Mark Pupo -- Interior Design, 7/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
The Toronto headquarters of A1 Label stands out from its neighbors—on a barren strip of cookie and apparel manufacturers—but not simply because of the lush lilies, tangled vines, and manicured trees outside. No ordinary factory, the label-printing source for Mr. Bubble and Spray 'n Wash has an interior that reflects the mindset of owners Rhys and Brock Seymour, dapper fraternal twins who share a fascination with the life-enhancing philosophy of early modernism.
When the Seymours moved their company here 10 years ago, impressed by the 1950 building's bones and the abundance of natural light, Yabu Pushelberg designed the office space. A decade later, the brothers commissioned Soma Studio for a lunchroom in what was once a loading dock. The 2,000-square-foot space is now divided into three zones, from front to back: a dining area, a lounge, and a kitchen.
Principal Andrew Fee previously remodeled the homes of both brothers, and they had long admired his sculptor's approach. (He studied fine art in Toronto and London before entering construction and design.) For the lunchroom, they asked him to stick to the utilitarian aesthetic established by Yabu Pushelberg. He did, relying on a palette of concrete, brick, and white oak—although he also introduced some playful twists.
The Seymours' original idea was to provide a well priced cafeteria for everyone in the company: executives and office and manufacturing staff alike. In surveying the 100 employees, however, the brothers discovered that the multicultural group had varied diets and preferred to brown-bag it. Fee accordingly designed a 9-by-16-foot white-oak partition to hide a self-serve kitchen with ample refrigerators, multiple microwaves, and durable stainless-steel surfaces. A restaurant-grade dishwasher allows for the occasional catered reception or seminar.
Because the factory operates around the clock, Fee experimented with a mix of ambient lighting, including incandescent pendant fixtures overhead and LEDs embedded in the original concrete floor—he retained the floor's decades of stains but sealed it with a glossy epoxy. He also left exposed two walls of soft yellow bricks. Their color finds an echo in the lounge's pastel-toned rockers by Charles and Ray Eames.
Meals take place down where trucks used to receive loads. Picnic-style tables and benches have cedar tops and seats, plus steel legs and struts in the manner of Jean Prouvé. ("Poor Prouvé is probably rolling over in his grave.") Finished with oil and wax, the tables exude a monastic quality that's heightened by the view of a serene courtyard garden with a massive, industrial-inspired sculpture.
Fee credits the brothers for their open-mindedness about seemingly trifling details that, for him, have a profound effect. The curtain wall along the courtyard, for instance, is canted 5 degrees. "Coming to them with the idea to tilt the glass, I expected it to be a hard sell," Fee says. "But the angle really changes the way the room relates to the garden. It gives the view impact."
The most remarkable detail inside is the lounge's latticework wall of CNC-milled white oak, an installation of 68 pieces that took two people five days to assemble. Fee modeled its perforations on the shape of scrap material from the label-printing process. The finished product injects the room with a lively rhythm, the visual manifestation of the constant hum of machinery next door.