John Gallagher -- Interior Design, 3/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Admirers nicknamed Detroit's Union Trust Building the Cathedral of Finance when it opened in 1929, and the sumptuous mezzanine banking hall evokes awe to this day. Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, as the 40-story skyscraper's architects were known at the time, constructed a space that soars as high as 40 feet in places and covered the vaulted ceiling with horsehair-backed fabric painted to evoke Native American motifs. In 2000, the landmark, since renamed the Guardian Building, benefited from a nice bit of historical symmetry when the same firm, now an Interior Design Giant called SmithGroup, oversaw a renovation—then moved in, leasing four office floors and part of the former banking hall.
Restoration work included acid-washing the Italian travertine floor. Then, taking a minimally invasive approach, SmithGroup installed two steel-framed glass-walled conference rooms in the center of the space. Metal halide up-lights, attached to the roofs, illuminated the ceiling and set off the original art deco vocabulary to stunning advantage.
Recently, the landlord replaced the conference facilities with a coffee shop, and SmithGroup recycled parts from the disassembled enclosures to build conference rooms upstairs. "It's surprising," managing partner Russell Sykes says, "how well a '20's building functions for us now, almost 80 years later."