The company specializes in historical renovations.

Junior high made an impression on Charissa Durst. The Massachusetts native attended classes in a historic building with great architectural features. The experience got Durst, a history buff, thinking about a career in architecture.

Today, she combines both passions while serving as president and principal architect of Hardlines Design Company. The Columbus architectural firm specializes in historic preservation, breathing new life into old spaces. “It seems like such a waste to demolish a building and put it in a landfill,” she says. “With a little bit of creativity, you can be using it for another 100 years.”

The company has worked on numerous historic buildings throughout the state, including Stewart Elementary School in German Village and the Lincoln Theatre in the King-Lincoln District. Durst and her team are finishing an $18 million renovation of the Woodward Opera House in Mount Vernon—a project that has lasted nearly 20 years. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The project, which was done in phases due to funding constraints, involved restoring the 1850s theater that had been abandoned for years, integrating an adjacent building into the design and creating an addition. When the building is completed early next year, it will have offices, dressing rooms, conference space and a café in addition to the 500-seat theater.

Durst's leadership and dedication have been instrumental in the effort, says Pat Crow, project manager for the Woodward Opera House restoration project. He still remembers Durst's initial presentation to the Woodward Development Company. It was clear that she understood the vision and desires of those involved in the restoration, he says. “It was a unanimous, hands-down decision,” he recalls.

Crow says Durst and her team were able to design and deliver a usable theater building, which maintains its historic designation, and also offers event and retail space. “Hardlines was very good at threading all of that together and making all of that work.”

Durst enjoys managing the moving parts of historic renovation—even if they often aren't the most profitable jobs. Projects like the Woodward Opera House require patience and commitment, she says, adding that the project went on for so long the building codes changed. “It takes perseverance and flexibility,” she says. “You can't be too set in your ways.”

When Durst started Hardlines, the company also offered a cultural resources division. Durst and her employees would gather information about a building or community's architectural, historic and archeological resources. She sold that branch of the company because the two sides of the business really didn't feed each other business in the way Durst anticipated. The sale also allowed her to focus more on architectural projects and clients.

“When the cultural resources work ran low, it made sense to sell the department to a larger cultural resources management firm that had private clients already and wanted a Columbus office. I was just happy that everyone got to keep their jobs.”

One of the things that appealed to her about the Lincoln Theatre was that it provided an opportunity to contribute to the revitalization of a neighborhood. Durst says she liked the idea of helping the theater, which was a hub of activity in Columbus in the 1920s, again serve as a draw for the neighborhood. The restoration has helped attract people and new businesses to the King-Lincoln District. “I go there for events, and they tell me it has more bookings than they ever envisioned.”

Durst and her team offered many creative solutions that have contributed to the building's success, says Larry James, president of the Lincoln Theatre Board of Directors. “They took what was in our brains and gave it life,” he says. “At the end, it was our imagination come true.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.