Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 5/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
For the gospel according to Groupe Clarins, trainee sales consultants from U.S. department stores and stand-alone boutiques make a pilgrimage to the New York office. This venerable French cosmetics and skin-care company uses science to extract beauty from botanicals. Since beauty is as beauty does, the tone is set by the words amity, integrity, and courtesy emblazoned on the bronze elevator doors in the lobby of the handsome 1926 building.
The elevators open on the 19th floor to reveal space previously occupied by Perkins + Will. Preserved in the reception area is that firm's curving perforated steel radiator cover. Lipstick-red Barcelona chairs and bamboo ceiling panels, on the other hand, were added during a renovation by Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel, Architects. The chairs sit on what looks like new terrazzo but was actually entombed beneath layers of other flooring, built up over the years. "It was a really fun few days of unearthing, then having an asbestos scare, and finally getting to the bottom of things," recalls Bryan Bennett, director of design resources.
Principal Randy Gerner compares the newly stripped concrete floors in other areas to a "New York street, with patched potholes and rough edges." Only under the separate clusters of workstations did he install carpet, cutout clover leaves in straw. From the open ceiling—painted dark brown, like the exposed mechanicals—pendant drums hang moonlike, deployed in two sizes. The fixtures were originally designed for another project—a Toyota Motor Corporation showroom in Massachusetts. At Clarins, their fluorescent light supplements generous sunshine.
Gerner carried the Clarins branding message through two levels totaling 35,000 square feet, most notably by integrating the red curve of the company logo—nicknamed the Eyebrow by the architects. It not only swooshes across the top of a conference table but also takes on three dimensions as a red wall arcing alongside the internal staircase's equally red rubber-clad steps. (The stair is necessary because passenger elevators stop short of the office's upper level, the building's penthouse.) In deference to Clarins's botanical bent, grass or wildflowers are embedded in translucent plastic door panels.
Office doors along the main corridor on the lower level alternate with spotlighted advertising images, suspended from easy-to-rehang display rails, and niches displaying up-lit perfume bottles. The niches help the Clarins industrial-design staff "envision how the products will appear on store shelves," Gerner says. Because the company also bottles Thierry Mugler fragrances, one of the conference rooms boasts a collection of Mugler furniture brought over from a former location—throughout, repurposing freed up resources for renovations.
The penthouse level was a favorite with the GKV team. Classrooms for aestheticians are there, and several lucky designers were recipients of facials from students. In addition, the roof terrace adjacent to the staff café and training room proved an excellent spot for design meetings alfresco—followed, perhaps, by a dab or two of Clarins After Sun Replenishing Moisture Care for Face and Décolleté.