Lexington, KY – When encountering a run-down local property, neglected by renters and absentee landlords for years, most people see a neighborhood blight or an eyesore. Nicholas Solon and Danny Strong, however, look at those same properties and see an opportunity -
a blank canvas on which to create their distinct brand of art, while investing in a community at the same time. As owners of BrokenFork Unique Design and Construction, Solon and Strong have transformed dozens of “fringe” properties in Lexington, with a strong focus on homes on the third block of the Kenwick neighborhood, between Richmond Road and National Avenue.
“We’re not contractors or builders,” Solon certified. “We invest in property in a way that is different from a lot of people.”
BrokenFork purchases properties that are often so far gone that many investors wouldn’t look twice at them; then, they essentially strip them to the bare bones, while salvaging anything that might be worth saving. From that point, working with a team of artists, craftsmen and carpenters, BrokenFork casts an artful, and often unorthodox, transformation over the property, using unique and reclaimed materials and typically letting the original style of the home dictate the style of the remodel. The result ranges from rustic to contemporary, but one thing is for certain: the final product is always one-of-a-kind.
“We’ve done a lot of craftsman-era homes where we’ll continue that theme, and we’ve done some Victorian-era homes where we’ll continue that theme,” Solon said. “Our main concern is to create a product that represents who we are and has a positive impact on the community – there are so many homes out there, but a lot of them are identical and have no soul.”
Many of the features that BrokenFork specializes in are ones you might expect to find only in very expensive home:
carved stone sinks, slate-tiled showers, handmade tiles, solid-wood shelving built into the wall. But one goal that the company does not stray from is keeping the homes affordable – recent BrokenFork projects have gone on the market for $75,000 -
“We want young people to be able to afford the houses,” Strong said, adding that Kenwick has been the ideal neighborhood for their projects – the availability of affordable homes, particularly in the third block, has given the company the opportunity to buy properties that a lot of investors might have shied away from, or written off as a cheap rental property. “There are a lot of homeowners on the third block who have lived there for a long time,” he added. “There aren’t as many rentals as you would think.”
BrokenFork started earlier this decade when Strong and Solon, who have a combined history of real estate, construction, science and various entrepreneurial endeavors, both found themselves re-prioritizing to focus specifically on what they wanted to do, without giving precedence to financial concerns or the expectations or demands of others.
“We started doing stuff with reclaimed wood, galvanized sinks, copper tubs for sinks – a bunch of really off-the-wall ideas, but they just started selling,” Solon said. The company’s vision is now realized in the unique brand they have established: a blend of craftsmanship, attention to detail, and the unusual recycled materials they incorporate into their designs.
“There’s nothing plastic in any of these houses – everything is metal, stone, wood,” Strong said. The team occasionally purchases materials from Lowe’s or Home Depot, they admit, but for the most part, they utilize materials found at thrift stores, garage sales, old barns and wholesale shops with extra material to get rid of – materials used in recent projects include river rocks, canvas tarp, bamboo screens, barn-wood beams, and hardwood from both a school gymnasium floor and a bourbon distillery. In many instances, BrokenFork resorts to older techniques of creating stains and paints, using ingredients such as steel wool and vinegar, pottery clay, sand, and lime.
“People have gotten so used to going to Lowe’s and buying from the shelf – they forget that people have been painting and staining for thousands of years, and they didn’t go to Lowe’s, they just made it,” Strong said. “Lime, salt – they’re cheap materials, you just have to mix it together and read the instructions versus going to the store and buying it. It’s more labor intensive, but it costs less, material-wise.”
The diversity of the Kenwick neighborhood, and the fact that the neighborhood is going up in value, are both huge selling points to Strong and Solon, whose clients have included a pathologist, a librarian, a construction worker, retirees and an “earthy” couple from Oregon, who does sustainable gardening in their home. But while many BrokenFork home projects are concentrated in the Kenwick area, the company has started to diversify a bit, moving to some downtown properties and a recent commercial venture: Superlative Coffee, a new local coffee roaster on Mechanic Street.
“We’re looking to get into more and more commercial properties, because even businesses have a need for unique space,” Solon said. “That’s part of their business and that’s part of what brings in their particular customer base.”
BrokenFork derives their inspiration from a variety of sources: old buildings, commercial structures, mountain cabins. “There’s so many ways to get inspired,” Solon said. “You just have to think outside the box.”