Industrial & Modern

By Kevin Tankersley

Behrens Lofts offer a sleek and minimal aesthetic for downtown living

If Randy Dickman wants to watch some high school football on Friday night, he doesn’t even have to leave his house. From the window of his sixth-floor space in the Behrens Lofts building, he has a clear view of the field where the Live Oak Falcons play their home games.

And there are plenty of Waco landmarks Dickman can see from his living room and its two walls of windows. The Dr Pepper Museum, First Baptist Church Waco, McLane Stadium, Magnolia’s silos, Baylor’s Ferrell Center and the new Hurd Welcome Center and Foster Pavilion are all in his line of sight. He can even enjoy Fourth of July fireworks without fighting the crowd.

“On the top floor, we have four corner units, and I’m prejudiced for sure, but I have the best view,” Dickman said. “My neighbors, who have other corners, they think they have the best view, but I’ve got the best. I can see the silos and I can see Baylor and McLane and I can see the traffic and I-35. It’s very peaceful just to watch people move around. I just think it’s one of the best units.”

Dickman started visiting Waco from Portland, Oregon in 2006 when he brought his son Cory to enroll at Baylor. Cory earned two degrees at Baylor, married a Texas native who he met at college and ended up staying in Waco. Cory owns, among other enterprises, Waco Escape Rooms and Rogue Media Network. He and his wife Lauren have a son, Randy’s only grandchild, which is what prompted Randy to move to Waco from the Northwest.

He worked as a human resources consultant for the international consulting firm Mercer, and split time between offices — and homes — in Portland and Salt Lake City.

“When I decided to retire two years ago, I was thinking of moving to Waco,” he said. “Portland is 2,500 miles away. It’s a little far. I wanted to see them more frequently than once or twice a year.”

Dickman met Realtor Brian Bundy when Cory bought his home in Waco, and Bundy would show Dickman some properties whenever he was visiting from Portland. Dickman was actually in the market for a place that he could use as a short-term rental investment when he wasn’t in town, “and at that time, the Airbnb market was very narrow for single family homes in Waco; the restrictions were very tight,” Dickman said.

On a Father’s Day trip to Waco in 2020, Bundy showed Dickman the sixth-floor space at Behrens.

“I hadn’t really told him that I was interested in loft living because I had always been looking at single family homes prior to that,” Dickman said. “But he’s very intuitive, as a good Realtor should be, and saw that this kind of fit my aesthetic. I had a very modern home in Portland. When he saw this, he thought that maybe this would be more carefree for someone that wanted to have lower maintenance and that sort of thing.”

Dickman didn’t purchase the loft right away. He already owned two other homes and needed to sell one before buying anything else, so he sold his house in Salt Lake City and bought the loft in March 2021.

“It was just a God thing that it stayed on the market,” he said. “I think people were looking for an Airbnb, and they just shut down (due to COVID). So, it stayed open that whole time.”

The aesthetic that Bundy noticed is “modern, and more of the industrial look,” Dickman said, pointing out the cable used as railing on the staircase in his loft. Dickman said he and his wife — they were married for 31 years; she died nine years ago — built five homes during their marriage, “and we always tended to be more minimalist with clean lines, like the open staircase here.”

The original four-story Behrens building was constructed in 1913, and the fifth, sixth and seventh floors were added in 1990. Dickman’s space, formerly a rental unit, was stuck in the ‘90s and needed a remodel before he could move in. He interviewed four contractors before hiring Jeremiah Smith and his company Modern Haven Design. But Dickman also gleaned some ideas from those other three contactors, one of whom suggested stainless steel cabinets in the kitchen to replace the original white ones.

“I hadn’t really thought of that,” Dickman said, but he found stainless cabinets at Ikea in Round Rock and worked with a designer there to fit them to his kitchen.

The kitchen has an airy feel thanks to the open shelving, also from Ikea. The building’s elevator backs up to the wall in the kitchen, but Dickman said the noise from it is never an issue, nor does he ever hear his neighbors — two Baylor students — with whom he shares a wall, though he can smell when they’re baking cookies. In fact, about the only outside noise coming in is from train tracks a few blocks away.

“I’ve gotten used to it,” he said. “When I was first here and I was still working, I’d be on Zoom calls and people would say, ‘Is that a train in the background?’ So yeah, they could hear it on Zoom calls. But I’ve kind of muffled to it.”

