By Melissa Goslin
In 1999, Hank and Diane Parfitt put their money where their mouths were and planted the seed for a downtown downsizing twenty-five years in the making.
In the late 1990s, Hank and Diane Parfitt opened City Center Gallery in a rented space on Maxwell Street. As a result, they started spending a lot of time downtown and were disheartened by the excess of empty, run-down buildings. Instead of quietly complaining, they decided to do something about it. Hank gathered a group of like-minded folks, which eventually became the Downtown Alliance. Around that same time, the Arts Council also introduced their now-popular 4th Fridays.
“We were truly enchanted with the lights they had just put up and the idea of having a glass of wine while we looked at art,” Hank said.
Early on, the Parfitts also made a commitment to support local art.
“I’m not an artist, but we both love art and realize how much talent there is here in Fayetteville,” Diane said.
With the level of talent, it was clear that many artists they worked with could easily make a living in a market like New York, where people are more willing to accept high price tags on original work. Still, they stayed and worked in Fayetteville because this was home.
“We’ve worked with local artists for many years and feel a loyalty to them. Fayetteville isn’t a destination market, so we have always felt it’s important to do our part to support their art,” Hank said.
After knocking on doors and convincing merchants and businesses to invest in downtown, Hank was given the opportunity to practice what he was preaching—the building at 112 Hay Street was up for sale. A small wig shop was renting the first floor retail space and there was potential for a residence upstairs. However, the building itself was in need of severe renovation. He brought Diane to have a look around, and the couple started to toss around the idea of living there someday.
After years of moving around during the first years of Hank’s medical and naval career, the Parfitts were settled into the home they built on Great Oaks off Morganton. Hank’s practice and their two children were thriving. Downtown wasn’t quite ready yet, and neither were they. Still, they believed strongly enough in the potential to take a giant leap of faith.
Renovating the Space
As the building’s new owners, the Parfitts kept the status quo for a few years, until the owner of the wig store decided to close shop.
“A former boyfriend came to town and swept her away to Hawaii,” Hank recalled. “We had to make a decision about what to do next.”
The Parfitts met with architect Eric Lindstrom, who was one of the first to move his own residence downtown. Although the trend for urban spaces was exposed brick and duct work, Diane knew that wasn’t for her. She wanted something that fit her style as well as the history of the building.
“It was the staircase that did it for me,” Diane said, thinking back to that first tour of the building.
It’s a grand split staircase worthy of Scarlett O’Hara. When the building was home to the Miss Vogue dress shop, models would grace the steps in the latest fashions while customers watched from below.
Lindstrom visited the Parfitt’s house and took their style (and large art collection) into account when drawing up his plans.
“He was spot on,” Diane said.
Nine months later, in 2003, the renovations were complete.
Tucked behind the retail space, a ground floor study showcases a wooden bookshelf complete with a rolling ladder that would melt the heart of nay bibliophile. Atop the staircase, an open floor plan welcomes guests into the cozy living room, dining area and kitchen.
One of the most stunning features is tucked between the kitchen and master bedroom—the spiral staircase that leads to the third floor deck for an unmatched rooftop view of the city.
Outside, the original cast iron scrollwork and pilasters kept the late Victorian feel of the storefront in tact. The building had all the charm of an English bookstore, which gave the Parfitts an idea—City Center Gallery became City Center Gallery and Books.
“I knew art wasn’t going to be the main thing to get people through the doors,” Diane said. “I love books and had always wanted to own a bookstore.”
A former English major, Hank was an easy sell on the idea. As he says, man’s greatest inventions are books and art.
Somewhere around the ‘30s or ‘40s, there had been a movement to modernize the retail spaces, lowering ceilings and expanding the display areas at the front of the store so that customer had to walk between the encased displays to reach the door. The Parfitts moved the footprint back out so that the door was even with the windows. Photos from 1941 show the original red brick, however, they decided to keep the black-and-white paint scheme.
When adding books to the mix, Diane dug in and did her research, and she decided to sell mostly used books, specifically those that appealed to collectors. She quickly realized customers were interested in the classics.
“You know, all those books you rolled your eyes at in high school,” Diane joked.
