By Meghan Hall
When thinking about commercial design, it can be easy to think first about the trendy tech-oriented offices with amenities like game rooms and cafés that are typical in the Bay Area market. Diversified global manufacturer Milliken & Company presented a different challenge to the global design and architecture firm HOK to design its new flooring showroom in San Francisco, one that would highlight the variety of raw materials and products that it offers to its clients looking to enhance their own spaces.
“Well the customer has a customer, which is really quite different,” explained Donald Cremers, a principal at HOK’s interior design studio and a senior project designer. “In a workplace project, on the other hand, the majority of the [work] is about the company itself and the people who are all part of that company.”
Cremers explained that in creating the design, HOK not only worked with Milliken to get an understanding of not just what the company itself wanted, but what Milliken’s clients were looking to accomplish, as well. Together, the team selected a space and designed a layout that could accommodate a variety of uses and group sizes. According to Cremers, HOK looked at several different spaces throughout San Francisco before settling on a 4,500 square foot space in the Bemis Building, an older warehouse near Pier 39 in Jackson Square.
“The size of it was right, and then we also liked the concrete structure because that was something they had used in their showrooms in Chicago and New York,” explained Cremers.
Cremers said that although they do not always accompany their clients on the hunt for space, it can be helpful to have the architect on hand to help the client visualize what is possible and how the client can use the space in the future.
“I think we have a lot to offer because we look at properties in a different way than a real estate agent or the client,” said Cremers.
The team took cues from Milliken’s other offices around the world and wanted to create a space that would introduce the customer to Milliken and its products. Milliken wanted the bones of the space itself to be interesting as well. The space also features high ceilings and a curved wall as an architectural feature. The concrete columns and ceilings were given a simple treatment and painted white to create a blank canvas to allow Milliken’s selection of products stand out. Milliken’s products line the walls from floor to ceiling, while the floors, also concrete, are a hard surface resilient flooring that is also one of Milliken’s products.
“They wanted the space to not only tell about the product offering, but the breadth of who Milliken is as a company,” said Cremers. “They’re a highly ethical company and how they treat their communities is a message we wanted to project at the showroom.”
Milliken and HOK broke the space into a variety of different “vignettes,” each of which highlights a different product family as guests made their way from the front of the showroom to the back. The small spaces provide tighter niches for groups of two to three for smaller meetings, while the entire space can support events of 100 people.
“We found a space that really worked well for creating vignettes,” said Cremers. “It creates intimate areas of smaller spaces where people can gather, but there is this beautiful long gallery that ties all of the vignettes together.”
In one of the vignettes, an interactive touch screen allows clients to explore Milliken products and the company’s history. There is also a static display that highlights the company’s core values with facts about the company’s environmental and product initiatives. The display is a smaller version of a larger presentation located at the company’s headquarters in South Carolina, according to Cremers.
“We simply took the same type of visual display but only created five or 10 percent of that, so if you have been to their headquarters and come to the [San Francisco] showroom, you have that visual connection that is a reminder,” explained Cremers. “Milliken wanted a visual theme that ties all of their spaces together and a nod to where they are at any particular place in the world.”
The space also includes a café, quiet room and a conference room in adherence to retail hospitality trends often found in retail and office spaces.
Cremers credits close work with Milliken at various levels throughout the company to create a space that could be a hub for Milliken’s west coast clients.
“It was really all about relationships,” said Cremers of the companies’ collaboration. “It was an interesting process because our main point of contact was in their headquarters in South Carolina, our secondary was based out of San Diego, and we also interacted with their local team. They had different stakeholders that had different needs and a different level of vision; through that it helped us create a pretty rich solution.”