Saving History: Architect Charissa Durst Focuses on Preservation

The Hardlines Design Company founder restores and adapts historic buildings across Ohio.

Nicholas Youngblood
Charissa Durst is president and principal architect of Hardlines Design Company, which focuses on renovating and updating historic buildings with a focus on preservation.

Not all stories are written by pen and paper; some are built with brick and mortar. Charissa Durst is helping preserve Ohio’s stories with her architecture firm, Hardlines Design Company. “[Architecture is] an embodiment of the past,” she says. “If we end up demolishing everything, we have nothing left of our past.”

Durst founded Hardlines in 1990 to focus on preserving and adapting historic buildings, and she has served as its president and principal architect ever since. “I either wanted to be a historian or an architect,” she says. “So what I’m doing now kind of lets me do both.” Since then, she has worked with clients across the state to bring history to life by researching, renovating and documenting historic buildings and districts.

Some of her work involves determining how significant a structure truly is, poring over original drawings and analyzing materials and styles. From here, she can write a nomination for a building to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for tax credits towards renovations.

The other part of her work is in restoration and adaptation—renovating old buildings for modern use. Among her projects are the Lincoln Theater on Long Street and Stewart Elementary School in German Village. Her firm spent 20 years updating the Woodward Opera House in Mount Vernon—the oldest standing theater in the country. She has even worked on multiple Underground Railroad stops in the state, such as the Gammon House in Springfield and the Lathrop House in Sylvania.

For Durst, each new project presents a problem-solving exercise that she finds just as exciting as the history of the site. “I work much better when there’s just a lot of constraints and restrictions, and I try to come up with something creative that fits all that,” she says. She considers herself an “in the background-type person,” and hopes her touch on a building goes largely unnoticed.

Charissa Durst with her dog, Ziti

What is the value in preserving historic architecture and design? A building is physical evidence of history, specifically the history of who designed it, who built it, who paid for it and who occupied it. The older the building, the more history is embodied in the building. A well-preserved building is also a testament to the tastes of the past, sometimes using materials and craftsmanship not available today.

What specific styles/materials/periods best represent Ohio’s history? Italianate is one of the most popular 19th century architectural styles in Ohio. It was popular between 1840 and 1881 when Ohio’s population nearly doubled. It’s most often seen on multi-story downtown commercial buildings but was also popular for both large and modest residential buildings. Italianate buildings could be made of brick masonry or wood. What they have in common are ornamental brackets at the roof eave.

How do you find a balance between preservation and renovation in each project? Every historic building will have character-defining features that must be preserved, and most of these will be exterior in nature (multipane windows, a tower, etc.). Some buildings will also have character-defining interior features, such as a grand space or finish details. There is creativity involved in finding ways to fit a new program into an existing building while using the character-defining features to enhance the new program.

How does it feel to be a part of telling Ohio’s history? I love being able to convey Ohio’s history through researching and writing about historic buildings and actually being able to rehabilitate them and give them new, continued life.

This story is from the July 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.