Designer Forum - July 2012
By Stephanie Boldon
CMM is an accounting firm that engages in a dynamic specialized area, forensic accounting, where it is well respected for its investigative, litigation and expert witness services. When CMM, based in the Los Angeles, California area, asked Environetics to design its new offices, it wanted an environment that would convey the vitality of its profession, while providing the spaces it needed to support its complex work.
Visitors to CMM step into the reception area through an antiqued red moon gate—a design element often used in Chinese gardens to symbolically and literally mark the entrance to a different place. In this design, the gate also alludes to the bridging of traditional and futuristic design elements. Beyond the gate, flowing lines, contrasting tones and textures, undulating ceiling treatments, and the dynamic use of wood-framed glass contribute to the open and warm feeling the client envisioned.
Environetics drew inspiration for the design from a deep understanding of its client, gained through two prior collaborations. Given a great deal of creative latitude to compose an image reflective of the firm’s style, the designers introduced bold elements representing earth, sky and water in the reception area and carried them throughout the offices. A high contrast palette and lively forms further a sense of dynamic energy. Everywhere, the design reflects the attention to detail that is a hallmark of its client’s specialization.
Materials—including clear and patterned glass, a stand of petrified wood near the portrait of a partner who passed away, and a waving river wall with a pebble path below—extend the sky, earth, and water motifs. The ceiling treatments change depending on the needs of the space below them. In the reception area, the dark ceiling makes the space feel higher than it is; the lights are like night stars, creating a feeling of expansiveness. In the conference rooms, the unconventional treatments leave the ceiling panels unattached to the edges of the wall, so that they seem to float. An undulating element divides the ceiling of the work areas into light and dark parts and leads the eye through the space. The reception area’s border of pebbles—river rock attached to a mesh in 12”x12” sheets, which install like tile—flows along a wall and into the curving edge of a light colored porcelain floor. A metal angle trim installed between the river rock and the porcelain gives a fine finishing detail.
The designers chose porcelain tile in the reception area, giving a sense of strength and longevity, symbolic of ancient Chinese architecture, cast into the future. Almost indestructible, it was an appropriate choice in this space, where the client has a long-term lease. Varying tones of one color give the porcelain a natural stone look.
As the flooring moves through the suite, into conference rooms, partner offices and staff spaces, the porcelain gives way to carpet, but the neutral color remains, as well as a sort of defined randomness in the pattern that continues throughout the suite. While one color dominates tile and carpet alike, both are composed of varying shades and shapes of differing sizes. These variations contribute to a look more evocative of a natural environment. The pattern also echoes the idea of differing sizes of shapes used elsewhere in the design—random but repeated—as in the glass wall panels, or in the wavelike shapes of the river wall. In the lunchroom, the flooring changes to a luxury vinyl tile and the neutral color darkens, but the random pattern remains. The two tones meet outside the lunchroom, where the luxury vinyl tile extends into the hall, providing both an interesting contrast and a place to set large pots of bamboo. The greenery is well liked by the client; it helps the air quality and goes along with the Zen-like feel of the space.
Everywhere, the floor is an integral part of the design, a platform that ties together and supports its various elements.
Selection of materials for this design was a significant part of the design process, with designers and client both experiencing the look and feel of actual alternative samples in various juxtapositions as the designers explored many possibilities. Material compositions, expected performance and green factors are equal in importance to aesthetics—and of course, for a corporate client, all is balanced by respect for cost. In this project, the trusted advisor relationship Environetics built over the years with CMM contributed to the design freedom the client gave and which the designers enjoyed.
At Environetics nothing is done without considering the impact of the work on the environment. Sustainability is always a factor in materials selection. Most manufacturers are now paying close attention to sustainability. It is a big part of the conversation with clients, and Environetics is definitely looking for environmentally sound products—not merely to satisfy design requirements, but because we are human beings and concerned about our planet. Durability and longevity of a product, whether it is made from recycled products or can be recycled at the end of its use, whether and to what extent resources and products need to be used to maintain the product, all contribute to the selection decision.
Especially in flooring, designers and architects are benefiting from the vast array of products made available by the industry’s focus on improved design. In this project, the designers were able to take advantage of several trends in product development. For instance, the luxury vinyl tiles that are now available look more like the natural products they imitate, and they are less expensive to obtain and install, quieter to walk on, more scuff resistant, and easier to maintain. Porcelain tile is produced in more natural looking styles and finishes and multiple size selections, allowing designers to create randomized patterns. Also, its durability is superb. Improvements in carpet are notable, especially in carpet tile, but also in broadloom, where colors, patterns and textures seem virtually endless. Environmentally sensitive materials are now readily available, and there are tremendous increases in stain resistance and in durability—ten to 15 years expected life is now a norm. Better products and easier means of installation are also allowing designers to be more creative in the application of all the different flooring types.
The broadloom chosen for the CMM project is important for the subtleties of its design and the various, related iterations on the random patterns theme. After considering many alternatives, the team selected Shaw Contract, in the patterns Lana and Fiber. The carpet is made with Shaw Eco Solution Q Nylon fiber containing pre- and post-consumer recycled content, and is 100% recyclable at the end of its life. The EcoWorx backing is PVC free and also 100% recyclable. Lana has a more textural pattern that was used in the open areas, partner offices and conference rooms. Fiber is more subdued and was used in the offices. The designers’ confidence in the choice of a light color is attributable to the material’s high stain resistance. The carpets were all installed using a low VOC adhesive.
The porcelain tile in the reception area is from Crossville, made from natural and plentiful raw materials. Environetics used it in three different sizes to create a random pattern on the floor. Crossville Plan 3D was used on the walls of the reception area to create the textural wall. These tiles do not absorb or emit pollutants and do not require waxing, stripping, buffing or toxic cleaners. Crossville is a net consumer of waste in addition to its Tile Take Back program, which powders reclaimed tile to be used in the manufacturer of new tile. The border is a natural river rock from the Tile Emporium.
The luxury vinyl tile used inside and just outside of the lunchroom is To Market’s Ozoloc Etchings. It takes a twist on real wood with its metalized finish, and it requires no adhesives for installation and no wax, stripping, buffing or toxic seal coat for maintenance. It also meets or exceeds ADA requirements for slip resistance and is 100% water resistant—important for the lunchroom with liquid spills.
One measure of a project’s success is whether the client finds that the design works for them as intended; in this case, confirmation came in the form of the client further engaging Environetics to now design its expansion space. A design may also be considered a success if it projects a sense of itself, and this project definitely does that, having been designed specifically for this client and this space. As a design firm, Environetics tries to achieve that in every space, so each project has a unique quality evocative of its occupants and not identifiable as an Environetics design. What remains constant from project to project is the kind of research and experimentation that brought this design together for CMM.
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus