Crafted with purpose

As the site of one of the most significant Civil War battles, Franklin, Tenn., is a big draw for history buffs. A 20-mile drive south of Nashville, the town also has other treasures to share, surprising tourists with a wealth of art, design, craftsmanship and music. During the renovation of the Franklin Visitor Center, showcasing this mix of rich history, local talent and Southern hospitality became a priority.

The former 150-sq.-ft. visitor center needed to expand and found the ideal space when a 1,391-sq.-ft. clothing store moved out of downtown. The visitors’ bureau approached Scott Wilson Architect to help with the renovation. “I’m proud of our county’s phenomenal artisans and craftspeople and saw the space as an opportunity to give back to our community,” says Scott Wilson, principal of Scott Wilson Architect. “The shared vision of presenting local talent throughout the center’s space really inspired a full team effort.”

Necessity drives innovation

Timing and budget were tight. By the time the design and regulatory permits were complete, the facility had only 30 days to get up and running. Combined with a total project cost of $57,000, creativity was in order. The team also had a real commitment to sustainability, and solutions arose that met multiple objectives.

Re-purposing as many existing elements as possible reduced costs and kept materials out of the landfill. The former space’s clothing racks, storage area and shelving were reused for the visitor center’s retail space and stocked with T-shirts and souvenirs. The concrete slab was cleaned and given a protective finish. The team retained 90 percent of the lighting fixtures and replaced incandescent bulbs with LEDs. As halogen bulbs in existing track lights burn out, they are replaced with LEDs, which reduce the space’s heating and cooling load and offers superior longevity.

Wilson took great care to ensure the existing elements look intentional in the new design. A decorative vinyl wrap was affixed to the door of a non-functioning elevator that was too expensive to repair or remove.

Sourcing local design and building materials supported the economy, reduced transportation costs and helped adhere to the tight deadline. The team obtained salvaged barn wood and roofing from the Tennessee Barn Project for custom pieces such as the reception desk, privacy nooks, benches, interactive area, retail space and two display tables. Existing concrete columns were also wrapped in the wood.

“We wanted to give the space a historic look, and the reclaimed, weathered wood has so much character and gives a nod to the region’s heritage,” notes Wilson. “It was also a wonderful way to show what can be done with repurposed materials to reduce CO2 emissions.”

Art and artists

Wilson credits Laura Musgrave, the visitor center’s services manager, as instrumental in helping make the vision a reality. She took the initiative to bring the right craftsmen on board. Creative ideas arose as new people joined the process, and Wilson says the design continued to evolve on the fly, even throughout construction.

For example, Tennessee Barn Project builders made the reception desk’s surface with Galvalume metal roofing from an old barn. White striped sections in the surface originate from where the wood was nailed to the barn’s rafters. The craftsmen put the metal through a press to flatten it and sealed it with a clear gray finish. In the area where a television monitor was to be mounted to the wall, the craftsmen transformed the inlay into a work of art with thin strips of colored wood. The mottled detail’s various colors were carefully selected from various barns to create an effect that blends into the aesthetic of the wall, yet stands out visually.

On one side of the reception desk, floating shelves suspended by a narrow steel tube from the overhead beam cantilever off one side of a wood-wrapped column. Toward the back, Wilson designed a set of wooden shelving tailored to the exact sizes of brochures to complement the floating shelves.

Another artistic highlight is a local photographer’s stunning image of the Carnton cotton plantation that covers one wall, showing a place that had a significant role during the American Civil War’s Battle of Franklin.

Multifaceted program

“Every inch of this place serves a purpose,” Wilson notes. “We left it open so people can move all the way around the center, and the spaces are versatile to handle many different scenarios.”

First and foremost, the center is meant to educate visitors about the county. Areas are separated into different functions. The front half welcomes tourists to the reception area, where a flat monitor incorporated into the top can be an interactive map or remain as counter space.

Behind the reception area, a second desk has storage below covered by a Verdigris finish. The countertop allows staff to wrap gifts or peruse brochures and maps with visitors. Also, the center hosts community events, and this space holds hors d’oeuvres during receptions and artists’ jewelry during Franklin’s monthly art crawl. The retail space houses items like shirts and coffee mugs to help fund the organization.

A nook near the front allows visitors to browse through books and plan trips. iPads available for checkout for interactive tours line one wall, and another wall has a chalk board and metal boards for messages, flyers and event notifications.

The center also sports a musical “picking corner” where anyone can take a guitar or banjo off the wall and play. “It’s not at all unusual for someone to sit down and start playing. Everyone loves to hear it,” Wilson says. “This high-level project really benefits the community and offers visitors a view of Franklin and local talent.” QR


KJ Fields writes from Portland, Ore., about remodeling and design.