A Capital Idea
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 5/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
When Randall K.C. Kau initially discussed offices for his New York hedge fund, XE Capital Management, with designer Kerri Ferrara, she was surprised by his commitment to the informal hip of boutique hotels. XE was just a penny-wise start-up at the time, and Ferrara was a senior designer at Milo Kleinberg Design Associates. (She's now working solo as simply Kerri Ferrara.) On an early visit to a spec-built space for lease, Kau recoiled from the conventional layout of cubicles and enclosures—exclaiming, "This is exactly what I don't want." Instead, he committed to customizing 5,000 square feet on a floor below, one that had been left gutted.
"Normally we do larger spaces," MKDA president Michael Kleinberg notes. To maximize openness for XE, which backs high-risk investments, the team was tempted by the hang-loose look of ad agencies during the dot-com boom. Ferrara even considered installing a chill-out tent. "It had to be noncorporate. But not the Nerf thing," Kau clarifies.
Phase one, still mostly in place, incorporates dropped ceilings of gypsum board edged with inexpensive painted accents. Canvas-weave synthetic wraps wall panels to soften the acoustics in office areas, where snaking workstation pods give virtually everyone access to natural light. Conference rooms with big windows overlooking the New York Public Library and Bryant Park have internal glass walls to share that view with reception. Originally, a section of the reception area assumed the guise of a diner, right down to the counter and bar stools. But when XE doubled its space by acquiring the level below, this offbeat staff kitchen had to be moved to accommodate a staircase.
As Kau committed to spending more on his office, Ferrara was able to deliver higher-quality hip. Restrooms for the two levels highlight the differences in budget and ambition. "Bathrooms are a bit of an obsession," Kau admits.
Upstairs, Ferrara had designed (and redesigned) the facilities in pursuit of his boutique-hotel ideal, ultimately covering the ceiling with rearview security mirrors, partly sandblasted. Kau loved it, but some employees found it unnervingly revealing. The second time around, he asked for something more lavish and spalike. In the anteroom for the two individual restrooms, Ferrara setstrips of beveled mirror into the walls just above eye level. The restrooms themselves are painted pale turquoise. Three switches near the door activate small down-lights, cove lighting, and a clear glass pendant globe.
"Kerri brings subtle surprises to every design," Kleinberg notes. Outside the downstairs conference rooms, she surfaced serpentine soffits in silver-flecked cork. Because of the hushed nature of goings-on inside, concealed-spline acoustic ceilings muffle the sound of conversation.
The subtlety of detailing downstairs appeals to visitors—high-net-worth individuals and institutional investors. "I wish, as part of our business model, we could collect a dollar for every compliment we get," Kau jokes. Regardless, his fund has become a $750 million powerhouse.