Designer Forum: A flooring contractor’s move puts its skills on full-time display - December 2022
By Susan Bible
When the owners of M. Frank Higgins & Co. approached Five Hills Design about working together on the commercial flooring contractor’s new location in Berlin, Connecticut, it offered an opportunity to step outside the box. Higgins has a history of bringing the design community together within its walls for education and material resources, so a dynamic, standout aesthetic was called for. The space was also seen as a showcase for Higgins’ expert capabilities with a wide variety of flooring types.
RECOGNIZING AN OPPORTUNITY
Because of a previous relationship with the clients, Steve and Kathy Cloud, Five Hills Design owner Susan Bible was aware of their dedication to and involvement with the design community. Their company has a reputation for organizing and hosting industry-wide events and is very involved in networking with and educating the designers, owners and architects from the surrounding community. Knowing how the clients enjoy being a trusted part of the design community, they agreed that the new location should be remodeled to allow them to have a more cohesive office space adjacent to their resource library of materials and warehouse.
The natural flow of spaces allowed for a workspace, learning space and hands-on “doing space” all under one roof, but an expansion was required. The vacant building the Clouds had bought to retrofit had an attached warehouse, so the team took down a wall to enhance the square footage-and opportunities-of the occupiable space. Overhead garage doors now help partition the space when needed.
DESIGNING A DESTINATION
The workspace did not exist in the firm’s former location-or the local community. To turn the new office into a destination, Five Hills focused on aesthetics more than functionality to create an engaging design. This also presented an opportunity to showcase the capabilities of the owner, but rather than rely on traditional installations of a curved material meeting an adjacent material, for example, to demonstrate technical expertise, the playful vibe and graphic energy of the office help to showcase the skills and talents of the company, as well as its values.
Budget and timing required reuse of the existing furniture, which was basic in design, so showcasing the flooring made sense. Materials were selected that are compatible in their maintenance but that also offer a bit of design flair, with the variety of spaces serving as vignettes of potential material combinations and installation techniques. The existing footprint had five toilet rooms and a kitchenette, allowing for additional showcasing of products and related installation expertise in spaces that otherwise could have been considered back-of-house.
CHOOSING THE FINISHES
The team felt it was important to choose a vivacious field flooring that accentuated the branding of the company without being too literal. Keying off of Higgins’ company colors of black and green, Bible selected Milliken’s Edge Lit carpet tile in an energizing blend of colors to activate the overall space. That initial, primary selection informed the rest of the product choices.
To offer visual relief from the dynamic main carpet and aid in wayfinding, a monochromatic mix of Edge Lit was selected for circulation areas. By utilizing carpet tiles, the owners can change the patterns and color stories as their space and other finishes evolve. A tentative phase two will add layers and accent colors to the furnishings.
The library features a handful of different resilient flooring selections in a mix of installation patterns to mimic the carpet tile’s design, as well as showcase the owners’ transitional skills. Having been given the parameters of selecting materials from Starnet-aligned suppliers (Higgins is a Starnet member), Bible chose several complementary LVTs-without regard to product specifications like thickness-and entrusted the Higgins team to determine appropriate configurations. The client handled all of the flooring installations throughout the entire space, subcontracting other aspects to general contractors.
At the building’s main entrance, the Clouds wanted to showcase their ability to work with poured concrete. To complement the now-polished material, Bible created area rugs using Milliken’s Color Thesis carpet tiles, which were then glued to the floor.
The bathrooms and kitchen area offered yet another chance to exhibit Higgins’ craftsmanship, this time through tile work. By mixing different Daltile products, the final result is also a testament to their eye for material combinations. One of the bathrooms also showcases a poured resin floor, yet another capability of the owners.
The Clouds approached Five Hills Design after they’d already sold their existing office and warehouse. They had six months to make the move to the new, larger location-then Covid hit. States were mandating masks throughout public areas, workplaces were starting to work remotely, and any project under construction was operating under the impression that the state had the authority to shut down the job at a moment’s notice due to precautionary restrictions. Very aware of the accelerated timeframe and the reality of the unknown relative to Covid, the owners were in a firm position of making decisions and not looking back.
Those involved in the design stage of this project refer to it as “speed designing,” much like “speed dating” where one forms an opinion, makes a decision and moves on. Though materials were not yet limited due to supply chain issues, the accelerated schedule forced some creative solutions in the interest of time, ultimately dovetailing with the desire to make the space a canvas for the contractor’s work. For instance, the Higgins team fabricated a copy of the specified Armstrong ceiling tile to expedite the process.
Though they had not personally worked together before, the existing relationship between Bible and the Clouds provided a level of trust that allowed the job to progress in line with the tight schedule. And the space has been well received and well used by the client, their staff and the design community as a whole, including installers, designers and owners alike.
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