehouse and asked Kronenberg to transform it into a space where they could live and work.

He started by designing a new painting studio for both artists at the rear of the 26-foot-wide-by-130-foot-deep lot. The building's pitched roof and high ceilings allowed for a long, north-facing skylight and accommodated Akhriev's preference for painting on large canvases. A courtyard separates the studio from the rebuilt, now two-story, front structure, which holds a gallery space on the ground floor and a one-bedroom apartment for Hefferlin and Akhriev on the second level.

Though Kronenberg had initially envisioned zinc cladding for the studio, Akhriev wanted stone, as a reference to the buildings he remembered from his Ingushi upbringing in the former Soviet Union. Akhriev applied it himself; he also personally pickled the wood for the apartment and studio ceilings and hand-salvaged heart pine for the gallery's front doors and the studio's floors. Such hands-on involvement pleased Kronenberg, who viewed the project as a complete collaboration. “They were such enlightened clients,” he says. “They treated us as artists, as we would them.”

Other material choices related to the local context. For instance, zinc covers the apartment's exterior, in a nod to the Southside neighborhood's history as a metalworking center. A rare, fossil-embedded Tennessee limestone sheaths the lower, gallery half of the building. The complex's diminutive scale falls in line with the rest of the streetscape, which now boasts adaptive-reuse condominiums, galleries, art supply stores, and restaurants. Kronenberg wasn't sure what would happen to the buildings on either side of the property, so he designed the project to be structurally independent from its neighbors. “It just lightly touches the buildings next to it, like inserting a table between two walls,” he says.

He and Heidi Hefferlin, AIA, his wife and business partner (and Melissa Hefferlin's sister), live in a new townhome on the next block—one of seven attached units they've designed and developed themselves. They're working on three more such projects in the immediate area. In Chattanooga, it seems, the classic tradition of artists and designers reviving downtrodden urban areas is alive and well.

Akhriev-Hefferlin Williams Street Studio, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hefferlin+Kronenberg Architects, Chattanooga

general contractor:
Jim Morrow, Jim Morrow Construction, Chattanooga

project size:
3,595 square feet (includes residence, studio, and gallery)

site size:
0.08 acre

construction cost:
Approximately $180 per square foot

Tim Street-Porter, except where noted