While the Parfitts were actively running the store, they chose to lease out the residential space with the idea they would someday move in themselves. In late 2005, the Parfitts seriously tossed around the idea of making their move. There was a renter in the loft, so they met with a realtor about downsizing to a smaller transitional home where they could await their eventual move downtown. Life, as it turned out, had other plans. Things got busy and it looked like the move would have to wait.
Making the Move
In 2014, the Army doctor renting the residential space above City Center Gallery and Books received orders to Iraq. The Parfitts took their cue and decided not to put the space up for lease again. Their children, Matthew and Nicole, were grown and out of the house they’d built back in 1989. It was time for a new adventure. However, downsizing to less than half the square footage presented its own set of challenges. First, there was the matter of furniture.
“Once I realized we could move before the house sold, it was easy. We could see what fit and what we really wanted in the new space,” Diane said.
Next, came the task of sorting through everything else.
“I remember thinking I had most of the important things, and all we had left was the cabinets and closets,” Hank said. “I was wrong. Ninety percent of the work was going through those cabinets and closets.”
He sites the old adage—if you haven’t used it in a year, you don’t need it. That line of thinking didn’t hold up against all of the photos and mementos they’d collected while creating their lives and raising children. Instead, he developed a new litmus test: if the house was on fire, would you run back for it?
Taking their artwork into consideration, Lindstrom’s design included plenty of wall space throughout the loft, including a long hallway running through the dining room to the master bedroom. From nautical scenes to mixed media abstracts, local art fills the common spaces.
“When you’re an art dealer, everything is for sale,” Diane said.
Following the downtown candlelight loft tour this past December, a man came into the gallery and asked about a piece he had seen. Parfitt agreed to sell it to him straight off her wall.
Although they loved their home on Great Oaks, no tears were shed for the house—or the things in it.
“You get to a place where you realize it’s just stuff, and you don’t want to be tied to stuff,” Diane said.
So what was worthy of saving from a fire?
The drop-leaf table resting on the landing was their first dining room table, bought for $32 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photos depicting the history of the building are displayed above a small reminder of the Parfitt’s own story—a cupboard designed to hold sheet music that the couple repurposed into a liquor cabinet two years into their marriage.
Diane’s only regret was getting rid of a small tea cart that would have been useful to carry items up to the rooftop deck via the small elevator beside their kitchen.
For the Parfitts, convenience is the biggest luxury of their downtown digs.
“We leave our house at 6:55 p.m. to make a 7 o’clock show at the Cameo,” Hank said.
Still active in several downtown initiatives, both Hank and Diane walk to most of their meetings. They frequent the restaurants and shops they both helped to bring into the area. As former president and current board member of Downtown Alliance, Hank is reaping the benefits of a thriving downtown he helped to sow.
“When Hank was still practicing, he’d have a few meetings each year and we’d go to places like San Francisco. I always hit the downtown area to see the city. You don’t go to the shopping malls to get the feel of a place. You go downtown,” Diane said.
After a week in the loft, they had adjusted to the sounds of downtown, including the trains. Now they don’t even notice them.
“It’s just like anywhere else,” Diane said. “The sights and sounds are just part of the ambiance.”
There is also a strong sense of community downtown that they both enjoy. The guest lists for their dinner parties have gotten smaller, but that’s an adjustment they don’t seem to mind at all. Instead of hosting forty people at a time, the couple relishes the more intimate gatherings of ten friends at a time.
“We did have Christmas here. We managed the tree, the grandkids and their dog, and it worked out just fine. It actually reminded me of when I was growing up. You slept on the couches, on the floor—anything to just be with family.”
Their first apartment as a married couple was in Baltimore, Maryland. It wasn’t a garden apartment, so there was no outdoor space. They did, however, have a Volkswagen and a small hibachi grill that turned the parking lot into a makeshift cook out. Recently, Hank bought a George Foreman grill for Diane’s birthday and they had their first steaks on it.
“I guess we really have come full circle,” Hank said.
Perched beside him on the couch that made the cut from the old house to this new space, Diane laughs and gives him a wide-eyed look that makes it clear their latest adventure is nowhere near their last.