A pallet-like wall is opposite the stainless cabinets, and in front of it sits a coffee station featuring a Keurig as well as a traditional coffee maker. And just around the corner is a small desk with a laptop where Dickman does his work. Though retired from Mercer, he owns Luna Juice Bar, which has a storefront operation at 1516 Austin Ave., a booth at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market — an eight-minute walk from the Behrens building — and a food truck at the Magnolia Silos. Dickman can see a corner of his food truck from his living room window. He’s also involved with Startup Waco, a co-working space and entrepreneurship hub in downtown. Dickman coordinates a networking meetup each Wednesday morning that features local entrepreneurs and businesses. When his loft was undergoing its remodel, Dickman worked from Startup Waco when he was in town.

A dining table separates the kitchen from the living area which contains comfortable seating and a TV in the corner, though Dickman says he rarely turns it on, preferring instead to watch the action on the streets below.

“I’ve been watching this new AC Marriott being built over the last almost two years now,” he said. “It’s taken a while. It was supposed to open in January. And it’s still not there yet.”

The downstairs area also features a half-bath and full-size laundry appliances. Sitting in a sunlit corner at the base of the stairs is a fiddle leaf fig tree, which stands about 11 feet tall. He bought it at Robinson Greenhouse, and “it’s grown a lot. It loves this location,” Dickman said.

Two bedrooms and a full bath fill the upstairs space, and the smaller bedroom overlooks the downstairs living area.

Much of the wall space that isn’t taken up by windows is dominated by original art pieces that Dickman and his wife collected during their 31-year marriage. He owns several paintings by Portland-based artist Leslie Ann Butler, including one that was in the background during a scene in the TV show “Portlandia”, which starred Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. Dickman had a large wall dedicated to the painting at his former home in Portland.

Also on display is a painting by Devon DeJardin, a Portland native now living and working in Los Angeles. Dickman is friends with DeJardin’s parents.

“He’s a young kid. But he’s done some shows in London and L.A.,” Dickman said, and DeJardin recently showed his work at the Albertz Benda Gallery in New York.

“He’s become quite a well-known artist in the contemporary art world,” Dickman said.

Dickman has more art than he does available wall space, so much of his collection is in a storage space downstairs in his building.

Dickman lived in the loft part time after he first bought it, as he was still splitting time between Waco and Portland. He listed the space as a short-term rental when he was in Oregon. About half of the 57 lofts in the Behrens buildings are owned by investors who use their spaces for vacation rentals as well, he said. When Dickman talks with visitors on the elevator, he’s always asked if any units in the building are for sale, which they rarely are.

“When one comes on the market, it goes really quickly,” he said. “I’ve had people that know I live here who have wanted to buy this. It’s a nice piece of property. It’s like sitting on a goldmine.”

Living downtown has been a new experience for Dickman, and he especially likes the location of his loft because of its proximity to restaurants and other amenities that are in the area. He lamented the recent closing of Bicycle World, which was located on Mary Avenue, which runs directly beside his building.

When Dickman moved to Waco, he joined a couple of cycling clubs, and it was through these new communities that he met lots of folks in Waco, including Rebecca Peterson. They went on their first date to For Keeps Coffee, and they’ll be getting married there on June 14. Dickman will move into her home near Lake Waco, and he’ll list the loft as a fulltime Airbnb.

Dickman said it will be “an interesting transition” moving from his loft with its industrial aesthetic to a more traditional, French provincial-type home.

“But I’m branching out and becoming more well-rounded in my old age,” said Dickman, who is 67.

Dickman said that it wouldn’t be practical for him and his new wife to live in the loft, which is about 1,300 square feet, a little less than half the size of his last home in Portland. Peterson and her previous husband, who died a few years ago, once owned a 6,500-square-foot home in the suburbs of Chicago but across the state line in Indiana, and she brought much of that house’s furniture with her when she moved to Waco, where she has family ties.

“She likes being here at the loft,” he said, “but it would be hard. She’s very stylish, let’s put it that way. She has lots of clothes, which I appreciate. But I don’t have the closet space.”

And it makes economic sense to move into her house and use the loft for income.

“Just from the financial standpoint, I can make more than if we rented her house and stayed here,” he said. And, he said, they can always block out a weekend in the loft if they want the downtown experience.