Color it Red: Design it Green

Sept. 1, 2008

HOK's design for one of Allsteel's newest showrooms exemplifies excellence in sustainable design, and creates a deliberate, hospitable environment for prospective buyers.

By Carol Tisch | Photography by Benny Chan/Fotoworks


It could be the lobby of a Schrager-esque boutique hotel. Or perhaps a new retail concept for an ultra-hip European home lifestyle brand. At first glance, the setting might also be mistaken for an under-the-radar A-list restaurant-in fact, some of Allsteel's Santa Monica neighbors tried to make lunch reservations when this LEED Silver Resource Center first opened its doors.

The back-story for this undeniably unique office furniture showroom reads like a master opus on branding, corporate image-building and nailing a USP (unique selling proposition). Shared by Allsteel and its sister company, Gunlocke, the 16,440-square-foot showroom had to integrate, but at the same time differentiate, two distinctly unique brands. It had to prove by example the commitment both companies are making to sustainable design. And it had to resonate with Los Angeles clients, who are among the most sophisticated in the world.

But wait, there's more. Allsteel (headquartered in Muscatine, IA) and Gunlocke (based in Wayland, NY) also wanted the design to reflect their rural American roots and soft-sell corporate personalities.

"Allsteel told us to imagine designing for a guy from Iowa who is planted in L.A.," recalls Pam Juba, senior interior designer at the Los Angeles office of HOK, which handled the architecture, design and LEED stewardship for Allsteel's Resource Center in Santa Monica, CA. "They said you have to have the roots of Iowa in the design, but it has to be relevant to Los Angeles."

Make no mistake: Allsteel and Gunlocke are not the Beverly Hillbillies. They are major-league providers of state-of-the-art workplace solutions, who happen to have a reputation for exemplifying old-fashioned, middle-American values like integrity and dependability—qualities that add even greater value to the products they sell. Imbuing commercial interiors with corporate personalities—along with state-of-the-art technology and design innovation—is what these companies do.

It's evident in Allsteel's network of 10 Resource Centers, six of them presently shared with Gunlocke, and every one designed to touch the customer with references to the city or region in which it is located. At the heart of every Resource Center is a "community center," positioned where a more typical showroom's reception lounge and front window furniture displays would be. To the intrigue of passersby and guests of the new Santa Monica space, the community center is replete with an elegant living room, working fireplace, dining room with banquet-sized refectory table, and a coffee bar that puts Starbucks to shame.

"It's a very deliberate, hospitable, relaxed environment," explains Clay Pendergrast, senior vice president of HOK, and design director for the international architecture firm's Los Angeles office. "It's part of that Midwestern hospitable approach. You can sit in the living room and not see any of the office furniture. And that is completely purposeful," he says. The intent is to steer the initial discussion away from specific types of furniture, and to focus instead on what the customer is trying to accomplish.

"Rather than ask what type of cubicle or desk they're looking for, Allsteel and Gunlocke ask what work style they want solutions for," explains Pendergrast. In essence, HOK does the same thing. Their design is aspirational for potential Allsteel and Gunlocke customers, and therefore in itself a "workplace solution." It shows prospective buyers how branding can be reinforced with distinctive furniture and finishes; how different entities under a corporate umbrella can maintain their individual personalities through proper space planning and design; and equally important, how a thoughtfully-conceived shared community space helps achieves those goals while reaping cost savings and sales synergies.

Early in the planning stages, however, the HOK team realized the clients' differing distribution strategies would impact the shared showroom design. "Although they are both operating units of HNI Corporation [the second
largest office furniture manufacturer in North America], Allsteel has exclusive distributors, and Gunlocke is a little less restrictive," says Pendergrast. "We had to design the showrooms so that they opened to one another in such a way that dealers who only sell Gunlocke could not wander into the Allsteel space during a tour and think they could buy this product."

The solution was to divide the showrooms with a dramatic transition node: a steel-clad column with sustainable end-cut parquet wood flooring at its base, and frosted and clear acrylic rods threaded on steel cables stretched between a metallic-painted soffit and the wood floor.

"We didn't have a large budget on this project, so we decided to focus our design on the community room and the node between the two showrooms," notes Juba. "We knew that on any given day designers and facilities planners shopping for furniture could go to three other showrooms that spent three times the amount of money we did. That's just not something that Allsteel does," she explains. "It's not part of their Midwestern culture."

What they spent their money on instead was LEED-CI Silver certification. "Allsteel set the bar with the pursuit of LEED-CI certification for its showrooms and this was demonstrated throughout the building of the Santa Monica showroom," explains Lori Selcer, senior associate with HOK's Los Angeles office who served as the project's LEED Accredited Professional and worked with Allsteel's team to obtain silver certification. "Building to LEED can at times present challenges to the budget, but to their credit, the Allsteel team was determined to see it through."

A major challenge and expense were mechanical upgrades. "That was huge," notes Juba. "We actually got the whole building to change their mechanical system to accommodate us. In the end it benefitted other tenants, so that's good."

According to Pendergrast, "HOK wants to do every project as sustainably as we possibly can, and Silver LEED status was about as high as you could go in this particular building, which dates back to the 1980s-before LEED existed."

