As an attorney, Clarke Dummit has been building his practice one step at a time since it opened 21 years ago.
His next move is into a new Winston-Salem office.
The Dummit Law Firm, now on Sixth Street, has moved into the newly renovated, old Morning Dew coffee shop building on Burke Street.
But there’s a twist.
As some people will recall, the Morning Dew used to be at 1047 Burke St. After gutting the space and an extensive construction project, Dummit has turned the building around. Now it’s at 1133 W. First St. and faces toward the BB&T Ballpark.
“We wanted the parking to be more accessible and we really wanted to change the image of the building,” Dummit said. “By reversing it, it gave us the flow into the downstairs. It made it much more handicap accessible.”
The law firm’s employees moved into their new home Friday.
Dummit said that the practice of law is evolving rapidly in the 21st Century because of the Internet, online searches and communications with clients.
“The way I’ve designed our law firm from the ground up is (for it) to flow more efficiently for us as a business and for the clients to get better representation,” he said.
He said that the conditions that people work in can influence the quality of their work.
“Part of our firm’s success has been getting good people, and to get good people you’ve got to give them a good work environment,” Dummit said. “The natural lighting here creates a wonderful environment for our employees.”
With the move, Dummit is making another investment in downtown Winston-Salem, said Jason Thiel, president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership.
“He’s going to be taking the jobs there with him and that’s great for Burke Street and it’s another good thing for downtown,” Thiel said. “It’s a positive thing all around.”
Putting the entrance of the building on First Street allowed Dummit to transform its entire character.
“I gutted the building three years ago to see what I had to work with,” he said.
With a basic shell held up by steel posts, he started designing his firm’s work space, including an atrium with multiple skylights and two/third glass and mahogany interior walls facing into the atrium to allow natural sunlight in every office in the building.
Dummit created an oblique atrium and a diverging staircase to get light into the lower floor.
“In order to create the oblique atrium I wanted, we had to cut the center out of the building,” he said.
Dummit had to put in new steel infrastructure with I-beams reinforcing the gaping hole. Once it was rebuilt, he still had 14 support poles which needed to be hidden in walls, among other things, to make the space work.
He joked that because he kept making changes throughout the project he was sure that Donnie Stallard of Grandview Construction was about to pull his hair out a few times.
In addition to the atrium, the renovated space features a lot of custom work. Henry Triplett and his son, Bryon, worked full time in the building for about nine months.
The Tripletts custom built mahogany beams, mahogany cabinets and a reception area, and hand-finished moldings around doors. They also custom-built the center piece in the atrium, the firm’s converging staircase, out of 2 1/2 -inch maple slabs.
“While we will be sad to leave the Art District after twenty years, we are very excited to share our new space in the West End,” Dummit said.
The makeover of the Morning Dew building is not the first time Dummit has done renovation projects. He worked in the construction field in his early years growing up in Sanford.
While going to law school at Wake Forest University, he lived in the Hillcrest Apartments in the Westend area, not far from his new office. After graduation, he bought the apartments and converted them into condominiums
“That was my first big renovation project, and I feel in love with the art,” he said. “I love looking back at the end of the day and seeing that I have made a difference in the world.”
Dummit sold off the condos. He got out of the construction business during the recession of 1989 and started practicing law full time. He opened his firm in 1991, first renting space for six months from two older attorneys and then moved into a building on 6th street in the Arts District.
He also opened the Winston-Salem Emporium in the 1990s and co-owned Film House Studios downstairs in the building. He sold the building in 2005 and started leasing space there.
In 2007, he agreed to buy the Morning Dew building from Jim Brady. Despite the downturn in the economy, Dummit bought the building the next year but decided to wait on renovating it.
“A recession is a great time for a business to grow if it is very solid, but a hard time to get real-estate financed,” Dummit said.
Instead, he focused on growing his law firm, opening an office in Charlotte in 2010.
“The entire time I was drawing and redrawing the plans for the dream office here in Winston,” he said.
The Dummit Law Firm focuses on civil and criminal litigation. Its third office opened in Greensboro last month. The firm has grown from two lawyers to seven.
Mike Fradin, a partner with Dummit in the firm, sees the new office as a way to give back to the local community by helping to re-develop an area of Winston-Salem, especially because they are so close to BB&T Ballpark and new residential development proposed for the Westend area.
“Clarke did that 20 years ago on Sixth Street when Sixth Street was not the place to be,” Fradin said. “Now, it’s an Arts District with expanded and new businesses.”