Not All Allsteel
Maria Shollenbarger -- Interior Design, 5/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
One could be forgiven for mistaking Allsteel's new resource center in Washington, D.C., for a very stylish person's loft—rather than the contract-furniture showroom that it is. In lieu of an austere reception area, visitors encounter a vast lounge replete with comfortable armchairs, a glowing fireplace, and an inviting snack counter with seating for half a dozen. This unorthodox interior may surprise the uninitiated eye, but anyone familiar with the philosophy of the company will recognize its signature way of doing business. Create an environment where local architects and designers feel comfortable meeting and networking with clients and one another, Allsteel believes, and those orders will roll in.
The 10,000-square-foot showplace, Allsteel's fifth such space in the U.S., is the work of frequent collaborator Gensler. Collin Burry, a principal in the firm's San Francisco office, had also designed Allsteel headquarters in Muscatine, Iowa, so he came to Washington armed with an understanding of the company's modus operandi and aesthetic. "We've maintained a consistent national brand presence for Allsteel," Burry says. "But we've also had the freedom to make the designs contextually relevant to the market in question—in this case, Washington and everything it suggests in terms of politics and conservatism."
The designer and his team based the resource center's floor plan on the diagonal boulevards and traffic circles of Pierre L'Enfant's plan for Washington as a whole. The showroom's large central rotunda, where featured products are shown, was inspired by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial—right down to the drywall columns. Tongue-in-cheek references to the capital's famously staid character appear here and there: mahogany trim, upholstery and carpet in Chinese-lacquer red. And a wittily persistent cherry-blossom motif appears on both the sitting area's custom carpet and the photographic "billboard" wall panel at the end of the circulation spine.
The overall lived-in effect derives from Burry's mix of residential furniture, custom designs, and Allsteel's own merchandise. Allsteel workstations and task chairs received upgrades with upholstery in leather and luxurious fabrics. "The residential complements the corporate to keep it inviting," Burry says. The sitting area features baronial mahogany chairs covered in sumptuous damask, an overstuffed tufted ottoman, and an electric fireplace set in a marble-clad wall. Burry designed both the marble-topped snack counter and the sleek light fixture that hangs above, while the accompanying bar stools hail from none other than that trusty consumer standby, Pottery Barn.