For Park Avenue South premises worthy of its mid-century pedigree and contemporary performance, the fabric manufacturer turned to Fernlund + Logan
Bonnie Schwartz -- Interior Design, 9/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Chances are, if you work at Maharam, snapshots of your precious pooch will not be welcome on your desk surface. That's because Michael Maharam, the fabric manufacturer's aesthetic czar, exercises absolute control over visual presentation, whether it concerns his firm's logo, interior architecture, or regulation Post-It notes. "We've infused the organization with a very consistent expression," he explains as he shows off his clutter-free design studio and executive offices on Park Avenue South. "We have guidelines for desk lamps, staplers, coffeemakers, you name it. And we discourage accumulation. Not only does that make the space look better, it also helps our people focus."
Since Michael and Stephen Maharam took control of the company five years ago, product quality has never been higher. By reissuing the patterns of such luminaries as Verner Panton, Anni Albers, and Alexander Girard—and weaving the fabrics to high standards—the brothers Maharam have reinstated an important modernist legacy. In addition to making such historically important textiles available again, the company exhibits great zeal in bringing the energies of leading contemporary designers to bear on the field. (Recently, Maharam has added Dutch industrial designer Hella Jongerius, Canadian graphic designer Bruce Mau, and French interior designer Andrée Putman to its stable.) Not to mention that a consistent push for technological innovation has resulted in introductions of high-performance fabrics that are as functional as they are beautiful. Such an impressively multipronged approach to high-level design and development could only be the work of a perfectionist.
As befits that character description, Michael Maharam interviewed 30 to 40 architects when the time came to refurbish the company's network of corporate and sales offices and showrooms. "I was despondent. I couldn't find anyone with whom I felt on the same page," he says. That frustration prevailed until, through a mutual friend, he found husband-and-wife team Solveig Fernlund and Neil Logan. Their firm, Fernlund + Logan, concentrates on residential and commercial work for clients with highly evolved visual sensibilities. "A lot of our clients are photographers. We have a very niche business," Logan says with a laugh. At Maharam's Park Avenue South space—in the same building as George Nelson's onetime studio—the firm had to tackle two entire floors, encompassing 14,000 square feet slated to accommodate 32 people.
On the lower floor, occupied by marketing and sales staff, Fernlund + Logan cleared away a warren of corporate cubicles and replaced them with Vitra's Ad Hoc workstations, a move that imposes a more consistent white color palette and lowers some barriers. "We've opened up lines of communication by literally breaking down the walls," says Michael Maharam. "There's a decrease in pettiness as information becomes less something to guard."
Principals and designers inhabit the penthouse level, pared down to show off 16-foot ceilings, multiple skylights, and elegant half-moon windows. Birch-plywood desks and storage cabinets, pale maple floors, industrial felt rugs, white laminate surfacing, and conference tables topped by crisp white Corian populate the largely unobstructed space. Almost none of the furnishings are mass-produced; all workstations, storage files, and tables were fabricated by a Brooklyn woodworker.
Orderliness was the highest priority, but creating pleasant surroundings came a close second—hence the upper floor's African tribal masks, Donald Judd cadmium prints, Tapio Wirkkala glassware, and 20th-century chairs. During the past five years, Michael Maharam has been steadily moving toward more rarefied acquisitions. "I stumbled across chairs as a sculptural idiom," he says of his 150 pieces by the likes of Jean Prouvé, Gerrit Rietveld, and Arne Jacobsen. "They never stay in one place very long. After hours and on weekends, I move them around, put some away in storage, take some out. Change keeps us all stimulated."
In keeping with the firm's collection, Maharam's office is more evocative of an art gallery or a retail setting than a contract environment. The interior is furthermore intended to serve as a benchmark for company sales offices and showrooms around the country. Now, if only someone would replace that stone-colored Xerox copier with a snowy-white model, even Michael Maharam might achieve full aesthetic harmony.
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