The Hangars

January 4, 2011

A vintage tin bi-plane makes appropriate décor.

Joab’s Patience Pays Off

By William Thrift | Photography by John Wrightenberry

The Midwest is known for its wide-open spaces, so Milwaukee seems like a good starting point for Joab Dick. His father managed JC Penney stores, sending the family to several cities across the country before landing in Columbia at about the time Joab was ready to begin his college career. Undoubtedly, the experience of moving from city to city imprinted Joab with a bit of wanderlust. He started at USC as a pre-med student, eventually taking a job at a local hospital. While immersing himself in the medical field, the stock market caught his eye, leading him to switch majors and graduate with a finance degree. He got into Merrill Lynch as part of a newly formed young-worker program right out of school. For the next five years, he wore a coat and tie and worked at a desk in an office with other young men and women.

Rather than try to disguise the arched steel support beams, Joab painted them bright red.

At some point, the tedium of figures and analyses became too much for him, and Joab fled to Fort Lauderdale to work as a crew member on luxury yachts (130 footers). His tasks ran the gamut from engineering to entertainment with clients like Frank and Kathy Gifford who cruised to points tropical like the Bahamas.

But the sea was just another in a list of destinations, and after awhile Joab found himself back in Columbia helping a friend build a house on Lake Murray. The process of building the house triggered an interest that had been somewhat dormant since childhood. He realized that he had always loved building things and had a natural talent for it. Thus began his career as an independent contractor.

The kitchen has concrete counters, Bosch appliances, and custom birch cabinets.

If you’ve ever found something you didn’t know you’d lost while searching for something else, you know how Joab came to his next milestone. While he was happily toiling away on various construction projects, including the Ray Tidwell house, the Siebels house, and Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood home, Joab eventually discovered West Columbia’s old municipal square. The barebones 1804 jailhouse was just what he was looking for (although he didn’t know it at the time – think Richard Dreyfus’s visions of Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters). Joab saw that the old structure could be transformed into a unique living space, and the project was small enough for him to handle on his own. He renovated the jail into a suite with the two cells becoming a bathroom and large closet. Soon thereafter, Joab found himself living and working out of a renovated structure much like the one he’d seen as a college student down on Lincoln Street in the new Vista area.

A mirror sculpture provides unique perspectives.

In the early ‘90’s, during one of the first Vista Lights events, the Lewis + Clark gallery opened its doors to the public. One of the patrons that night was USC pre-med major, Joab Dick. He had been lured to the once-forgotten streets overlooking the Congaree River by the colorful galleries and enthusiastic crowd ambling from door-to-door to see what new artists they might find. At Lewis + Clark, Joab was enraptured at the idea that Clark Ellefson actually lived in the loft he’d created above his gallery workspace.

The dramatic living area of the space retains its industrial look.

That impression of the live/work ideal never left Joab, and it has culminated in one of his latest ventures: The Hangars. Down by Owens Field, Joab found an old structure originally built to be an airplane hangar. He was intrigued at the possibility of transforming the space into individual loft units – unheard of in Columbia at the time.

The bathroom is outfitted with an unusual custom sink.

Joab had a little trouble contacting the owner of the building, which had once housed a children’s clothing manufacturer; he could barely read the phone number on the for sale sign. This difficulty would prove to be a harbinger of things to come. Once he finally had the keys to the building, he rented a few Bobcats and completely gutted the structure down to the brick walls and arched steel beams. He had enough capital to hire local architects, LTC Associates, and he had them draw a basic layout that complied with city building codes, so that he could begin laying out electrical and plumbing for the planned eight units.

Then came the hard part. Joab needed financing to complete the project and so, like most small businessmen, he visited a local bank to secure it. He was flatly rejected. Banker after banker listened to his passionate proposal. Some of the responses he got revealed just how new the concept was to Columbia. No one was quite sure what loft living was all about. There was skepticism about the viability of the Owens Field area of the Rosewood neighborhood. Some bankers naively wondered who could possibly want to live in a dusty old airplane hangar?

Rather than continuing to beat his head against a wall, Joab turned to a handful of people he knew, including real estate developer Don Tomlin, who would be more receptive to his idea. Mr. Tomlin was finally able to get the wheels turning for Joab by introducing him to a banker who would share his vision. The caveat was that the bank would finance two units at a time. Once the two units were leased, they would make the funds available for Joab to complete two more units.

Joab’s innovative use of dead space below the stairs.

After completing the first unit, Joab moved into it and acted as the general contractor coordinating subs to complete the units in increments. He had deftly worked out a deal to get the best price on building materials for all of the units instead of losing the economy of scale by having to buy for two units at a time.

Each unit was designed by Joab in a typical loft layout with the living and entertaining spaces on the lower level, and a staircase leading to a mezzanine which could be used as a bedroom, office, or storage. The entrance to each unit is an expansion of one of the building’s existing windows. Kitchens and bathrooms feature birch cabinetry, poured concrete counters, stainless hardware, and low-voltage lighting. Bosch stainless steel appliances were installed in the kitchens. Joab was so impressed with a hotel renovation in Miami’s South Beach that he borrowed their cobalt blue accent lighting to make walkways and ledges glow.

Close-up detail of the hand-made, laminated steps to the mezzanine.

Joab used one of Clark Ellefson’s favorite woodworking resources, Billy Mustard, to build all of the cabinetry and the staircases. The smaller units feature Billy’s hand-crafted, space-saving spiral staircases. Joab’s unit, twice as large as the others, features hand-made, laminated steps straddling a single metal beam straight up to the mezzanine level.

Joab had a specific vision for the overall style of the structure. While he finished the ceiling with tongue and groove pine, he left the building’s original arched beams exposed, opting only to sand and paint them. He considered finishing the floors, but after removing the old linoleum tile flooring, he liked the character of the faint grid patterns that remained and simply sealed the concrete. Each unit comes with a fully enclosed, private patio area – the high steel walls and red sliding doors gird the building on the parking side like signature armor. Indeed, you’ll recognize the Joab Dick design at the building just around the corner on South Edisto by the gray corrugated metal and bright yellow door on the patio area.

Low voltage lighting is used throughout the loft.

Once he found what he was looking for, there was no going back for Richard Dreyfuss. But instead of flying off with aliens, Joab has immersed himself in the loft lifestyle – call it casual surrounded by the traditions and motifs of industry. It’s perfect for someone with a strong work ethic. When he’s not on a jobsite, Joab coordinates his business, Joab Dick Construction, from the comfort of a sleek leather sofa in his downstairs living space or from up in his mezzanine office. He may work long, unusual hours; but he also enjoys the solace afforded by the high spaces and structured surroundings that he’s created in The Hangars.

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