Web design firm powers up new downtown digs

Shawn Maida in the lobby of the new office. (Jonathan Spiers)

Shawn Maida in the lobby of the new office. (Jonathan Spiers)

A two-year effort to convert a 1920s-era building on East Grace Street into 21st-century offices is complete.

Shawn Maida, founder of web and app development firm Foster Made, has finished renovating 404 E. Grace St., a four-story building with Spanish-inspired architecture that originally housed W.W. Foster Studios.

The photography studio, which merged with nearby Dementi Studio, helped inspire the name of Foster Made, a 12-year-old firm that rebranded from its previous moniker, Visual Chefs, while moving to the building from its previous home in Manchester.

Maida said the name is also a nod to the firm’s goal of fostering relationships with clients – an approach that prompted its move across the river.

“We really want to start building the relationships here in Richmond,” Maida said, noting the majority of the firm’s clients are out-of-town. “Half the people (in the firm) live in Church Hill, so the thought was to really invest in Richmond and make an effort to grow some of these relationships.”

Foster Made fills the bulk of the 6,500-square-foot building, doors down from the Grace Place apartments at the corner of Grace and Fourth streets and nearby restaurants Wong Gonzales, Pasture and Julep’s. An upper floor is leased to TMI Consulting, which moved from up the street in late 2015.

The four-story building with Spanish-inspired architecture originally housed W.W. Foster Studios. (Jonathan Spiers)

The four-story building with Spanish-inspired architecture originally housed W.W. Foster Studios. (Jonathan Spiers)

Maida and his wife Sara purchased the building in 2014 for $242,500. He said it had been boarded up since the 1970s, when Foster Studios merged with Dementi.

Maida said he put about $900,000 into the project, which involved historic tax credits and grants from the City of Richmond. BB&T provided financing for the renovation, which was designed by local architecture firm 3north.

About halfway through the project, Maida took over the role of general contractor from local company Gingerbread Man, which started the renovation. He said that change contributed to the project’s longer-than-expected duration.

“It was certainly a long journey, not being a general contractor before,” Maida said.

Foster Made moved into the building last year, and the renovation wrapped up in February, Maida said. The firm held an open house for the building last week.

Work included converting a former photo staging room into a full kitchen, a basement space into a meeting room and updating the building’s technology. Most of the firm’s 19 employees are concentrated in a room toward the back of the ground floor.

The interior was designed by Blaine McDermott, and Fern & Roby provided furniture.

Constructed in 1927 and designed by Richmond architect Henry Thomas Barnham, the building retains its distinctive Spanish-inspired architectural details, including ornate terra cotta window heads and balcony panels, arched doors and windows, and stone walls and staircases. The building is described in a Grace Street Commercial Historic District document as “one of the most extravagant interpretations of Spanish inspired architecture on Grace Street” and “one of the city’s more elaborate examples of the Spanish/Moorish style.”

The building’s storefront will be designed differently throughout the year, Maida said, adding some color to a corridor that has transitioned significantly since his investment in the area three years ago.

Across the street, Champion Brewing Co. has set up in the former Aurora Restaurant space, and farther east, Secret Sandwich Society and Maya Modern Mexican opened late last year.

Most of the firm's 19 employees work in a room on the ground floor. (Jonathan Spiers)

Most of the firm’s 19 employees work in a room on the ground floor. (Jonathan Spiers)

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