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Monday, September 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Remodel revives aging building

Alieska Morffis, left, and Robert Millar have renovated an apartment building on West Ninth Avenue.
 (Photos by Brian Plonka/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Alieska Morffis, left, and Robert Millar have renovated an apartment building on West Ninth Avenue. (Photos by Brian Plonka/ / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokesman-Review

Tucked among a swath of historic homes on West Ninth Avenue, a 1950s apartment building is getting a new lease on life, thanks to a pair of developers with an appreciation for mid-century modern style.

From the street, the simple brick facade fades into neighboring colonial and craftsman homes, its address – displayed in black, art deco numbers – the only a hint of the retro-inspired units inside. Around the corner, visitors are confronted by a shock of red against chocolaty-bronze brick, where two stories of vermillion-hued doors boasting brushed-steel hardware are set into the updated taupe exterior.

Six months ago that wasn’t the case, says Robert Millar, the building’s co-owner and developer.

“It was an ugly, flat-roofed, pink brick building,” he says of the eight condo units and five garage spaces he and partner Alieska Morffis purchased in April.

Today the property has a new roof, windows, electrical boxes, plumbing, and garage doors. Inside, Millar and Morffis kept much of the original layout intact, though each unit’s laundry room has been converted to a walk-in daylight closet plumbed for a stackable washer and dryer.

Although the units feature period touches, Millar says the goal was to keep costs to a minimum while giving each condo a retro feel.

“We originally wanted a ‘50s look, but it would have been a very expensive venture,” he says.

Instead, the condos include details and finishes reminiscent of the building’s mid-century heyday, while incorporating more contemporary elements.

“It’s not an authentic retro, but more of a hip-retro feel,” Millar says.

Starting at $90,000, the units range from a junior one-bedroom with a Murphy bed to a two-bedroom unit with one bath. Five of the units have garage spaces while the remaining three have off-street parking at the front of the building.

The units include Ikea cabinetry, slab counters, modern stainless fixtures and appliances, and a stainless steel backsplash in each kitchen. Skylights provide extra illumination in the top floor units, and rich, walnut floors add warmth and style.

All of the condo units face west, overlooking a landscaped garden that runs the length of the building. Each living room has a large front window with a view of the tree-lined corner at Ninth and Madison.

Recent transplants from Washington, D.C., Millar is an attorney who practiced telecommunications and regulatory policy law before Morffis, a real estate agent and developer, suggested he try his hand at property development. After Millar took a corporate job in Olympia, commuting between coasts, the partners began eyeing properties in the region. They settled on Spokane, where Millar went to high school. He still has family in the area, and says he is happy to have given up the corporate world to return to his Inland Northwest roots.

“I never thought I could be talked into coming back,” he laughs, adding that Morffis was the one who pushed for the move. “Now that I’m here, I love it.”

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