Taylor-Made for Business
Michael Taylor Designs's headquarters, a San Francisco soap factory designed by Fisher Weisman, looks inviting enough to move into
Zahid Sardar -- Interior Design, 3/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
The line between residential and contract design has blurred lately, but zebra rugs and Napoléonic campaign beds rarely make it into fancy bank executives' offices. So why the homelike refinement at Michael Taylor Designs in San Francisco? "We're in the luxury-goods business," says CEO Paul J. Weaver, who manufactures high-end residential furniture for the company he founded with its celebrated namesake in 1984.
Luxury arrived quite recently in Michael Taylor Designs's neighborhood of Potrero Hill. Where young professionals stroll and school children play in the park was not so long ago a desolate semi-industrial zone. In 1946, Weaver's company's current headquarters started life as a factory and general offices for Hexol soap. The huge building was essentially a fireproof concrete box, with steel trusses supporting a concrete-slab roof perforated by overscale skylights. Manufacturing took place in back; offices, bathrooms, and a kitchen filled one corner; above, a mezzanine handled storage.
Little of this suited a premier furniture company, but the building's front section does boast 5,600 square feet of space. That was enough to consolidate a design atelier, clerical areas, and a separate floor for Weaver's private office and an executive conference room. (Manufacturing and development departments have moved to Los Angeles.)
"Because it's a leased building, we couldn't go completely insane with it," Fisher Weisman principal Jeffry Weisman says. Nonetheless, the interior he perfected over a four-year period required radical moves. He emptied the concrete shell, stripping it of every nonstructural wall, and opened up part of the mezzanine to reveal double-height spaces, particularly an atrium entry.
So far, Weisman has redone the reception area several times. "The furniture business is also a fashion business," he says. The scheme for the reception area's current incarnation is based on a model room that Michael Taylor designed for a showcase in the 1950s. Besides potted palm trees, that basically entailed black, white, and the red that Taylor favored ever since he created Elizabeth Arden's trademark Red Door. "Everything is generously scaled, for a company that produces large pieces, but we kept it pretty simple. Michael considered red a neutral," Weisman says. A red carpet—with a charcoal border that blends into the concrete floor—anchors generously proportioned seating from the Jennifer line, named for actress Jennifer Jones. The upholstery is a linen velvet that Taylor designed for Jones and her philanthropist husband, Norton Simon.
Flanking reception are office cubicles. A staff of 20 works here, separated by wood-framed partitions clad in white-painted drywall. The dividers, 5 feet 2 inches high, look mazelike when viewed from above.
What remains of the original mezzanine became Weaver's personal domain, reached by a new staircase. Sound-absorbant sea grass covers the stairs and the floor. "Paul needs quiet to be productive," Weisman says. The placement of Weaver's private office, behind the executive conference room, offers additional buffering against disturbance. "When he wants, two sets of doors can shut off everything else," Weisman continues.
The conference room could easily pass for a dining room, but it's used to hold meetings, entertain clients, and host the occasional fund-raiser. (The Foundation for Design Integrity is a cause that Weaver champions—through enlightened self-interest. "We're one of the most imitated furniture companies in America," he says.) Michael Taylor Designs furniture includes a stone-topped neoclassical dining table and silk-covered chairs adapted from a 17th-century Portuguese child's chair.
Weaver's private office has all the glamour of a Pacific Heights sitting room. The company's reproduction Italian Renaissance mirrors flank simple ebonized shelves where Weaver shows off Attic urns that he found in London. The CEO sits in a Klismos chair—a reproduction of the 1940s design by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings. For visitors, Weisman provided two medallion-backed chairs, copies of a Louis XVI piece that once belonged to Taylor.