Judith Davidsen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
It might seem absurd to seek LEED "urbanism" points for a showroom in New York. Surrounded by energy-efficient buses and subways along with just about every iconic skyscraper in town, a Manhattan project couldn't escape being urban if it tried to.
"We'll take the points anyway," says Catherine Severson, cofounder of the two-person Q Studio, which just completed its latest showroom for Milliken & Company. This 6,100-square-foot space follows on the heels of the firm's LEED Gold Milliken Contract showroom at Chicago's Merchandise Mart.
The New York location's gratuitous-seeming urbanism credit helps offset the loss of HVAC points—this 26th-floor penthouse doesn't have the vertical reach for an energy-saving under-floor system, so the ducts are still up there on the ceiling. Still, four new rooftop cooling units earn points for individual control and integral energy recovery. To Severson and cofounder John Seegers's way of thinking, this hybrid solution is not necessarily un-green, since it avoids the energy and pollution issues involved in manufacturing, transporting, and installing new HVAC as well as adding old equipment to the waste stream. LEED, Severson points out, hasn't yet recognized the virtue of savings through subtraction.
HVAC ducts are not the only reused elements. The previous New York outpost was designed by Florence Knoll, and some of its furnishings—among them her own lounge chairs, conference table, and wall clock—made the scant ½-mile trek to the new site. Along with them came the teak paneling that now graces the elevator lobby.
Recycling is nothing new for Milliken, which reused packaging and textile waste as early as 1900. At headquarters in South Carolina, water from decorative fountains began to be recirculated through the air-conditioning system back in 1959. The company set about building wastewater treatment plants three years later. In 1971, it established measurements to track water and electricity use. A founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council, Milliken is currently supplying 30 percent of its energy needs by harvesting methane from a South Carolina landfill.
Back in Manhattan, restrooms offer maximum water efficiency, right down to the waterless urinal, worth one LEED point. Walls in both restrooms are covered either in tiny mirrored tiles or in a charcoal-gray vinyl custom-printed with Milliken buzzwords: reliable, energizing, and so forth.
Carpet in the entry to the main display area is printed with nearly everything you ever wanted to know about the advantages of the company's product—including, fittingly, printing capability. Just to the right, carpet samples are clipped vertically onto 200-odd floor-to-ceiling cables, called the "harp" by staff. The cables float 16 inches from a wallpainted pale violet, a color Seegers calls Ether. "Light comes out of it," he says. Scattered around the floor are low tables, essentially open boxes framed in powder-coated steel. They allow designers to insert samples of carpet, wall covering, textiles, and millwork into the top to see how they look against carpet samples slipped in below.
Even so, displaying carpet to best advantage remains a challenge. "The wrong lighting makes textures look flat," Severson notes. The right lighting would seem to come in two forms: Energy-guzzling incandescent is of course a no-no, however daylight enters in abundance from windows on four sides, and the corner conference room is fronted in frameless glass, maximizing the amount of sunshine that can pass through. When there's not enough to pick up textural nuances, sensors trigger efficient metal-halide lamps, the same ones that make supermarket produce look so scrumptious.
Paint in the café recalls the Playbill-yellow banner on the printed programs for Milliken's Breakfast Show, the Broadway-style musical revue with professional performers that the company mounted every year from 1956 to 1979. At Milliken, not even a color goes to waste.