Located in Santa Monica's park-like Water Garden office complex—a collection of office buildings, cafes, and restaurants surrounded by gardens, waterways, lakes and courtyards—the Class A building site earned Allsteel
site selection credits during the LEED application process. The building uses 100 percent recycled water, called "graywater," provided by the city for landscape irrigation. The building also uses water-conserving plant material and water-efficient irrigation. "Plus, it's a commuter-friendly location because it has bus routes right next to it," says Juba. All tenant and visitor parking is underground, eliminating the need for above-ground concrete, and Allsteel also installed a bicycle rack inside its ground floor suite.

Energy use in the showroom meets stringent California Title 24 energy codes. Allsteel and the HOK design team incorporated a daylighting system that adjusts the level of interior lighting based on how much natural light is coming in, and maintains a constant lighting level all day, while decreasing overall energy consumption. Occupancy sensors turn off lighting in areas when they are not in use. As a result, the company exceeds the levels of energy savings required by LEED and regularly monitors usage with a meter directly installed in the showroom.

Allsteel obtained LEED indoor environmental quality credits by using low-emitting materials and indoor pollutant source control to assure that the showroom would be as healthy as it is beautiful. The Santa Monica showroom was also awarded an innovation credit (given for exceptional or innovative performance in areas not specifically required by LEED). The credit recognized that during installation, Allsteel and its contractor recycled 95 percent of construction waste, which is well above the LEED credit requirement of 50 percent to 75 percent. This extra step guaranteed that nearly all waste was diverted from landfills, adds Pendergrast, who is also a LEED Accredited Professional.

Guests encounter subtle and sometimes quirky references to Los Angles as they tour the showroom. "Our challenge was to create a setting that is reflective of the Los Angeles environment in a subtle, clever, refreshing way," recalls Pendergrast. Layer in the clients' request that the showroom interiors reflect their rural American roots and work ethic, and HOK's design solutions are all the more impressive.

Not so subtle are the red glass, faux leather and lacquered walls, and the bright red carpet, which Pendergrast says speaks both to Hollywood and HOK's knowledge of showroom fatigue. "We know from our own experience that when a project client wants to look at several different showrooms, it's important to have a distinctive coloration. At the end of the day, the client is typically exhausted and completely confused, so it's easy to help them make the association to Allsteel by saying, ‘remember the red showroom,'" he concludes. With bold architectural forms, neutral minimalist aesthetic, and its comfortable, collaborative community room, the Allsteel Santa Monica Resource Center is not a space clients are likely to forget.

Carol Tisch is a freelance writer, editor and marketing consultant based in Sarasota, FL. She was formerly editor-in-chief of Shelter Interiors magazine and Home Furnishings News (HFN), and has developed communications programs for commercial and residential design industry clients. She can be reached at [email protected].

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A 16-foot custom Gunlocke New Yorker sofa adorns the living room, while a mirrored coffee table refers to L.A.'s seismic fault layers. Light fixtures above the custom Gunlocke dining table are by Los Angeles lighting designer Ron Rezek. The wall behind the dining table is galvanized steel and reception desk is made up of Allsteel's Align System. (larger image
HOK created a "workplace solution" for potential Allsteel and Gunlocke customers. The Resource Center shows prospective buyers how branding can be reinforced with distinctive furniture and finishes, and how different entities can maintain individual personalities through proper space planning and design. (larger image

The focal point of the Gunlocke showroom, a Climbing Drawer Wall, cleverly displays all standard wood veneers and drawer pull styles. The reception desk in English sycamore veneer illustrates Gunlocke's custom capabilities, and a circular glass "chandelier" above the reception desk, designed by HOK, has a frosted abstracted pattern of tree branches on the glass (a subtle reference to the wood product line). The red wall in the background is faux leather paneling. (larger image)
HOK consciously mixed different forms and finishes in office systems and custom furniture throughout the Santa Monica Resource Center so that clients visualize standard product options in all price points. (larger image)
The landmark transition from the Allsteel showroom to the Gunlocke showroom is highlighted by a steel-clad column. A round gypsum board soffit above the column is finished in a warm bronze metallic paint, and the circular floor finish is sustainable end-cut parquet wood. Frosted and clear acrylic rods are threaded on steel cables and stretched between the soffit and the wood floor. The shared conference room is in the background. (larger image)
The shared conference room with the Gunlocke showroom entrance in the background, features Gunlocke's Converge table with custom Claro walnut veneer top and the iconic No. 19 chairs. The finish over the credenza is red glass. (larger image)

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Allsteel Resource Center
1620 26th St., Ste. 100S
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 264-7900


9530 Jefferson Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 838-9555

Susan Grossinger, principal-in-charge
Pam Light, director of programming
Brett Shwery, project manager
Clay Pendergrast, director of design
Pam Juba, senior designer
Tim Hinkle, job captain
Lori Selcer, LEED® specialist
Hal Kantner, director of visual communications
Cindy Richardson, graphic designer

Karen League, director of interior design
Tim Nichols, design director

WM Group West

Alfred Scholze & Assoc.

Warner Constructors

Benny Chan/Fotoworks

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