Featured Project: Northwest Elegance

Sept. 26, 2006
By Janet Wiens
The renovated law offices of Bullivant Houser Bailey PC reflect the natural beauty of the firm’s location in Western Oregon.

The Pacific Northwest conjures up many beautiful images—crashing surf, thick forests, and sandy beaches that seem to stretch for miles. The same may be said for the renovated offices of Bullivant Houser Bailey PC in Portland, OR, where placid images of efficiency and elegance come together in an engaging space. The office's design boasts natural materials, contemporary design features with clean lines, and extensive daylighting to create a space that reflects the firm's geographic location while being a dramatic departure from its previous facility.

"Bullivant has offices along the West Coast, and they wanted their headquarters in Portland to reflect the beauty that is found in that part of the country," says Meredith Curran, LEED AP, interior designer with Yost Grube Hall Architecture (YGH), the project's designer. "They also wanted to depart from their existing design in terms of materials, colors and the use of natural light. They were looking for a 'wow' factor for visitors coming off the elevator into the space without being ostentatious."

Curran says that the project was very collaborative and that the firm had very specific ideas about what they wanted. "They were adamant about using a bamboo floor, a slate wall and a water feature," she explains. "The three members of the firm serving on the design team were very involved in the process. They advocated the firm's desires but were also very open to our ideas and interpretations regarding how to fulfill their vision. There was a lot of good give and take."

YGH had worked for Bullivant before, and quickly crafted an appropriate design solution for the $1.6 million, 44,000-square-foot renovation that encompasses two-and-a-half floors in a downtown Portland office building. The renovation focused on the reception area and conference centers, with more minor renovations taking place in other spaces. One major project component was converting a number of the conference rooms into efficient conference centers—a move that required a lot of planning and coordination during construction.

Opening up the space was critical to creating a more dramatic impact, and this began in the elevator lobby. The elevator doors are very tall, and the YGH team used this unique feature to gain height in the space. The ceilings were raised from 9 to 12 feet, which immediately increased the flow of natural light into the space from windows located along the nearby exterior conference room wall.

The wall on one side of the elevator bank was treated with a specialty decorative painting using metallic paints in gold, red and copper. This blends nicely with the custom cherry ceiling panels, bamboo floor, the off-white wall on the opposite side, and the elongated light cove, all of which sets the tone for what is to come. The custom cherry panels are suspended from seismic bracing with clips for easy removal when access to elements above is required.

The reception desk is crafted from maple and cherry and has a custom-designed, cast-glass transaction counter on a brushed stainless steel support. Maple was used extensively in the office prior to the renovation and ties the reception and other renovated areas to existing spaces that were not included in this project. The linear butt-glazed glass wall behind the reception desk is similar in texture to a water feature and provides transparency into the adjoining conference room. The wall to the left of the reception area displays pieces from the firm's extensive art collection.

The 9-foot-by-40-foot black Brazilian slate wall is certainly the most eye-catching feature in the renovation, though other elements give it a run for its money. This component, which was one of the first selected, is constructed from 12-inch-by-30-inch, half-inch thick panels that were joined together. The gently curving wall stretches between three conference rooms and is punctuated with large sliding glass doors that recess into the wall. When the doors are fully open, the large conference room (where the doors are located) and lobby combine to create ample space for any of the firm's social events. Two elements were incorporated into the slate wall—a narrow, vertical water feature and a horizontal light box displaying the firm's name.

The lobby seating area provides a quiet place to wait for an appointment. The earth-tone area rug, Brayton chairs in black Spinneybeck leather and the maple table evoke uncomplicated beauty—a feeling that is further emphasized by a painted wall along the elevator bank.

Conference space was at a premium prior to the renovation, and creating more meeting space was an important project goal. The solution was to position both large and small conference rooms, 10 total, into conference centers with the largest one located on the reception floor. The materials and colors used in the lobby seating area—black and maple—appear in numerous ways in the conference rooms and tie the two spaces together. YGH custom designed all conference tables, credenzas and coffee tables, which were crafted from maple by Zokko Fine Furniture, a local manufacturer. The conference tables have absolute black tops of polished granite with AV pop ups. All AV equipment, including flat screen TVs, is concealed behind maple paneling. The slate-colored broadloom carpet complements the slate wall and emphasizes the richness of the space. In the main conference room, a built-in bench along the window wall runs the length of the space and provides additional seating for large gatherings. Motorized shades can be lowered in the large conference room when privacy is paramount. The uniform light switches, casegoods and whiteboards in all conference rooms enable the staff to become familiar with common equipment rather than learning multiple systems.

The renovation also included relocating the firm's library and consolidating the space into approximately half its previous size. This was accomplished by using high density shelving. The square footage gained through the consolidation was used for two additional eight-person conference rooms. The employee kitchen was also redone as part of the renovation. Operations were maintained throughout construction, which required a complicated schedule and a strong partnership between all design team members and the contractor. The reception area was relocated several times during construction and temporary conference rooms were provided to help juggle operations. Some work was done during the evenings and weekends to avoid major disruptions to daily office operations.

One measure for success is to have a satisfied client, and that's what YGH has in this instance. "Members of the firm are excited to show the space to clients and other guests," says Curran. "That tells us that we successfully fulfilled their goals for the project."

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