Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Office projects have earned Huntsman Architectural Group much of its professional reputation. (Prime examples include Genentech in San Francisco and Reed Smith Crosby Heafey, a law firm in Oakland, California.) Huntsman is also known, however, for hospitality—hosting some of the design community's best parties. Those events used to be held in the firm's longtime home, several floors in San Francisco's historic Merchant's Exchange.
Then, when a single 20,000-square-foot floor became available in a 1960s downtown high-rise, Huntsman decided to relocate its staff of 60. "The move said, 'We're ready for the big leagues,'" explains vice president and design principal Mark Harbick. The new office represented an opportunity not only to design a more open work environment but also, in keeping with the firm's sociable nature, meeting areas to share with clients and industry friends. Planning took off from there.
Almost 20 percent of the floor is devoted to what Huntsman refers to as the hospitality area. Adjacent to reception is a trio of conference rooms faced with glass jalousies, and a nearby lounge can become semiprivate with the repositioning of a walnut-framed pivoting screen. All of these spaces are open to clients, consultants, contractors, trade organizations, and nonprofits, but it's the 1,100-square-foot library that has proved an irresistible draw. "People are jazzed to see the creative process," says Harbick. "They just walk in and help themselves."
Beyond the hospitality area, the firm's five principals occupy glass-fronted offices, but the majority of employees sit in an 8,000-square-foot design studio. A new-product laboratory of sorts, it's outfitted with an assortment of production pieces that were still in development at the time of installation: Ethospace Extensions workstations, extruded-aluminum pendants, chenille-textured carpet. "It sends the message that we're cutting-edge," says Harbick. The firm's architectural prowess comes through in the studio's ceiling—reworking the HVAC system with shallower ductwork allowed the 8-foot plane to be raised another 9 inches in the center.
Clean lines and comfortable familiarity characterize the furniture. Arne Jacobsen's Egg chairs and a Warren Platner coffee table stand in reception, while the lounge features Jens Risom lounge chairs and Piero Lissoni's Met sofa. "The pieces synchronize with the building's modernist roots," says Harbick. "But they're also somewhat style-neutral. Not too traditional, not too industrial."
Huntsman reserves its style statement for colors and materials. The carpet tiles and the workstations' panel fabric display unexpected muted blues and greens. For the reception desk, traditional walnut becomes less staid when combined with Apple Ply and stainless steel. A reception wall, clad in dark blue glass-mosaic tile, adds low-key drama. And sets the party scene.