A New York loading dock becomes home to Herman Miller RED under Brett Tipert's direction.
Linas Alsenas -- Interior Design, 11/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Most furniture execs would blanch at the idea of locating their headquarters in a loading dock. But Greg Parsons, president of Herman Miller RED, jumped at the chance. In recent years, Manhattan's old Port Authority Commerce Building has become a magnet for new media, Internet, and telecommunications companies. Built in 1932 as a vertical warehouse facility and freight terminal, this hulking building attracted many fast-moving companies in the late '90s for its plentiful space, industrial-grade amenities, and trendy Chelsea location. The building's changed reputation makes it the perfect home for Herman Miller RED, a company spun off from furniture giant Herman Miller to address the particular needs of smaller, younger, and…well…cooler companies. Four loading docks were decommissioned to create 3,500 sq. ft. of space on the ground floor, which Parsons recognized as the ideal locale for RED's administrative offices and showroom. Like the clients RED caters to, the venue is flexible, unconventional, and exciting.
Designer Brett Tipert took cues from existing conditions to preserve hints of the store's former identity. Applying just a touch of grounding and polishing, he left the original concrete floors as found. Wide window bays provide the basis for the showroom's three major divisions, which are loosely defined by gray cotton mesh scrims hanging from suspended tracks. Tipert built up the raised concrete loading platform to create a mezzanine level for the administrative staff. Although separated from the storefront retail area by a walled ramp, these employees extol the benefits of their proximity to showroom activities. "I meet customers every day and learn from those interactions," says Parsons.
By replacing the loading dock's doors with giant panes of safety glass, Tipert introduced ample daylight and retained the garage-like atmosphere—while conveniently maximizing product exposure. After dusk, the space is awash with the muted light of tinted fluorescent tubes located just above the windows. "The colored light sets the scrims apart and gives them volume," explains Tipert. The colors can be changed easily as tastes shift and different products cycle through.
The showroom's white walls, high ceiling, and spare interior reference nearby contemporary-art galleries, an impression further enhanced by the artwork on display. A cantilevered Heather McGill work greets visitors at the entrance, and Matt Gorbet's video art, which graphically represents the activity of the RED website, is projected on the opposite wall. Tipert's experience designing fashion boutiques and gallery shows served him well in this project, where he was careful to maintain an aesthetic in the same spirit as the galleries, boutiques, and showrooms that now characterize Chelsea. As he quite simply puts it, "I wanted to keep it contextual and do what was appropriate for the space."