Investing in Lever House
Sheila Kim -- Interior Design, 5/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
When Wellspring Capital Management moved its New York base from art deco Rockefeller Center to modernist Lever House, the managing partners were making a decisive statement. Although they'd always had fairly traditional taste, they decided that an updated image would serve their private investment firm well in these competitive times.
In composing her ideas for the 8,200-square-foot space—twice the size of Wellspring's previous office—Reddymade Design principal Suchi Reddy took cues from the slab-style icon, completed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Gordon Bunshaft in 1952. "Lever House has one of the best curtain walls ever built," says Reddy. "My goal was to respect its proportions and spirit."
The internal wall separating perimeter offices and conference rooms from the office core is composed of onyx laminated onto tempered glass. At just 4 millimeters thick, the milky-white stone becomes translucent, and the floating feeling is enhanced by the fact that the 9-foot-high slabs slice into troughs in the ceiling and floor. Supported by vertical steel members spaced every 41/2 feet, the planar composition also mimics the datum lines of Lever House's glazed exterior.
"The stone wall is a modern twist on a traditional material, with a pure and sleek look," says Reddy. Other rich materials play off the shimmery luminescence of the onyx. Flooring is dark-stained end-grain Douglas fir. Ribbon-striped sapele veneer appears in horizontal orientation on the reception desk and workstations, vertically on the doors of offices and conference rooms. "The chocolate brown addresses the traditional feel expected of a financial company while injecting warmth and a splash of color," she adds.
The whiteness of the onyx also complements Wellspring's collection of contemporary paintings, prints, and photographs by emerging artists. The most interesting installation, however, involves the four painted drywall sides of the freestanding enclosure occupied by the office manager. One face of this four-sided gallery anchors a waiting area fitted out with black Barcelona chairs by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and a Marcel Breuer table topped in plastic laminate—nods to Lever House's heyday.
In the rest of the interior, classic modernism mixes with recent and vintage offerings. The employee kitchen is the most contemporary, with stacking chairs by Emilio Ambasz and banquettes covered in a striped cotton-polyester blend by Hella Jongerius. Each private office varies according to its occupant. One office boasts custom sapele case goods, another a 1940's walnut desk. A third is outfitted with a table in chrome, etched glass, and painted silver.
All five conference rooms feature Life chairs, chosen after a rigorous selection process to determine the most comfortable seating for lengthy meetings and conference calls. In the two larger rooms, Reddy paired the chairs with clean-lined custom tables inspired by Donald Judd. Their black marble tops supported by legs in stainless steel, the tables are as minimalist as Lever House itself. And equally elegant.