The contract furniture company HON’s old headquarters wasn’t cutting it for employees or potential clients. After designing a showroom for the company in Chicago, SmithGroup was tasked with turning HON’s 70,000 square foot office space in Muscatine, Iowa—housed in an assemblage of four old buildings—into a new environment that emphasized the company’s brand and core values and showcased its contemporary office culture.
Employee retention was one of the principal goals of improving the workspace. “Employees didn’t like the old headquarters,” said Angie Lee, the project’s lead designer for SmithGroup. “Now they bring their friends and family to work to show it off. They’re so proud of the space.”
The renovation followed some fairly simple strategies that reflect contemporary thinking about workplace design. “The space didn’t have a lot of natural light, particularly in the center, and that really bothered people,” Lee said. A series of new skylights bring the sun deep into the center of the building. Private offices were moved from the perimeter to the center of the space, and exterior windows were widened slightly. High partitions were eliminated in favor of lower workstations and open, collaborative spaces.
One quarter of the ground floor is devoted to flexible spaces like meeting rooms, lounge areas, and a café. “It’s become the real hub of activity,” she said. The goal of the spaces was to create a more welcoming, hospitality-inspired atmosphere. Groupings of large cubic pendant lamps in warm amber shades, for instance, create areas of intimacy within the open floorplates. Visitors also encounter the company in a new way, with the reception space functioning as a showroom for displaying the company’s new products.
The renovation also uncovered some hidden assets of the existing buildings. One area of the floor is cut open to bring light down to the floor below. I-beams are left exposed, creating a visual element that recalls the existing timber frame construction in the space. The designers uncovered the beams and joists and sandblasted them to let the natural wood show through. An old sign painted on brick wall, which had formerly been an exterior wall, was also cleaned and preserved.
Some circulation spaces are lined in wood, drawing on the original textures and materials of the rehabbed buildings, while others are pristine white, creating a contrast between old and new. “We wanted some of the history, some of the life of the building to come though,” Lee said. “But it also needed to express 21st century work culture.”