Alfred Williams & Company, the exclusive representative for Herman Miller in Nashville, Tennessee, had run out of space in an unimpressive office building in the Gulch, a formerly seedy area in downtown that is quickly being revitalized. The company wanted to stay in the area, and purchased a two-story warehouse that had been badly renovated and expanded a number of times in its 75-plus years. The original project intent was to use most of the existing shell, but plans to gut it and build anew on the “good bones” had to be rethought when it was revealed that most of the bones weren’t very good.
Tasked with renovating the building into a modern, trendy showroom and office worthy of the company’s high-end commercial furniture line, the GS&P interior design team, led by Jack Weber, IIDA, decided almost immediately that it would be much more dynamic as a two-story open space. The team envisioned being able to view the furniture from above, on catwalks or mezzanines and from below. They saw spaces in which people had room to walk around the furniture and view it from different angles, space for design firms to hold planning meetings with clients and spaces large enough to host design industry events like cocktail parties, seminars and educational classes.
The resulting interior architecture makes brilliant use of existing structural elements—the good bones—like load-bearing masonry walls. These were initially an impediment to the openness and connectivity that were envisioned, but in the end became the base for a bridge that travels through openings punched in the walls. The bridge, or catwalk, is both a thoroughfare and viewing platform for the furniture below.
The interior was opened up from the ground floor to the ceiling girders. Heating and air conditioning ducts and masonry walls remain exposed. Light from windows punched through exterior walls floods every corner of the showroom and provides views of Nashville’s increasingly spectacular skyline.
The client also wanted the finished space to be as green as it is stunning. Demountable wall systems, regional materials, recycled content products and energy-efficient equipment and appliances were used throughout. The bridge that connects the front and back of the facility is made from timbers removed during demolition.
True to Alfred Williams’ original intent, clients want to stay longer and explore the showroom. A number of open houses have been held, and the showroom is a magnet for design professionals, both during and after office hours.
Blount Williams, Alfred Williams’ president, summarized the renovation project by saying he wanted to establish a serious presence in Nashville, and was “most appreciative that Jack Weber and his team even wanted to take on a project as complex and as small as this. The space, the feeling, the finishes, the way that it’s furnished have helped brand us as a legitimate office furniture player in Nashville.”