Wallpaper - 07.2019

(Nancy Kaufman) #1
The building’s quality was impressive; it was constructed of concrete
and steel, with a brick, wood and plaster interior. ‘Who builds a
building like this without regard to cost?’ Bassam wonders. Just as
importantly, he and Fellows had tired of the trend of open-plan
offices, and Johnson’s design offered the perfect balance between
private and communal space. The only major changes they would
make to the plan were to turn the secretarial pool – a relic of a bygone
office culture – into a coffee bar and lounge area for collaborative
work, and to turn an office space into a disabled-access restroom.
But since the building had been empty for over a decade, it was in
dire need of attention. Its original steel roof capping, which had been
buried under flashing and tar, was restored. Window frames and
mullions were replaced, and the skylights and much of the original
lighting were restored. (Where new lighting was installed, it was done
in collaboration with Flos Architectural.) The vinyl tile floors, which
had later been covered with carpet, were replaced with the same
French quarry tile that Johnson used in the Hodgson House. Pipes
had frozen, destroying the ceiling and staining the oak woodwork. Its
original glossy finish had acquired an orange hue over the years, so it
was hand-sanded and bleached to remove signs of damage, which also
gave the wood a ‘more timeless look, not specific to one era,’ Bassam
says. Much of the original hardware was restored. And the courtyard’s
overgrown bamboo – which was not part of the original landscape

design – was replaced by a Japanese white pine tree. As Fellows
observes, ‘Its asymmetry is the perfect foil for the building’. Original
paint chips showed that the skylight reveals had originally been
painted a lighter grey than the charcoal of the interior’s steel columns,
which, in turn, were lighter than the exterior trim. ‘It’s super-subtle,
but makes a huge difference,’ Fellows explains. ‘The softer grey works
better with the brick and the light floors.’
The building also serves as a BassamFellows showroom. ‘We have
every piece of furniture we make here, and we can show how it’s used,’
Bassam says; and what the company calls its ‘Craftsman Modern’
aesthetic works perfectly with the architecture. A banquette sofa is
placed opposite the desk in each office, perpendicular to the window
wall, so that visitors will not have their backs to the view. Also on
display are the chairs BassamFellows designed for the Starbucks
Reserve Roastery that opened in New York’s Meatpacking District last
December; their sculptural contours are a counterpoint to the ‘very
rectilinear space’, Bassam explains. He and Fellows are at work on
furniture for another Reserve Roastery, which will open in Chicago
this autumn, and they introduced two new furniture collections in
Milan in April. With so much going on, the two have been putting in
a lot of hours in their new workspace – which is fine with them. ‘We
love spending time here,’ Bassam says. ‘It’s just like being at home.’ ∂

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