Lawyer’s penchant for colonial-style buildings leads to new HQ for his firm

van smith patterson ave

Van Smith in front of his new building at 8411 Patterson Ave. (BizSense file)

Van Smith apparently has a thing for Colonial Revival-style buildings.

The local attorney, who runs his namesake law firm Smith Strong, just bought his third office building in that architectural style.

The latest deal was for 8411 Patterson Ave., a former Long & Foster office across from Buckhead’s restaurant that Smith is currently renovating to serve as the new headquarters for his 24-person firm.

The nearly 9,000-square-foot building will allow Smith Strong to consolidate its staff from two other buildings it owns in Henrico, both of which are – you guessed it – Colonial Revival-style.

While he didn’t realize it at the time, his penchant for such properties began in 2015, when he purchased 5803 Staples Mill Road for $399,000. The 2,900-square-foot building was to serve a practical purpose as an office for his firm, but Smith said he found that he got something more out of it.

“I fixed it up and I found it was a really nice physical change from what I was doing mentally every day,” he said. “I found I really enjoyed physically rolling up my sleeves and renovating and doing something physical with my hands.”

A few years later, as his firm continued to grow and needed more space, he came upon 3111 Northside Ave., a nearby 7,800-square-foot building that he bought for $782,000 in 2018.

8411 Patterson Ave 2

8411 Patterson Ave. was previously home to a Long & Foster office.

Then, earlier this year, with the firm at capacity in those two offices, Smith set out to find more space. He landed on the Patterson building and purchased it in July for $1.02 million.

But it wasn’t until a client remarked about the firm’s pending move to Patterson that Smith became fully aware of his architectural affinity.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but a client said, ‘I hope it’s like your colonial office that has so much charm and character and warmth.’ That’s when it occurred to me, I had unconsciously chosen the same style building each time.”

Smith Strong, which handles divorce and custody cases, estate planning and litigation, elder law, and other offerings, will occupy the building’s first and second floors. There’s also a tenant on the basement level and one remaining 1,500-square-foot suite on that level that Smith will look to lease out.

The law firm will be fully up and running in the building on Nov. 1, with furniture being moved in last week.

Like his previous two buildings, Smith said he oversaw much of the renovation himself. Work included restoring the windows, adding new gutters and a roof, and other upgrades inside and out.

“We’ve really just kind of repaired and reconstituted the building’s integrity so that it’ll last and remain solid,” he said. “Every inch of the building has been touched.”

Once his firm is out of the other two buildings, Smith will continue to own them and has leased them out to new tenants, including a local podiatrist office and speech therapy practice from Northern Virginia.

A graduate of L.C. Bird High School in Chesterfield and William & Mary Law School, Smith, 42, said his law practice has come a long way since he started it in 2012. He recalls his wife was pregnant at the time with their first child.

“My wife said, ‘What if you don’t get any clients?’” he recalled. “It set a fire under me. Failure was not an option.”

On his Colonial Revival-style building-buying streak, Smith said he’s pondered why he likes this particular type of architecture and is making a point to maintain it where he can.

“It occurred to me that all the new construction we’re seeing really was beautiful in its own way, but that we had kind of jettisoned from any historical reference to the Virginia architecture of our past,” he said.

Smith said he hopes to see developers of new buildings think about working colonial-style and Federal-style architecture into their designs.

“I remember Winston Churchill said, first, we shape the buildings and afterwards they shape us. What individuals are choosing to build now will have reverberating consequences for generations,” he said.

“It isn’t just automatic that colonial or Federal-style architecture is brought forward from our past unless we decide to do it.”

van smith patterson ave

Van Smith in front of his new building at 8411 Patterson Ave. (BizSense file)

Van Smith apparently has a thing for Colonial Revival-style buildings.

The local attorney, who runs his namesake law firm Smith Strong, just bought his third office building in that architectural style.

The latest deal was for 8411 Patterson Ave., a former Long & Foster office across from Buckhead’s restaurant that Smith is currently renovating to serve as the new headquarters for his 24-person firm.

The nearly 9,000-square-foot building will allow Smith Strong to consolidate its staff from two other buildings it owns in Henrico, both of which are – you guessed it – Colonial Revival-style.

While he didn’t realize it at the time, his penchant for such properties began in 2015, when he purchased 5803 Staples Mill Road for $399,000. The 2,900-square-foot building was to serve a practical purpose as an office for his firm, but Smith said he found that he got something more out of it.

“I fixed it up and I found it was a really nice physical change from what I was doing mentally every day,” he said. “I found I really enjoyed physically rolling up my sleeves and renovating and doing something physical with my hands.”

A few years later, as his firm continued to grow and needed more space, he came upon 3111 Northside Ave., a nearby 7,800-square-foot building that he bought for $782,000 in 2018.

8411 Patterson Ave 2

8411 Patterson Ave. was previously home to a Long & Foster office.

Then, earlier this year, with the firm at capacity in those two offices, Smith set out to find more space. He landed on the Patterson building and purchased it in July for $1.02 million.

But it wasn’t until a client remarked about the firm’s pending move to Patterson that Smith became fully aware of his architectural affinity.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but a client said, ‘I hope it’s like your colonial office that has so much charm and character and warmth.’ That’s when it occurred to me, I had unconsciously chosen the same style building each time.”

Smith Strong, which handles divorce and custody cases, estate planning and litigation, elder law, and other offerings, will occupy the building’s first and second floors. There’s also a tenant on the basement level and one remaining 1,500-square-foot suite on that level that Smith will look to lease out.

The law firm will be fully up and running in the building on Nov. 1, with furniture being moved in last week.

Like his previous two buildings, Smith said he oversaw much of the renovation himself. Work included restoring the windows, adding new gutters and a roof, and other upgrades inside and out.

“We’ve really just kind of repaired and reconstituted the building’s integrity so that it’ll last and remain solid,” he said. “Every inch of the building has been touched.”

Once his firm is out of the other two buildings, Smith will continue to own them and has leased them out to new tenants, including a local podiatrist office and speech therapy practice from Northern Virginia.

A graduate of L.C. Bird High School in Chesterfield and William & Mary Law School, Smith, 42, said his law practice has come a long way since he started it in 2012. He recalls his wife was pregnant at the time with their first child.

“My wife said, ‘What if you don’t get any clients?’” he recalled. “It set a fire under me. Failure was not an option.”

On his Colonial Revival-style building-buying streak, Smith said he’s pondered why he likes this particular type of architecture and is making a point to maintain it where he can.

“It occurred to me that all the new construction we’re seeing really was beautiful in its own way, but that we had kind of jettisoned from any historical reference to the Virginia architecture of our past,” he said.

Smith said he hopes to see developers of new buildings think about working colonial-style and Federal-style architecture into their designs.

“I remember Winston Churchill said, first, we shape the buildings and afterwards they shape us. What individuals are choosing to build now will have reverberating consequences for generations,” he said.

“It isn’t just automatic that colonial or Federal-style architecture is brought forward from our past unless we decide to do it.”

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Lisa Barker
Lisa Barker
8 months ago

Bravo for breaking out of the Richmond trend of shipping crate architecture and for preserving buildings with more character.

Charles Frankenhoff
Charles Frankenhoff
8 months ago

Not going to lie the Churchill quote makes me think very well of him

David Adler
David Adler
8 months ago

Happy to see someone gets it!