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Living the High Life - Lofty Views, Room with a View

High above Hay Street, it’s another world.

This is the street Polly Brumm strolled as a child and later where she locked her car doors as she sped through on her way to someplace else.

Now she lives here.

Polly and Dan Brumm have front-row seats for the changes taking place in downtown Fayetteville. From their balcony, they have the best view in town for every Christmas parade or Fourth Friday celebration. They can watch a new restaurant take shape or boutique open its doors. And the perks of living across the street from a coffee shop and movie theater aren’t bad either. For every suburban house that boasts a three-car garage, what about a steady stream of mochas and movie-theater popcorn?

Go ahead and drool. Before they were loft dwellers, the Brumms did, too. They lived in Haymount but wondered about the spaces above the storefronts on Hay Street. Never going to happen, they said and sighed. They craned their necks, imagining the views from tall windows and rooms with high ceilings.

Now, after two years of loft living, they are putting that space to good use. After all, where else could you suspend a full-size canoe from the ceiling?

The Brumms are a couple in their 40s with grown children – five between the two of them. Polly teaches third grade at Howard Hall Elementary School. Dan makes lofts his living, not just his home. He restores lofts for retired neurosurgeon, property developer and all-around downtown enthusiast Dr. Menno Pennink. Dan does a bit of everything; he’s a certified heating and air conditioning mechanic and talented woodworker, electrician and plumber. He eventually plans to move his workshop from North Fayetteville to downtown and open a space to build boats.

Which brings us back to the boat hanging from the ceiling.

Polly and Dan had no idea how to get it inside their second-story loft.

“There was no way it was going up the elevator,” Dan said.

So that left one option – the balcony. Dan rigged up a pulley system and appealed to passersby on Hay Street for help. No one even blinked an eye at the odd request. They pulled it over the balcony, hauled it into the foyer and there it fits in perfectly with the other treasures the Brumms have collected – a Civil War rifle that still fires, an oil lamp from a 1940s caboose, a pair of old-fashioned wooden skates, a set of seats picked up from an old movie theater – each one with its own story.

“It’s eclectic, but it works,” Polly says. “It works here.”

Here is a warm and cozy space that is surprisingly large with three bedrooms, three full bathrooms and a huge living room. It even has a loft within a loft where the Brumms set up a small office and den to watch television or movies. Dan has filled the space with plants including one he started from a simple coconut. He painted a mural of an Indian warrior seated on horseback and plans to expose the brick wall around it. And that’s just the beginning of his renovation schemes – French doors leading out to the balcony, an arched doorway leading from the living room to dining room and perhaps a trellis to take the place of the thick load-bearing column in the living room.

Dan and Polly painted their home in warm shades of moss green, cranberry and orange. Soft lighting gives the whole place a relaxed feel, crucial for a couple with a busy lifestyle. In addition to teaching, Polly is working on a master’s degree and, in her spare time, trains people to run marathons. The first person home at night lights the dozens of candles that set the place aglow. The old-fashioned street lamps outside add their warm light. Polly takes her place in the leopard-print chair with matching footstool. Dan settles into the recliner. And they take turns reading to each other.

If it sounds comfy, it is. Lofts sometimes have a reputation as stark spaces, utilitarian places with minimalist touches. That’s how loft living got its start for people who lived and worked under one roof. They originated in Paris in the mid-19th century for artists who needed room for the oversized paintings. Their work required expansive high-ceilinged studios – the first lofts. They came to the United States in the early 20th century as storage warehouses near shipping ports in New York and Boston. The trend spread from New York’s SoHo neighborhood – now even more famous for actor Heath Ledger – to other urban areas around the country. They caught on as cities began to revitalize their abandoned downtowns. Cities like Fayetteville.

Downtown Fayetteville had become famous – or infamous – for its strip clubs and bars. The seedy reputation plagued Hay Street well into the 1990s. And then a few enterprising folks began to open up new businesses. The ones that stayed through the turbulent years began to see new life. It wasn’t long before more people wanted to live on downtown’s main drag. Now, the Fayetteville/Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce estimates that about 30 lofts are occupied downtown.

That number will increase once the new condominiums and townhouses are complete at 300 Hay.

And for every one, there is a different personality.

At the Brumms’ loft, it’s all about comfort.

Polly says she can’t imagine living anyplace else. “I never take it for granted. I am so fortunate,” she said. “I’ve done the house, I’ve done the apartment – this is really for me, it’s for us.”