Style And Substance
Sheila Kim-Jamet -- Interior Design, 5/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Des Moines isn't particularly known as a design hub, but Substance Architecture is changing that perception. The firm's 5,200-square-foot studio, on the second floor of an early 1900's industrial building, houses a 15-person staff of architects and interior designers, all of whom occupy clusters of open workstations that take advantage of three window exposures. The original concrete floor's oil stains date from when the space was storage for a car dealership; new bands of shiny waxed steel run across the floor and walls; and crisp birch accents offset exposed brick. Furnishings are either custom or mid-century. Partner Tim Hickman tells us more.
Did you conduct staff surveys to determine design direction for this space?
No, nothing formal. We're a small studio, so we openly discuss all projects. A few issues generated debate, such as reception chairs and the layout of workstation clusters. We also asked ourselves whether there should be offices, if partners' desks should be different from other staff's, and if the conference room should be open.
You decided on workstations for everyone?
Yes. Partners, registered architects, interns—everyone is together at the same 8-foot-long workstation.
And the conference room?
There are actually two conference areas. One is partially screened by custom MDF shelves that run almost floor to ceiling. The other is basically in reception. Also, a small semiprivate meeting area is in a nook between the entry and a storage wall.
What were your inspirations?
The frank materiality of the vacant space and a desire to reflect our Midwestern character, valuing humility, practicality, and clarity. The use of inexpensive materials was not only beneficial to our bottom line but also consistent with our design ethics.
What were the challenges?
The biggest one was budget, which had to be under $50 per square foot. We decided that manufactured furniture would be high-quality but secondary to the millwork. Then we used inexpensive materials that could still be manipulated to create an impact, such as Finnish birch plywood, MDF, and Homasote. The exception, in terms of materials, was Jean Prouvé's molded-beech chairs, but we think they resonate with the overall spirit.