On the Waterfront
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 2/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
firm: battersby howat
site: vancouver, british columbia
Canadian clothing manufacturer Aritzia sells trendy dresses and premium denim through boutiques in North American malls. For 12 years, the company's headquarters near the waterfront in Vancouver, British Columbia, was fun-filled and casual, like the clothes. But the need to consolidate about a third of the workforce in one location offered a chance to create a hip but more grown-up environment. "The new space had to work as a foil for the youthful quality of the company," Battersby Howat principal Heather Howat says.
"The reality of the Aritzia space is that it's part of the manufacturing process," principal David Battersby says, noting the need to accommodate an in-house design department as well as areas for sample-checking, merchandising, and distribution. Approximately 120 employees would be working in the 22,000-square-foot headquarters, the first phase of a three-floor renovation in a converted dockside warehouse.
The designers proposed renovating the more than 100-year-old concrete structure from a "northern" viewpoint, "whether that's European or American," Battersby says. In the reception area, a low-slung sectional upholstered in tufted white leather is decidedly Nordic, while pale oak cabinetry recalls driftwood lying on a frozen shore. The receptionist sits at a long white-enameled steel desk, behind which runs an indirectly lit horizontal niche lined with glass back-painted pale chartreuse. It might as well be Stockholm.
To screen reception from the adjoining conference room, a cabinetmaker clad rigid-foam bifold doors with randomly flitched oak-veneered MDF panels. The lightweight construction eases operation, and the snugly fitting 3-inch-thick doors represent craftsmanship Battersby calls "so perfect it's insane."
The loftlike office area offers more robust gestures, such as the extensive use of architectural screens custom-fabricated from steel modular elements and regionally harvested Western hemlock. The open-grained softwood, which was milled locally, sliced into slats, and given a clear finish, nicely matches the lobby's oak.
The corporate collection's vintage furnishings sit on the glossy low-VOC epoxy that the architects poured over the original concrete floor slabs. Rugs made from carpet tile improve the acoustics and also introduce variegated stripes of red, green, orange, yellow, and blue. Sound is further tamed by ¾-inch-thick acoustical ceiling panels, which furthermore add a visual texture that Battersby describes as "curly straw."
A plan for clear-anodized aluminum fenestration had to be scrapped. The building's existing aluminum window frames were already navy, and there was never any real possibility of repainting them. "We had to get over that," Battersby continues. But the team was able to paint inside. Accent walls in private offices introduce complementary pale shades of blue, green, and mauve. In corridors, milk-white walls are festooned with digitally reproduced botanical graphics similar to those seen in Aritzia boutiques.
In the small men's restroom, streamlined white sinks are backed by icy-blue glass wall tile. The ladies' room provides not only more sinks but also, understandably, many more square feet. "We imagined a lot of chatting taking place in there," Howat says.
More splashes of color appear above the lunchroom's quartet of 9-foot-long refectory-style oak-plank tables, lit by a run of giant gray-lacquered pendant domes. Four of the five shades are orange inside, a nod, Battersby says, "to the construction cranes on the surrounding docks." One has a pink interior, an appropriately girlie touch.
Photo by Ivan Hunter.
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