Chicago’s West Loop is perhaps the last place anyone might expect to find a farm, but in a way that’s exactly what architect Ferdinand Dimailig created.
His firm, BOX Studios, started with 12,000 square feet of office space and few precise instructions. “The vision was to create something earthy and open that also reflects who they are,” he said.
The “they” in this case was client Fair Oaks Farms Brands. And Fair Oaks’ founders weren’t exactly sure what they wanted their new Chicago corporate headquarters to be, Dimailig said. But discussions kept coming back to the concept of a farm.
That’s because Fair Oaks Farms is an Indiana dairy that sells a variety of artisan cheeses and Core Power, a protein recovery drink. The company prides itself on dairy products that are hormone- and antibiotic free.
“Having our roots in farming, we wanted to reflect where we’re coming from,” Fair Oaks co-founder Sue McCloskey said. “But we knew, being in an urban environment, that we needed to be modern, too.”
Dimailig had actually visited the company’s Jasper County farm once on a family vacation to Indiana, an experience that made it easier to understand his client. The farm gives tours that provide an opportunity to see a dairy in action and has a café and gift shop that allow visitors to sample its products.
Where Dimailig faced special challenges was in turning what was probably once an automotive service facility into a functional office space that would reflect the rolling green hills and bright blue skies of an idyllic American farm.
The cavernous space presented its own challenges. The 25-foot barrel-vaulted ceilings that drew Fair Oaks Farms to the property also made it hard to create the cozier spaces the company had in mind and the private spaces every company needs. Dimailig met the challenge by incorporating hues of blue and green, geometric shapes, floating planes of wood, and an existing masonry wall to create separation in an otherwise open space. Wood accents were used to warm up the space.
“We started out with a great raw space,” Dimailig said. In addition to the barrel-vaulted ceiling, the building had a number of skylights, concrete floors, and a corner location that allowed architects to incorporate several large windows and an operable garage door made of glass. BOX Studios used the masonry wall to separate the office’s more public spaces from its more private ones. A reception area, conference room, and meeting spaces sit in front of the wall, while private offices and the office kitchen are tucked neatly behind it.
The firm also built a translucent green silo that would become the office’s centerpiece and the entryway to a modern interpretation of a barn—which serves as a conference room. The barn’s glass doors open to a large seating area featuring a giant white board surrounded by a wall of living plants. “The barn is really the crown jewel of this project,” Dimailig said. “As soon as you see it, you know what this company is all about.”
Another way BOX Studios helped Fair Oaks tell its story was through a milk bar. The long bar, with lighting fixtures made to look like classic milk bottles, welcomes visitors and provides a space for sampling products. “Being a health and wellness food company, we need to sample, to try and figure out and get opinions,” McCloskey said.
Some West Loop residents see the milk bar through the windows and stop in, expecting to find a trendy cocktail bar or restaurant. Instead, what they discover is a little bit of country in the heart of a big city.