A Tale Of Two Companies
Stephen Treffinger -- Interior Design, 9/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
"People would kill for this light, this space," says Donghia/Bergamo Fabrics president and CEO Rosencrans Baldwin, going on to refer to his headquarters as "the SoHo of Mount Vernon." Bergamo had already occupied most of this four-story former factory for six years when Donghia and Bergamo Fabrics became part of the Italian company Rubelli and the two subsidiaries decided to move in together. The abundant sunshine at the suburban site was what enticed staffers to leave offices and studio space in Manhattan—this would be the first time the designers could easily view their work in daylight.
Conant Architects arrived on the scene just as Bergamo and Donghia were jointly leasing another floor in Mount Vernon. That brought the total square footage to 45,000, more than enough for the combined 90 employees—now one big happy family. "Having the companies together under one roof is essential in creating the atmosphere that's typical of family enterprises—enhancing the strengths of each company to the benefit of the other," Rubelli managing director Nicolo Favaretto Rubelli says. In fact, even before the acquisitions, Bergamo fabrics were specified for Donghia furniture over 20 percent of the time.
Donghia seating, upholstered in fabric from two Bergamo collections and grouped beneath one of many Donghia chandeliers throughout the building, furnishes the gigantic two-story lobby, formerly a loading dock. (A small loading dock is maintained for samples.) Rising from the lobby, a new staircase with balustrades of rough-sawn oak leads to the offices and studios. Architect Peter Conant chose oak because it echoes what appears to be miles of original oak flooring—planks that could not be saved were matched as closely as possible.
Conant exposed the building's ductwork, brick walls, and timber frame and stripped majestic columns down to their underlying yellow pine. "I think the roughness and the richness make an interesting counterpoint," he says. The pared-down shell also perfectly frames the simple lines of the furniture and the giddy extravagance of the fabric. Even partitions in the office area are covered in contract patterns from Bergamo.
The result of a lot of demolition and refinishing, the upper floors are organized by bright corridors running lengthwise. Off these spines are design studios, office areas, and meeting rooms, with almost nothing enclosed. Instead, spaces are delineated by a change in flooring or banks of files, and subtle differences are felt more than "noticed," Conant says. You simply drift from one area to the next, but those working there still have a fair bit of privacy.
Common areas are particularly lovely. "My feeling about any spaces that are shared—the cafeteria, meeting rooms, even the bathrooms—is to make them generous," the architect says. "Pay attention to the smallest detail, and use top-notch materials."
In the airy, pretty cafeteria, luxurious in its simplicity, square white tables and John Hutton's mod white klismos chairs accent the building's good bones. A conference room is sumptuous by comparison, like a boardroom you might find in a more formal setting. In the middle of the room, an enormous oak table sits beneath a pair of six-armed glass chandeliers. One of the long walls is an inspiration board washed, rather glamorously, by fluorescent cove lighting; the wall opposite is glazed.
Beyond the headquarters's walls of glass and brick, the Mount Vernon community has seen its share of hard times. Mayor Ernest Davis, the town's champion of urban renewal, is a great fan of Donghia and Bergamo. According to Conant, the building permit was obtained within a day or two. Caroline Vaughn—officially Bergamo's senior vice president of merchandising, public relations, and marketing and unofficially the company historian—says that, at one point, the property was on the auction block and nearly became a women's correctional facility.
Besides his duties as president and CEO, Baldwin sits on the board of directors of Mount Vernon's Chamber of Commerce, and he had Bergamo donate 5,000 yards of fabric to redo the local high-school auditorium. His company hires the school's students as interns, too. As business grows, so does the neighborhood.