Designer Forum: Raising the bar on law firm design - Feb 2018
By Liz Wozny
The workplace is forever evolving, and we must adapt or get left behind. Most people think of tech companies and start-ups as being at the forefront of innovative workspaces, but even once-traditional sectors are getting on board with these changes, including law firms. That said, the rigidity of the law world isn’t going anywhere, but its workplaces are changing as they usher in a new generation of workers who want more amenities and office environments that allow them the flexibility to collaborate or complete quieter tasks.
NT Lakis is a Washington, D.C. law firm that specializes in helping employers manage workplace compliance risks, covering two associations: The Center for Workplace Compliance and Employment Advisory Services. Their association-first values meant that any office redesign needed to look professional and classic and stay within a strict budget but also add the amenities that employees look for in today’s competitive job market. When it came time to move offices, NT Lakis decided to consolidate its multiple floors and move to a single floor within the building it was already in to maintain the value of its location. Then it turned to CallisonRTKL to help update its office and keep a balance between giving employees what they need to thrive and staying within budget through thoughtful material selection and smart layout strategies.
By staying within the same building and taking over a space recently vacated by an organization that already had private offices and a boardroom, the design team was able to keep most of the existing layout and reuse some materials. A main obstacle NT Lakis faced was keeping up with growth while fostering a sense of community among employees. Going into the renovation, other key factors included creating a variety of workspaces to give employees options for doing different types of work and social spaces that reflect the company’s culture.
Upon entering NT Lakis, the reception area greets visitors with a modern, clean and transparent setting. The large format porcelain tiles from Trinity Tile give way to floor-to-ceiling glass conference rooms that line the waiting area and offer lots of natural light and views of the D.C. skyline. CallisonRTKL’s design team chose durable porcelain tiles with a beautiful stone-like pattern that add richness and warmth to a space without the cost of stone. The difference in cost was applied to other design elements like millwork panels, a custom reception desk and glass partitions.
Antique brass was already in place in the elevator doors, so our design team incorporated this accent metal by inserting a decorative brass transition strip into every third row of tiles in the reception area.
The seating area within reception is adorned with a custom rug by Creative Accents. The rug adds warmth to the room and enhances the residential, homey appeal of the space, while also pairing well with the corporate-look grey chairs.
The glass-walled conference rooms in reception allow for sightlines to the rest of the office, including workstations, the café and lounge area. Beyond reception, the polished, structured and formal law-firm atmosphere diminishes and a relaxed environment sets in, particularly in the café and lounge where employees can retreat to socialize or work in a more relaxed environment.
NT Lakis didn’t want a corporate café that could be found anywhere, so the CallisonRTKL team conducted a case study to create a space that would help employees feel like they were leaving the office and going to a coffee shop. The designers enhanced the boutique feel of the space by bringing the outdoors inside and using warm materials like wood, home-like shelving and varied seating. The LVT flooring, manufactured by Mannington Commercial, was chosen for its impact on the look and feel of the space and to help define areas within the café.
Glass walls line the café and a dark wood-look LVT defines the circulation areas. This path leads to the black-and-white patterned LVT flooring, which is the most eye-catching design element in the space. The chalkboard painted walls, low communal table, high-end coffee machines and row of individual seating at a high-top table overlooking the street all make up the feeling of a neighborhood coffee shop.
The client has found a lot of value in the space. Trevor Peglowski, instructional design specialist at NT Lakis, says, “It’s just lovely to go [to the café] with a cup of coffee to work and not feel like you’re in an office. You’re doing what you love to do, and you’re doing it in a beautiful space. It speaks to the kind of family that they’re building here.”
And senior advisor Trish Lakis said, “The café is our favorite space here in the new office building. The café/lounge being the front corner space of the building in the rotunda gave us an opportunity to create this very cool café environment where people could not just eat their lunch but work all throughout the day.”
Just around the chalkboard wall, the lounge has a lighter wood-look resilient flooring, also by Mannington, set in a herringbone pattern, continuing the warmth and modern feel of the rest of the office. The different shade of flooring defines the lounge as a distinct space separate from the café and workstations.
Within the lounge, the design team wanted to bring in residential elements to make people feel comfortable. The herringbone pattern on the floor, the large sectional sofa, throw pillows and upholstered dining room chairs all contribute to the cozy environment.
The lounge also has a lot of amenities that are unexpected in a law firm: a cold brew keg, a TV that can be hooked up to a play station, games, lounge chairs, ottomans, two-person seating tables and a ton of natural light. The space isn’t large, but the CallisonRTKL design team spent a lot of time creating tones and contrasts to make the space interesting and inviting. This lounge could have easily been used as an executive office or conference room, but NT Lakis wanted to give back to its employees and create a space that could be used throughout the day by everyone.
“We love our new space,” Lakis says. “The move to the new space gave us an opportunity to bring our staff all together on one floor for the first time in several years. To watch people interact, and to use the common spaces that we’ve developed to work together, has been an exciting time for us.”
Beyond reception and the lounge/café area, carpet from Shaw Contract lines the rest of the workspace. A tight weave, simple pattern and tailored details define this carpet. The darker tone creates a contrast between the ceiling and walls and keeps the office space simple. It’s a softer finish while still being clean and sophisticated and aligning with the more traditional side of the firm.
NT Lakis had the idea to create a smaller café area with a Starbucks machine, high-top tables and chairs, low lounge seating, TVs, and moveable whiteboards adjacent to touchdown workstations and amazing city views. The result is the aptly named Collision Zone.
The use of Shaw Contract carpet in this space emulates the style of the workstations so that employees can easily and comfortably pick up their work and move to this area, and casually run into each other-hence the “collision” part of the name.
We’ve spoken to several NT Lakis employees since they moved into their new office, and the sentiment has been overwhelmingly positive; they are proud to work in their new space and are happy to have the opportunity to come together in one space for the first time in several years. The updated space allows employees from all sectors to meet, collaborate and work in different settings, in no small part because the various flooring elements help define each of these areas without the addition of walls, allowing for abundant natural light and a feeling of openness throughout the space.