You don’t have to move to a big city to live in an urban loft. Just ask Amanda Thoron.
She recently rehabbed an 1891 storefront in downtown Edwardsville, turning the second floor into a 3,000-square-foot loft apartment that overlooks shops, restaurants and the Wildey Theatre.
“It’s beautiful at night with all the lights,” said Amanda, 40, a fine artist, design consultant and rental property owner.
The open floor plan includes 20-foot-high ceilings, exposed brick walls and wood beams, hickory floors and a mixture of modern, antique and industrial-style furnishings and accents.
There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Amanda allocated space for her abstract painting studio and decorated walls with pieces by other local artists.
“It’s warm and it’s welcoming, and it has this really cool, artsy vibe,” said her friend, Donya Hengehold, 47, a public relations consultant who lives in Edwardsville.
Downstairs, the double storefront houses Where They Roam, a home-decor shop for babies, children and teens that’s an extension of The Gingham Buffalo down the street.
Amanda divides her time between the loft and a home in rural Edwardsville that she shares with her six children, ages 7 to 19 (the youngest are triplets).
“Once my children are grown, I plan on selling the country house and living and working here,” she said. “That way, I can do more traveling.”
The rehab also doubles as a showroom for Amanda’s design business. She specializes in using doors, windows and other architectural features salvaged from historical buildings.
The most notable example is the master-bedroom headboard, made of a massive stained-glass window from an old church.
“They’re beautiful things that normally get thrown away, but they’re art pieces when you display them the right way,” Amanda said.
The loft has 8-foot-plus wooden doors that came from a St. Louis mansion that was demolished. A buffet-like cabinet began as an old work bench with soda crates as drawers.
A wheeled cart from Lemp Brewery in St. Louis serves as a coffee table in the living room. Amanda put on a glass top to show off its iron hardware.
The cart sits on a fluffy white area rug with a black diamond pattern.
“I love this rug,” Amanda said. “It was handmade on a loom in Morocco in the ’80s. It’s wool, and wool sheds, so the vintage part is very important. It’s been cleaned, and it’s done shedding.”
Amanda combines artifacts with new items, including a black easel that holds her 55-inch TV set and a 12-foot-long brown leather couch that she distressed.
The contemporary kitchen features dark European-style cabinets, stainless-steel appliances and white subway tiles.
Artist Aaron Wood fabricated a massive steel fireplace and mantel for the living room and range hood for the kitchen.
“I used a special chemical process to change the color but retain its iridescence or natural metallic finish,” he said. “(The mantel) has like an antique-bronze and black patina.”
Aaron, 40, of Collinsville, is a painter who specializes in acrylic images of animals and landscapes. Professionally, he goes by “Hollywood Indian.”
Aaron saw the loft project as a challenge. Beyond the the fireplace and range hood, he also designed steel baseboards and black railings around the staircase entrance.
“It was the first time I had done each of those specific things,” he said. “It was exciting, but terrifying. You know what you want it to look like, but you don’t know how it will turn out.”
Amanda grew up in Ramsey and studied speech and journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She worked for an information technology recruiting firm before becoming a full-time mom.
The family moved to Edwardsville in 2001 for its reputable schools, extensive trail system and other amenities.
Amanda started painting under the name Studio 7 Fine Art and Design several years ago and became interested in architectural salvage while renting space at Lemp Brewery.
“I was desperately looking for a place in Edwardsville because I wanted to live and work in the same town,” she said. “It makes life so much easier.”
Amanda bought the corner building at 301-303 N. Main St. last summer. It was erected in 1891 by a German family named Blickle that operated a tavern and boarding house.
Subsequent tenants included a brewery, shirt factory, shoe store, doughnut shop and plumbing, electrical-supply, insurance and printing businesses.
The lower level housed a knitting store and Madison County Record office when Amanda took over. She hired Pfund Construction to gut and renovate it.
“I love working on these old buildings,” said company co-owner Matt Pfund, 43, of Edwardsville. “You’re almost a detective, trying to figure out all the things that people have done to them.”
A major challenge was stabilizing the facade, which had separated from the main structure.
Another problem was removing layers of exterior paint — pink, green and finally white — without damaging the old brick.
“We ended up using a soft aggregate that comes from recycled beer bottles,” Amanda said. “You mix it with water, and you spray it on, and it safely takes off the paint.
“This method is used across the country for historical buildings. Not all the paint comes off. We playfully call it ‘urban camouflage.’”
Workers also installed a new roof, new windows and new electrical, plumbing and climate systems, returned storefront entrances to their original design and trimmed them in black.
This is the fourth historical building in downtown Edwardsville that Matt and his brother, Corey, have rehabbed.
“Amanda did such an extensive overhaul that, hopefully, it will give the building another 100 years,” Matt said.
Amanda hopes to turn green space behind the building into a community garden where people can work together and share produce.
The loft’s covered rear deck overlooks the Madison County jail and courthouse parking — not as picturesque as Main Street but part of the urban landscape.
“I think (the rehab is) a great addition to downtown Edwardsville,” Donya said. “We’ve seen so much growth, and there are so many cool things happening. This is just one more.”