Steven Litt -- Interior Design, 5/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Cleveland has a long history of architectural excellence, albeit with a conservative slant. Neither Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, nor Eero Saarinen ever won a commission in town, despite their relative proximity. Vocon, a growing interiors and architecture firm with a local and national practice, played against that tradition in moving to a larger space in the city's revitalizing Midtown district.
The firm chose a two-story commercial building constructed in 1921 for an automobile company now long defunct. The facade is splashed with neoclassical details, but, as Vocon recognized, the exterior architecture masks a robust industrial aesthetic signaled by a 21-foot ceiling and vast display windows. To step inside today is to experience a pleasant jolt produced by the contrast between old and new.
The 18,900-square-foot office features a bracing combination of smooth surfaces, light colors, and carefully chosen modern and contemporary furniture. "It feels like you're not in Cleveland," says principal Debbie McCann, who shares leadership of the 46-member firm with her brother, Paul Voinovich. At the same time, it's clear that they and their colleagues are intent on showing how an aging rust-belt city can reinvent itself.
Designed by studio director Richard Dillon, the interior is a textbook case of visual and spatial effects achieved on a tight budget of $38 per square foot. Reception, for example, is airy and clean-lined with a light-gray epoxy floor, soaring white walls, and George Nelson's Cigar pendant fixtures. Dillon furnished the corner seating area with Michiel van der Kley's pale-blue Bird sofa and Harry Bertoia's white Bird chair—an unintentional coincidence—plus Warren Platner's low table in glass and steel.
"I love mid-century furniture," Dillon says. "It's my own passion sneaking in."
Behind the maple reception desk, topped by a slab of Carrara marble, hangs a curtain of bronze-finished beads trimmed at varying lengths to create a pointillist cascade. The delicacy of this gesture contrasts with the brute strength of a board-formed concrete column nearby as well as with the soaring lightness of Dillon's white-painted steel staircase, its treads a pale bamboo laminate.
Throughout the interior, the emphasis on spatial flow supports the firm's culture, which McCann describes as "family." Work areas on the first and second floors are both open-plan. When employees take a break from their workstations, it's often to gather around the kidney-shape stainless-steel top of a table in the second-floor café.
The firm holds casual client meetings in the Red Room, a lounge drenched in the signature color, from the dropped ceiling on down. Here, Dillon inserted a playful touch, a shelf packed with neatly organized Pez dispensers. Such flourishes are undeniably personal. But McCann believes they create an atmosphere that frees clients to explore new ideas.