Redwood Trust moves from closed-door to wide-open at its Northern California headquarters by Huntsman Architectural Group.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
What does an aircraft plant have to do with an elite real-estate investment trust? Plenty, if you're George Bull, chairman and CEO of Redwood Trust in Mill Valley, California. A 1976 tour of the wide-open assembly area at Boeing's Seattle site left an indelible mark in the future executive's mind. "We see ourselves as financial engineers," says Bull—whose headquarters by Huntsman Architectural Group embraces an airiness verging on the aeronautical.
The employees of 10-year-old Redwood Trust had previously been "Pac-Manned" into traditional quarters, Bull says. This time around, he mandated no private offices. All 54 employees, including the CEO, would sit out in the open.
Redwood Trust's 20,000-square-foot space meshed seamlessly with these broad programmatic strokes. The top level of a three-story spec building, the volume offered a ceiling reaching 26 feet at its acme. Full-height windows with panoramic Marin County views would allow staff to savor open space outside as well as in.
Huntsman design principal Mark Harbick scheduled the project for two phases. Design of 14,000 square feet composed the first. (Phase two is still being completed.)
Since two thirds of the phase-one space is dedicated to office area, Harbick's main task entailed taming an expanse of workstations. He opted for a beech-finished system—clustered in groups of six or eight to break up a 137-foot-long span—plus carpet tiles in a lively geometric. Glass panels reduce visual distractions while providing a slight acoustic baffle.
The predominant agent of sound control floats below the ceiling. Stretched over a medium-density glass-fiber core supported by an aluminum frame, Eurospan flame-resistant polyester creates an ethereal composition that's cleverly multi- functional. The panels conceal inherited lighting, preserve ' the roof truss structure, and humanize scale.
Since almost all of Redwood Trust's expenses are personnel-related, creating a stimulating, interactive workplace was a large part of the equation. "This business is not about machines," proclaims Bull. (The fact that the trust's profits average $2 million per employee substantiates his statement.) The interior had to impress clients, too.
To increase appeal to visitors and staff, Huntsman ensured that Redwood Trust reads "modern" from the start. In reception, wheat-colored epoxy flooring anchors a zebrawood desk and credenza. A dropped ceiling emphasizes the main circulation route. "That's how we defined spaces," explains Harbick. A fluorescent-lit cove contributes to the built quality of the conference room—a glass block jutting out behind reception.
Inside the conference room, Charles and Ray Eames's white leather-covered chairs surround an Eames table that's topped in cherry veneer; Poul Henningsen's lacquered-copper Artichoke pendant hangs above. On the other side of a pair of sliding glass pocket doors, a client lounge speaks in a softer, more contemporary vocabulary, with curvaceous seating by Rodolfo Dordoni and Barbara Barry.
Off the main corridor is the staff kitchen, a simple composition of white plastic-laminate cabinetry. The saddle seats of Pepe Cortez's bar stools line up at two counters—one facing out at a valley. Harbick painted the end wall in tropical turquoise, a tranquil island in a sea of high-powered deal making.