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Suspended ceilings were removed, gaining the workplace an extra 75cm of height The kitchen acts as a touchdown and meeting area, with metal lockers and a custom-made table The kitchen acts as a touchdown and meeting area, with metal lockers and a custom-made table Salvaged cast-iron wall lights (formerly shovels) hang on the exposed columns The meeting room is encased in aluminium-framed glazing, echoing the look of an old industrial steel door A 'real' pre-war, industrial, Midtown New York building "We often create much of the detail of a project ourselves"
29 May 2015

Designers of top NY venues create Midtown office

Words by 
  • Architect: Emporium Design
  • Client: JMC Holdings
  • Location: New York, USA
  • Floor Space: 149sq m

Emporium Design, creator of some of New York’s hippest venues, has applied the same raw, less-is-more industrial aesthetic to a Midtown workplace

Thousands and thousands of pounds are spent, all over the world, putting together creative office spaces that look like the interior of a pre-war industrial, Midtown New York building. So when Emporium Design, which is somewhat of a specialist in this type of aesthetic, was asked to design a raw, cool, masculine workspace for entrepreneurial investment group JMC Holdings in just that – a pre-war, industrial, Midtown New York building – it offered a chance to tell the story of this type of interior in an authentic way.

“With all our schemes, no matter where they are, we want to celebrate the bones of a place and with this particular project, it all just fitted – the look the client wanted, the style we ourselves are drawn to and the narrative of that particular space,” says Robert Stansell, the co-founder of Emporium, alongside Timothy Welsh.

This type of patina can be simulated, but it takes a lot of hard work. For this space, it was not about adding layers, but stripping it back to reveal the nuts and bolts of the original structure.
Emporium and JMC were acquaintances before the commission came about, and the back-story began with an almost bantering tone. JMC are a fresh, five-strong team of property investors, with a keen passion for sports (both the watching of and partaking in).

Emporium, headed up by Stansell and Welsh, each with ten years’ experience in corporate architecture, found themselves getting busier and busier with what would be classed as ‘cooler’ opportunities – helping friends with the design and the solutions for meeting building codes for the exciting bars and restaurants they were opening up around Brooklyn and Manhattan. Eventually, the draw of this took hold and Emporium was born.

One of the first projects they worked on as Emporium was the Boulton & Watt gastropub, from the branding to build. It has a similarly beefy set up, with hearty raw materials and warm woods, giving the feeling that you might be in a steam-powered factory as well as an eatery.

“The JMC guys came down and loved it,” Stansell continues. “It was kinda tongue in cheek but they said, ‘make our office space look like this’ – and that’s how it began.”

With an idea of the aesthetic in place, Emporium was keen to see the office space the JMC team had purchased, and although they were met with what they describe as “a very vanilla office box” with corporate carpets, white rubber-based ceiling tiles and plasterboard-covered structural columns, the potential instantly resonated with them.

“Restraint was key,” says Welsh. “You can go overboard when you are going for an industrial, raw style, but, especially when it’s all already there, your job is to carefully bring it back. In the end we have removed more than we added.”

They gained 75cm of ceiling height by taking out the suspended ceiling and diffusers, exposing the ducts and sprinklers. The cliched office carpet was ripped out to expose a concrete floor found to be in great shape, and once it was cleaned up and polished, it added the instant texture and character the client wanted.

The same desired effect was achieved when the plasterboard was removed from the now-handsome structural columns. With the bones restored, the finer details began to take shape.

“JMC acquires and operates some of the best interiors in the world, and they’re a relatively young company that wanted this office to be the first of many,” explains Welsh on the further details of the brief.

“They like what’s hip, they like what’s cool, and image is very important to them. They are
also non-traditional in the way they work; there is a lot of collaboration going on, so the space needed to be very open with areas for conversation, both private and non-private.”

With the office wishing to cement its hipster leanings (as well as reflecting the plush outlook of both its Midtown location and the high-end property it invests in), it was only natural that the finishes and fixtures are a mixture of bespoke creations and antique and salvage fair finds. And in true hipster style, bespoke meant DIY.

All the decorative light fixtures are Emporium’s own custom design and fabrication, for example, which saw them scour salvage fairs and antique shows for unusual settings. Some of their proudest creations are the sconce lighting fixtures made from cast-iron shovels recovered from a local quarry, now a feature of every pillar.

“We found a stack of ten of them, beautifully rusted and old, but we weren’t sure what to do with them,” says Stansell. “When this project came up we began to see them as sconces and got set to making them.

“Although architecture is our trade, simply as a function of a being a designer we often create much of the detail of a project ourselves.”

Similarly the lights above the table as you enter the office were obtained from a dealer in Wisconsin who sources old steel factory fittings. The duo rewired the pendant lights, got them up to environmentally friendly regulation standard and fitted them in.

This table marks a drop-off point for bags and coats as well as serving as a kitchenette breakout area for catch ups as the team comes and goes. There are also utilitarian, industrial-style lockers for the drop-off area, chosen as a nod to the ex-athlete past of some of the team members and the enduring sports fan in all of them.

The table itself is another custom-made piece, to appease JMC’s wish for the work surfaces to have the appearance of aged, vintage factory tables.

“That was actually one of the main challenges – making desktops that were congruent with the overall style, but that still had to perform in a working environment. So in other words it needed to look raw and cool, but it wouldn’t do to have the pen go through the paper every time you wrote at that table.”

It was for this reason that some customisation was necessary, rather than using purely vintage pieces as they were found, so Stansell and Welsh’s elbow grease was required once more. Although Emporium was awarded few restrictions with the workspace in terms of privacy and the need for soundproofing and security, they did fabricate a glazed meeting room as a feature of the space. In keeping with the industrial vibe it is framed in black extruded aluminium, more reminiscent of a store front than a meeting space.

Another challenge with the coarser type of interior is ensuring there is an element of warmth, which is where the antique Persian rugs from ABC Carpets came in as well as the inclusion of The Annex – a space that’s more gentleman’s lounge than real-estate office, with its Chesterfields, 1930s armchairs and pallet table for informal meetings.

Along from here resides more unfussy filing cabinets to appease the practical need for physical contracts and documents as well as a rather arresting pistachio green phone booth, fashioned from an old metal cabinet, for making private calls.

This dream combination of industrial factory finds, plus DIY projects and the uncovering and respect for the authentic story of this space, has given real heart to a what could have been just another ‘hipster’ workspace.

Emporium has listened well to its client’s needs, both in the performance of the scheme but the aesthetic unique to their personality, picking up on the masculine aspect to incorporate a new style of locker-room chic.

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